Five Senses Literature Lessons on Indigenous People

Five Senses Literature Lessons on Indigenous People

Five Sense Literature Lessons is a series of unit studies designed to awaken all five of the physical senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight) and a sense of wonder, while also stimulating self-awareness, creativity, and curiosity about the world and how it works. This review is of two of those unit studies that are about indigenous people groups from North America and Hawaii. (Click here to read my review of Five Senses Literature Lessons for young children.) 

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 receive some attention even though these are not academic skills.

Children’s books are the focal points of the studies. 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 just one book with multiple chapters. You will need to obtain the children's 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, full-color PDF book. Printable student pages are at the back of each book. The rest of the material tells how to use these studies and presents detailed lesson plans. In addition to teaching instructions, the lesson plans include supply lists, book lists,  recipes, and links to videos and other online resources. Student worksheets are at the back of each book, and the lessons plans have links to the individual worksheets so they are quickly available as you prepare your 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 should take 14 weeks to complete since there are 14 lessons that should each take one week to complete if you use them every day. This is not a comprehensive program. You should probably rely on it for coverage of social studies for about one third of the requirement for a school year. Work within this unit study in other subject areas, such as language arts, is supplemental.

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 about myths and legends, historical events, and the cultures of indigenous tribes.

The lesson material is 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. It also ranges in time from ancient myths to recent history. Some of the lesson material focuses on racism and the mistreatment of indigenous people groups by the U.S. government.

About 20 printable student activity pages in the book are used for map work, graphing, language arts, and artwork, and a few of these pages have recipes for cooking. Many lessons include links to internet sites and YouTube videos for further information and activities.

Geography plays an important role in the study. While the book includes printable maps of the U.S. to use, you will probably want a globe or world map to show the relative locations where groups lived (or continue to live) in Canada and Hawaii.

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 are to fill in. This study is not intended to cover grammar, spelling or phonics, and the rest of the language arts coverage is relatively light.

Science learning focuses 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 content connects to themes in the children's books. The book tells a legend about how fire came to the earth, and the science content is a study about the causes of fire, flammable and inflammable materials, and a fire’s need for oxygen. Another section on the Inuit people includes videos that mention climate change and 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 plan about 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. Like this activity, most life skill activities in this study have to do with food and cooking.

Among the art activities are hands-on projects such as paper weaving and using pastels to draw the northern lights. There are also art appreciation activities such as 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 indigenous people can be disturbing, children should learn an accurate account of history at some point. Using children’s books makes it easier to begin this process.

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. At the back of the unit study guide, there are also pages for pre-reading activities (to be completed before starting the study) and ten activity pages to use during the study.

Depending on the student, you will be able to complete the reading and activities of a lesson in one to three days. This is a much briefer study than American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii since it might be completed in just a few weeks.

While social studies is the primary emphasis, this study also touches on language arts, literature, science, math, engineering, life skills, health, community service, and art. Since this study is for slightly older children than American History – Indigenous People of North America and Hawaii, the activities are a little more challenging.

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, perhaps having the child copy what the parent has written 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, that 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 alongside your studies of American history for a refreshing change of pace.

Pricing Information

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American History - $24.95, Children of the Longhouse – $9.95

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Instant Key

  • Need For Parent/Teacher Instruction: high
  • Grade Level: grades 1-6
  • Suitable For: family or one-on-one
  • Religious Perspective: non-Christian religion
  • Educational Approaches: eclectic, unit study, unschooling or relaxed homeschooling
  • Educational Methods: activities, discussion, hands-on, interactive, real books, stories
  • Technology: PDF, online

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