Native Americans lived in complex and creative communities.

Native American Crafts, Games & Food for Children

by Shellie Braeuner

As a Mom, you want to give your toddler or preschooler hands-on experience with history. This gives your little one a chance to integrate knowledge and discard stereotypes. Native Americans are a good example. To many children, Native Americans just rode around the old west. But in reality, Native Americans lived all over North America, and had complex relationships with and between groups. They ate, played and created with what they had on hand. What could be more fun than exploring Native American culture with your child through food, games and crafts?

1. Food

Native Americans ate food that grew in their area. Groups near the coast ate a diet heavy in seafood. Hunters on the Great Plains fed their families with buffalo and deer. But many Native American groups relied on corn as a staple of their diet. Immigrants from Ireland, England and Spain took these simple recipes and turned them into corn bread hoecakes and tortillas.To replicate simple corn cakes, mix stone-ground masa, (a type of corn meal), with water and honey to form a sticky dough. Press a small clump of dough into a flat cake. Bake the cake on a hot griddle, with little or no fat. Eat the cakes warm.

2. Clothes

Native American clothing varied from caribou parkas in the far north to simple shifts in warm, southern climates. They made many types of clothing from the tanned hides of deer, noose, reindeer and buffalo. Where possible, Native Americans raised sheep and make yarn from the spun fibers. Many Native Americans used finger weaving to make belts and wrappings. Finger weaving is easy as pie. (Easier!) To finger weave, tie a length of yarn around your index finger. Weave the yarn behind the middle finger, in front of the ring finger and around the pinky. Bring the yarn back around the front between the pinky and ring finger. Weave the yarn in front of the ring finger, behind the middle finger and back around the front of the index finger. Repeat the weaving until you have two loops of yarn around each finger. Pull the bottom loop on each finger over the top loop and the tip of the finger, leaving the loop behind your hand. Repeat weaving to create another layer of loops and pull the bottom loops over the top. The finger-woven piece will grow behind your hand. Repeat until the finger woven piece is the desired length. Tie off each loop.

3. Crafts

Native Americans were skilled crafts people. They took care to add beauty to commonplace items like baskets, mats and pots. To make your own pot, (your little one will just love helping!) start with a block of clay. Scoop out a small ball of clay and make a circle for the bottom of the pot. Pull off more clay and roll it between your hands to make a long, clay rope. Press one end of the rope onto the outer edge of the clay disc. Wrap the rope around the edge. When you come to the beginning of the clay rope, stack the next layer of clay rope on top of the first. When you come to the end of the clay rope, make another clay rope and stick the end of the old rope to the end of the new. Continue to wrap the clay rope around the pot until the sides reach the desired height. Press the ropes together. Scrape the edges of the ropes together to create smooth sides both inside and out of the pot. Allow the pot to dry. Paint as you desire.

4. Games

Native Americans relied on careful observation of the world around them for survival. Many games encouraged children to learn these skills. One simple game requires two balls of two different colors. Children sit in a circle. As the leader, show your toddler or preschooler (or more, if your kids have playdates over!) both colored balls. Place both balls behind your back. Pass one of the balls behind your back to the child next to you. Ask a third child to guess the color of the ball. If he is correct, he gets both balls and leads the next round. If he is wrong, he is out of the game and the game continues.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

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