Learning About Native American Nations with Preschoolers

This past month for World Love Wednesday we have been learning about and praying for the indigenous people groups of the United States. As I prepared these activities for my girls, I had a few goals in mind.

1. I wanted to respect the culture and avoid cultural appropriation.

2. I wanted to make sure to show them Native American culture today, not just history.

Being that my kids are so young (and the resources I had available) we focused on Native American culture in general, reading books by Native American authors, learning about the languages indigenous to Minnesota, and supporting local businesses.

Learning Shelf

One thing I like to do when learning about different cultures is have a designated learning space. For this month, I included the word “Hello” in the Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language) as well as including several books by Native American authors, and elements from those books.

For example: ‘The Girl and the Wolf’ by Katherena Vermette is about a wolf that helps a little girl find her way home. Though not based on any one story, it is derived from traditional stories the author heard growing up, and challenges European stories of “the big bad wolf.” With a book like this we had to add the stuffed wolf a friend had recently gifted us.

Another example: in the book “Wild Berries” by Julie Flett, a little boy and his grandmother say ‘thank you’ to the woodland animals for sharing their wild blueberries, by leaving some behind on a leaf. I drew some numbers on felt ‘leaves’ and then dyed rocks into ‘blueberries. We got some good math practice in by counting blueberries to match the number on each leaf.

You can find a list of our favorite books here:

The Best Books for Preschoolers by Native American Authors

Language Learning

As I mentioned above, we included language-learning in our play station. We also took some time to listen to some childrens books and songs in Anishinaabemowin. There are a variety of resources for language- learners of all ages and skill levels at:

Exploring Art

The Minnesota Institute of Art happens to have a wonderful collection of indigenous art on display at all times. However, during the month of August they also had a special exhibit Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. This exhibit was very moving and caused a lot of reflection. Even Vale, though she doesn’t understand the history or context of the art, when viewing some of these pieces she said “this one makes me feel sad.” I simply replied “that piece is sad. I’m glad you see that”

And I will say that is powerful, and that is also ok. We need to listen to these stories, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable and sad. And even more important, we need to let our children see that (in age appropriate ways). They need to see that we are listening, and that we care, because that is really how they learn to care as well.

Supporting Local Business

I am always on the hunt for new local businesses to support, so I was just tickled when I found Four Sisters Farmers Market. They describe themselves as ‘an indigenous-centered food market, focused on both indigenous and hyper local foods.” Businesses involved in the market include Dream of Wild Health and Pow Wow Grounds. This was a great opportunity to learn about Native American-owned businesses in our area that we can continue to support. I especially loved the fry-bread tacos from Pow Wow Grounds. This was a food that I grew up with, so it was a joy to share that with my girls, and they loved it just as much.

Star Stories

Something I have found so fascinating is Native American constellation stories. As we learn about stars in our preschool lessons, we are also taking a moment to listen to some traditional Native American Star stories.

We are using resources made in collaboration with the Bell Museum to learn about the stories connected to the Indigenous people of Minnesota.

The Simthsonian NMAI also has a collection of Animated Star Stories on You Tube, sharing Native American constellation stories from across the country.

Additional Resources

Some other resources we have been loving and the Molly of Denali podcast and PBS Kids TV Show. Molly of Denali is a show that has been written and produced by Native Alaskans. It is also the first show ever to have a Native Alaskan child! The show seamlessly introduces little ones to Native Alaskan culture as well as the Gwich’in Athabascan language. They explore difficult topics, such as indigenous boarding schools and the loss of indigenous languages, in an age appropriate way. It leaves little ones with knowledge, but also hope that we can change things, and make things better. We need more shows like this! This show has become a quick favorite, and has been on repeat over here.

Another thing I like to do during our World Love Wednesdays, is find Christian worship artists from that culture to add to our playlist. This month we have been listening to a lot of Callie Bennett. She mixes traditional Navajo music with contemporary worship music to create a new style. Her music is full of the Gospel message, and has definitely become a favorite over here.

Learning about Native American Cultures with Little Ones

I think that it is so important to teach our little ones about the Native American cultures and languages. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, start learning about the local tribes in your area. Start reading books, and listening to the voices of Native people, and let’s teach our children to do the same. And let’s pray that the Lord would open our eyes to ways that we can better love our indigenous neighbors, and seek justice with them.

What tools have you used to learn about Native American Cultures with littles?

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