Thursday, October 6, 2011

Teaching Elementary U. S. History Without Textbooks - Early Native Americans

In case you can't tell from the obscure title of this post, I'm going to talk about teaching United States history without textbooks. Not that I have anything against textbooks. Except I do. They are boring with a capital Stab Me In The Ear and End My Misery.  I know this because I attempted to teach U. S. history with a textbook and my children tried to stab me in the ear. With their whining and complaining. Needless to say, I gave up on the book rather quickly.

My next step, once the textbook was demoted to the pile of books I use as a tripod for my camera, was to search ALL OVER Homeschool Internet Land for the perfect one-stop U. S. history book. This experience was much like getting stuck in a Hall of Mirrors, confused by all the distortions. There were problems, to say the least, and it went beyond the obvious challenge of the sheer volume of selection.

I didn't want anything with the words "God's plan for the U. S. as shown through history!" because, quite frankly, I find that idea a bit arrogant. And it's more than a bit slanted to the Christian viewpoint. So I narrowed the hunt down to secular history books, which is more challenging to do in Homeschool Land than you might think. But then I came across one that started off sort of like this....

Think back to the time before the earth was formed, when everything was a black void and.....

Just stop right there. What? You want me to think back to before the earth was formed? That's not even possible. And you want to call that history?  Uh huh. If they had only changed "think" to "imagine" I would object less, because then the author's theory of what it was like at that time wouldn't be presented as a fact. I intend to raise critical thinkers here, people, and that type of text doesn't help. 

I gave up the attempt to find one all-encompassing book to teach elementary level U. S. History. Instead, I spent hours and hour and hours and hours honing those latent over-achieving tendencies as I poured through our library and Amazon, looking for topic-specific history books. Did I mention the hours I spent doing this? HOURS. (More proof that you never fully recover from over-achievement addiction.) I may no longer hand-decorate 3-tiered birthday cakes, but by god I research the hell out of curriculum!  By the time I finish planning just this part of history, I'll have spent so much time at the library that I might as well set up camp in the children's department with a Goblet of Fire-esque tent (of course!) and mooch off of the library's free internet and bathrooms I don't have to clean. I still have the Revolution to plan too! Might as well move in.

I actually had a couple of goals in mind when creating our own history curriculum, which is unlike me. I'm very goalophobic, after all. But this time I actually had some sort of plan. It's like I'm becoming an real adult or something. Weird. But here is what I had in mind when planning our history...
  • No boring books
  • Hands-on learning
  • Challenge the superficial white European beliefs about our history - i.e. that the Indians were a sparsely populated, primitive people running around in loin cloths and bird feathers, at the whim of Mother Nature with no way to influence their environment, making them the type of people who really should have been invaded for their own good. And it was God's plan to kill them off with small pox so we pilgrims could steal their left-behind supplies. That kind of stuff.
  • Basically, I'm not concerned with the memorization of facts but more focused on my boys understanding the ideas at the root of our national history. 
Here I'm going to list out all of the books I found to teach Native American history. Doing this is risky because you could look at this book list and say, "Shit, Heather, you spent all of that time and this is all you came up with? You suck!" And maybe I do suck. I don't know. You probably shouldn't listen to anything I say about homeschooling. I don't know why you're still reading this.

Starting off American history with who came here first and how.

Who Discovered America
Start here. At the back of this book. I'm not kidding, start at the back. This book fits more into the explorers section of U. S. history than early Native American, but the end of the book talks about the latest archeological evidence of the very first people to come to America. (Spoiler alert! It may not have been across the Bering Strait.) (Spoiler #2! I'll use this book again for the explorer unit.)

If you have an advanced reader who is super interested in more details, I recommend Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles Mann.  If you are interested, read it yourself or 1491 by the same author.

migrationmapAmerican History Interactive 3-D maps
This book has a 3-D map you can make that demonstrates the Bering Strait immigration theory (to the left there), along with maps to other major events in history.

The boys and I talked briefly about Central and South American natives - the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans, of course. If I had found this book earlier, I would have read it aloud to them. We also briefly talked about the ancient North American Indians, but I still wish we'd had that book. (Spoiler #3! We have her books on explorers and colonists and I've read them, which is why I wish we'd had the earlier ones.)

