Lesson opens minds and ears

Children learn about Native American culture at Piney Ridge Nature Center

Education Beat


Holding a thin piece of deerskin stretched tightly over a small brown painted coffee can, Alex Genuario concentrated on threading a piece of hemp through the small holes poked in the hide.

Standing next to him, his younger brother, Dominic, threaded beads onto his piece of hemp and attached a wild turkey feather as a finishing touch.

The Genuario brothers, 11 and 9, were making Native American drums as part of a program at the nature center in Piney Run Park in Sykesville.

More than 15 elementary school-aged children participated in the event that was designed to teach them about Native American culture and make use of real animal hide donated to the nature center.

Barb Genuario, the boys' mother, said she was enthusiastic about her children participating in Piney Run programs.

"We are over here constantly for programs that they have," said Genuario, of Mount Airy.

During the hourlong event, park naturalist Kelly Vogelpohl explained how Native Americans made drums.

Jeb Hamel, 7, and other children eagerly answered her questions about materials, such as gourds, that could be used.

"One type of drum is like a stump, and they put buffalo skin over it and they beat it," Hamel said.

Karen Rau of Westminster said it was her first time attending a program at Piney Run. She said she wanted her daughter Amanda, 8, to participate because the event complemented their home-schooling curriculum and provided an opportunity to socialize with other children.

"We just finished a unit on Pocahontas and John Smith, so we are still going with that theme," Rau said.

Standing around two tables, the children worked to connect two pieces of deerskin on the ends of the coffee can by making a zig-zag pattern with the hemp.

Ryan Finch, 6, was one of the first to finish. He said he would probably play cowboys and Indians with the drum at home.

His mother, Connie Finch of Westminster, said her children and some others also participate in a outdoor program once a month at Piney Run that spotlights particular animals through a discussion, a hike and a craft.

After making the drums, the children followed Vogelpohl outside to look at a large tree trunk behind the nature center that a local Boy Scout troop had tried to fashion into a canoe.

Over the summer, the troop burned small fires on the horizontal trunk and dug out the burned wood, a process used by Native Americans to hollow out a tree, Vogelpohl said.

The children also learned about Native American culture while hiking through the woods on part of the park's many trails.

"Native Americans can move silently through the forest ... so, we've got to be as quiet as we can," Vogelpohl told them.

Looking at trees that had been chewed by beavers, the kids talked about how Native Americans would have killed the beavers for their fur. Back by the bird cages, Vogelpohl described how Native Americans respected birds of prey.

"I hope the kids really learn to respect nature," Vogelpohl said. "I hope to create a sense of wonder with them and to teach them to learn to ask questions."

Rau and several other parents said their children would be participating in another Piney Run program, Native American cooking, scheduled for Nov. 29.

Vogelpohl said participants would have a chance to "make dinner the Native American way."

Encompassing a 300-acre lake and 500 acres of surrounding land on Martz Road in Sykesville, Piney Run Park provides hundreds of programs to people of all ages in the community, Vogelpohl said.

The Native American cooking event will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Nov. 29. The cost is $5 for Nature Center members and $6 for nonmembers. Information: 410-795-6043.

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