Third-graders explore culture of Native American tribes Students participated in a six-week study

February 23, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

The sounds of a flute playing Native American songs filled Kathy Plitt's classroom at Park Elementary School on Friday as her third-graders celebrated the cultures of the Pueblos, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Sioux they have been studying for the last six weeks.

"They wanted to experience what it feels like to be Native Americans," Plitt explained.

Using brown paper bags, glue, colored construction paper and feathers, the 8-year-olds made vests, masks and totem poles. In squiggly children's handwriting, they sketched pictures of the sun, mountain, a rushing river, the trees, to illustrate a story or describe some part of their personality -- much as Native Americans once did, Plitt told them.

"Your vest will be whatever you want it to be. That's what was so neat about Native American culture. They represented themselves however they wanted to," she said.

They were spiritual people who believed that people share similar characteristics with their surroundings, she said.

With that said, Amanda Bell grabbed her crayons and began working on her vest.

"I'm going to put in a lake because I like to go swimming. I'm going to put in a rabbit because rabbits are cute and I'm going to put in a feather because feathers are soft," she said as she cut an animal figure out of construction paper.

She enjoyed learning about Native Americans, she said, but she wasn't sure she would have liked living in a tepee.

"You couldn't get heat," Amanda said. "They had to put animal skins on themselves and make fires to keep warm."

Among other things, the children learned Native Americans used sign language and symbols to communicate with each other.

"They lived differently than we do now," Katriana Pack said, toying with a yellow feather. "Back then, they didn't have stereos or cars."

Sitting nearby, Robert Simonds worked diligently on a kachina mask, which was used "for dances and stuff and to scare spirits away."

All of the children put feathers -- a symbol of power, their teacher told them -- on their vests and masks.

For their totem poles, the children each chose one animal that they felt best described them: A deer represented swiftness, a fox slyness, an eagle intelligence, and a beaver a hard worker.

Michael Werner drew a bear on his totem pole. "I'm brave," he said.

The lesson was good for the children, said Juanita Cole, a parent liaison who helped the children make their crafts.

"I feel it's very important not only that they learn different things, but that they learn about different cultures and how things were a long time ago and how they compare to today's world," she said.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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