My youngest son does not have much interest in history so he picks what history topics he would like to study in our homeschool. He gets much more excited about history this way. This year, he wanted to spend some time learning about Native American tribes and I thought it would be helpful to share our Native American unit study with you!
As I planned our unit study, I wanted to make sure that we learned about Native Americans in a way that was respectful to them and developed empathy for the challenges they have faced and continue to face. In other words, I wanted to break down some of the myths I learned as a student! I thought it would be best to learn about different major tribes and each of their cultures rather than learning about Native Americans as a whole. Did you know there are 562 federally recognized Native American tribes?!
You can even find what tribes are native to where you live with this Native Land locater.
I was able to find several series at our library that has a book for each of several major Native American tribes. These made our research easy and each series is reviewed below. I also created notebooking pages to make notes and drawings as we read and learned. These notebooking pages are available below for FREE.
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Native American Notebooking Pages
As we learned about each tribe, we used these pages to take notes about the tribe’s location, language, food, family and tribe structure, buildings, and more. There are places to draw their homes and to imitate their art. Or you could find pictures of their art and glue it on. There is also a writing prompt to encourage children to personalize what they have learned. A Venn diagram is included to help you compare different tribes. Grab your copy to use in your own Native American unit study:
General Books About Native Americans
Before we started learning about each tribe, we started our unit with an overview of Native Americans. The Native Americans book from the Build It Yourself Series was a good way to do this. We read the first couple chapters to give us some overall background and then continued with some of the sections about specific tribes, grouping them regionally. These chapters could be good reviews at the end of your unit study as it shows how the different Native American tribes interacted with each other. The book also contains hands on projects, including face painting, soap carving, making a totem pole and crafting jewelry that are great to make throughout the unit study.
Native American History for Kids also provides a good overview and hands-on activities to round out your unit plans. It names and gives a few details about a variety of tribes, but they quickly start to run together in this book.
The book that really helped us start to understand some of the different major tribes was From Abenaki to Zuni: A Dictionary of Native American Tribes. While this does not provide an overview of Native Americans, it does contain short summaries of 68 different tribes. The summaries are organized in such a way that you can easily see where a tribe lived, what they ate, the dwellings that sheltered them, what they wore, and more. Black and white drawings are included.
Non-Ficiton Book Series About Native American Tribes
We then borrowed books from these four Native American
series from the library. Each series contained several tribes.
The series by Big Buddy Books is a great place to start for younger children or a good series of books for independent readers to do their own research. They contain larger print and a few paragraphs with a large color photo about each topic per page spread. They are organized so that you can easily pick a subject you want to learn about such as food or crafts.
The book series we used the most was the History and Culture series from the Native American Library books. These books provide a background of the history and culture for each tribe and then include how that tribe lives today and current challenges it faces. These last chapters were good for my son because he hadn’t really made the connection that people still lived within these communities and/or identified with these cultures. These books also contain comprehensive timelines, glossaries, and indexes.
The Spotlight on Native Americans series contained a lot of good information. I was not a fan of how the chapters were arranged, but the table of contents made it easy to pick just a couple topics and read the chapters about those.
The Peoples of North America series is more in-depth than the others and would be great for later elementary school years or even middle school. They go into a much more detailed history. For example, the Navajo book includes stories about how the US government forced Navajo children into schools in the late 1800s and the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.
Videos about Native Americans
It has been a challenge to find good, comprehensive videos about different tribes of Native Americans on YouTube. The few I have found are listed below. If you have a Netflix membership, you may want to check out this list of videos about Native American cultures. I have read great things about the first set of documentaries, We Shall Remain, and we will be checking those out.
Here are a few short videos to get you started:
The Wampanoag people live in the Northeastern United States and were the first natives the Pilgrims met. This video shares a bit about their culture.
Native Peoples of the Southwest: This video gives a short summary of the houses, crafts, and lives of Native Americans in this area.
Native American Arts and Crafts
There are so many hands on activities you can incorporate into a Native American unit study, which my boys love! Here are a few to get you started and don’t forget the first few books listed above have more.
Use sand paper and crayons or pastels to make cave paintings. Here is an example of how to do so using African themed pictures. Have your children think about what kind of cave paintings might have been found in North America and have them use those ideas.
Build Native American Houses
Different Native American tribes built different styles of houses based upon where they lived. Many can be modeled using Legos, popsicle sticks, recycled materials or any other building toys you have on hand. If you would like to make a small teepee, these instructions with a printable template are great.
Draw Native American Patterns
We talked about making some beaded Native American jewelry, but I knew my boys wouldn’t have the patience for the real deal. And they were too old to make it with the bigger craft beads one might use at early ages. So we decided to study some of the Native American patterns and draw them instead. This turned out to be a good geometry activity! It would also be fun to make some of them with Legos! We started with the Seminole patterns here.
Weave a Basket
Basket weaving was an important skill in Native American tribes as baskets served many purposes. There are several ways children can weave their own basket, but here is an interesting way that even younger children can participate in.
Here is a video showing Cherokee basket weaving:
There are many different kinds of Native American headdresses. Some are simple, some elaborate. Many have special meanings about how they are constructed. Before you decide to make a headdress, decide which tribe you would like to focus on and research their different headdresses. Here is a tutorial that can get you started once you know what you want to create.
If you know how to quilt, research Native American quilt designs and help your children make a simple quilt square. A simple quilt square is a great way to teach sewing as you can stitch all straight lines.
If you want to make a Native American bracelet using seed beads, this tutorial is very comprehensive.
Biographies and Fiction about Native Americans
There are many biographies, memoirs and fictional books that would be great to add to your Native American unit study. Check out this list and pick out one or two! They range from lower elementary school through middle school and a variety of tribes and settings are included.
What else have you done to study Native Americans? Please share with us below!