We didn't spend an tremendous amount of time on this part of history. Much of it is still unknown and my kids didn't show much curiosity to know deeper details, which is my cue to move on. We're doing a timeline of U. S. history so it helps us keep better track of how the Native American history evolved from the ancient people to the more advanced civilization they had before 1492.

Now we're getting into the nitty-gritty of Native American history

Native Americans: An Inside Look at the Tribes and Traditions
This is a DK book. I like DK published kid books and so do my boys. This particular book was published back in 2001, so it lacks the latest in research on how America was first populated and I skipped the first chapter in the book. (We'd already covered the topic anyway.) I think this book does a good job of giving overall information on family, spiritual and daily life and then moves on to the regional area tribes. We read each chapter on the tribes, say on Northeast Woodland Indians, for example, and then detoured into region specific hands-on projects from....

Iroquois longhouse project
Easy Make and Learn Northeast Indians
We used several projects out of this that I felt reinforced important aspects of their history, such as their agricultural practices and how they lived in tune with the seasons. (Did I almost sound like I know what I'm doing or what?!) This teacher's website shows video examples of how he used these projects in his class. Again, my point in doing this specific work was not to make them memorize anything, but to help the boys understand how advanced of a society the Native Americans had before European "discovery." Oh, and to have some fun too...that's an important point.


Easy Make and Learn Southwest Indians
Dude, these people hunted rabbits by throwing sticks at them and picked prickly pear with these giant cactus tongs. Like, successfully! It blows our ever-loving Nintendo/microwave oven mind they were able to figure these things out and live. Who would have ever looked at a rabbit racing across the desert and thought, hmm, I'm gonna take this big stick, throw it at that motherfucker and kill it? Human ingenuity is astounding.

Northwest Coastal Cedar Plank House
Some of the projects in those two books can be used for other regional tribe studies, like the basket weaving or papoose project. I just realized that sentence sounds like something the head psychiatrist of a mental ward would say. Basket weaving? Total insane asylum activity. But some days it's hard to tell the difference between homeschool and the looney bin, so whatever.

This website has free printable projects too and we used the cedar plank house when we studied the Northwest coastal Indians. If you really want to flip your hands-on history lid, go to this website and follow the directions for building a wigwam. You learn how the Indians used math to build them.

If you really, really want to flip your history lid, make your kids construct you a real, live moon lodge where you can escape during your period and someone else does all of the child care, cooking and cleaning for you. I don't know how Native American women felt about this, and in my younger, single college days I thought this practice was very anti-feminist.  How dare those primitive men make women disappear during their period, as if they were tainted! But now I have a family and a home and enough dirty dishes in the sink to rival Mt. Everest and I'm all, HELL YEAH, I'M GOING TO THE MOON LODGE FOR THREE DAYS! I'm convinced this moon lodge thing is a version of heaven.

The Three Sisters
Native North American Foods and Recipes
We used this book along with the Northeast Indian Make and Learn book for more detailed information on how Indians cultivated crops and food (see picture to the right). We also used a book titled American Indian Science: A New Look at Old Cultures by Fern G. Brown for similar purposes. (Amazon doesn't have it, so no link.) I felt both of these were important in conveying the idea that this was a more advanced civilization than we assumed.

Nations of the Southeast
I selected this book because it's the area where we live. Our hands-on learning for this region comes from visiting actual historical sites in our area, so you wouldn't care about the details unless you live in the same area. Basically it includes planned field trips to historical sites with some reenactment festivals thrown in. Mix and bake for your area.

And so that's how I'm teaching U. S. history without using a textbook. You could also call this How a Recovering Overachiever Channels Her Need For Both Intellectual Challenges and Bucking The Status Quo. Stay tuned for Part II of this series - explorers! Or? Stay tuned for news of my commitment to the crazy farm where I attend basket weaving classes. It's a toss up.

(Did you make it to the end of this post? Good god, you deserve a gold star. If I gave those out. Which I don't. You should just feel good from the intrinsic motivation to better yourself.)