This review focuses on two unit studies on indigenous people groups from North America and Hawaii that are from the Five Senses Literature Lessons series. (Click here to read my review of Five Senses Literature Lessons for young children.) These are secular unit studies designed to awaken all five of the physical senses (taste, touch, smell, hear, and see) as well as the senses of wonder, creativity, self-awareness, and the world and how it works.
American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii – Level: Yellow and Children of the Longhouse Unit Study – Level: Green are both based on social studies topics, but they also touch on academic skills in language arts, science, math, art, and health. Life skills and social justice also receive some attention even though these are not academic skills. Children’s books are the centerpiece of the lessons. A number of picture books are used with American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii while the Children of the Longhouse Unit Study – Level: Green uses only one chapter book. You will need to obtain the literature books on your own. The approach is hands-on, multi-sensory, and interactive–I would describe it as a relaxed approach to homeschooling.
Each of these unit studies is presented within one PDF book. Printable student pages are at the back of each book, and the rest of the material tells how to use these studies and presents detailed lesson plans. Lesson plans and student pages are in full-color. In addition to instructions for presenting lessons, the lesson plans include supply lists, book lists, links to videos and other online resources, and recipes. Student worksheets at the back of each book are linked within the pertinent lesson plans so they are quickly available as you prepare the lessons.
American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii – Level: Yellow (for ages 6 through 10)
American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii has fourteen lessons that should each take one week to complete with daily lessons. This is not a comprehensive program. You should probably rely on it for coverage of social studies for about one-third of the history requirement for a school year. Work in other subject areas is supplemental to other studies.
Through picture books such as Journey to Cahokia, Rainbow Crow, The Star People: A Lakota Story, Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale, Coyote and the Laughing Butterfly, and Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People, children learn myths and legends, historical events, and the cultures of indigenous tribes.
The lessons are grouped into three sections: Myths and Legends, Histories and Biographies, and Modern Native American Lives. Literature related to indigenous groups has been selected from different geographical areas and cultures to demonstrate their diversity. Literature also ranges in time from ancient myths to recent history. Some lessons focus on racism and the mistreatment of indigenous people groups by the U.S. government.
About 20 printable student activity pages at the book are used for map work, graphing, language arts, and artwork, and a few have recipes for cooking. Many lessons include links to internet sites and YouTube videos for further information and activities.
Geography plays an important role, and while there are printable maps of the U.S. to use within the book, you will probably want a globe or world map so that you can show the locations for where groups lived (or continue to live) in Canada and Hawaii with a realistic idea of how far apart they are.
Language arts activities involve reading, discussion, creative writing, and completing written work on the printable student worksheets. Some worksheets have partially written stories with missing information that students get to write in. This study is not intended to cover grammar, spelling or phonics, and the rest of the language arts coverage is relatively light—consider it supplemental.
Science lessons focus on earth science with activities, websites, and books such as When Butterflies Cross the Sky and Rainbow Crow. Rainbow Crow provides a good example of how the science lessons connect to themes. The book tells a legend about how fire came to the earth, but the science lesson is a study about the causes of fire, flammable and inflammable materials, and a fire’s need for oxygen. Another lesson on the Inuit people includes videos that mention climate change and some issues it presents for both people and polar bears living in Arctic regions. The author includes some explanation of climate change in the lesson plans, but she cautions parents that this might be a scary topic for children and that they should use their own judgment about how much to cover. Science included in this study might be sufficient for students in first or second grade, but older students will need more.
Math activities touch on various concepts such as fractions and estimation as well as practical applications such as measuring and graphing. For example, the lesson on the Mogollon Culture has children make corn tortillas (a life skill) then cut up some of the tortillas to learn about fractions for a math activity. Other activities in this study labeled as life skills generally have to do with cooking.
Among the art activities are hands-on projects such as paper weaving and using pastels to draw the Northern Lights, plus art appreciation activities like examining pictures of petroglyphs from Utah.
American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii should be very useful for presenting an overview of indigenous people groups, both past and present. However, the study cautions parents that some stories might be disturbing for children, and parents should use discernment with the literature. While learning about the mistreatment of Native Americans can be disturbing, it is worthwhile to present an accurate account of history. Using children’s books makes it easier to do so.
Children of the Longhouse – Level: Green (for ages 8 to 12)
This is a study of the book Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac. This chapter book tells the story of a boy and a girl from the Iroquois Bear Clan in the 1500s. The study aligns with the book’s thirteen chapters and an epilogue, with a lesson for each of these. There are also a few pre-reading activities to be completed before starting the study, and there are ten printable activity worksheet/activity pages at the back of the book.
With some students, you will be able to complete a lesson in one day, while for others you might spread out the reading and activities over two or three days. This is a much briefer study than American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii.
While social studies is the primary emphasis, this study touches on language arts, literature, science (topics from zoology, anatomy, and botany), math, engineering, life skills (cooking, knife skills, observation skills), health, community service, and art. Since this study is for slightly older children than American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii, activities are a little more challenging than in the other study.
The author designed this study to appeal to the child who doesn’t enjoy learning by reading and writing. “ She says that this study is for: “The children who love a good story, and want to learn by doing, not by writing about doing something…this study works well for students who struggle with those skills, have shorter attention spans, or prefer hands-on learning.” (p.4). To that end, she directs parents to read Children of the Longhouse aloud or to have children listen to it on an audiobook. Writing assignments are short and pertinent to the story. She also suggests the option of having a child dictate what they want the parent to write down for them, maybe having the child copy it themselves later. Of course, parents should choose how to handle writing assignments for each child, and children who enjoy reading can read the book on their own. So please don’t dismiss the idea of using this study with children who excel at reading and writing.
Because the study is designed for children at different levels and with different learning styles, there are plenty of hands-on activities such as building a longhouse from blocks, learning how to whittle with a knife, and learning some sign language. There are large-motor activities like playing “kitchen tool lacrosse” and performing Native American dances, and there are field trip suggestions such as a nature hike, a scavenger hunt, and a visit to the elderly.
While this study is based upon a particular book, the book provides the framework for the unit study rather than being the sole focus of attention. It should be relatively easy to fit this study in alongside your studies of American history for a refreshing change of pace.