Hands-On History Craft Project Inspired by Native American Winter Counts

Hands-On History Winter Count Project, Native American History, History Art, Textbook Free History, Homeschool History, American HIstory
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A hands-on craft project inspired by Native American winter counts is a simple, fun accompaniment to your homeschool American history studies.

Native American Winter Counts Craft

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What is a Winter Count?

While reading aloud to my children from Abraham Lincoln’s World  recently, we came to a passage describing the winter counts kept by many Native American tribes.  Winter counts are pictorial tribal history calendars.  Each year, the keeper of the winter count chooses an image to represent the most important event of the year.  This might be an astronomical event (as in the Leonid meteor shower), pestilence, war, etc.  Often used in conjunction with oral history, these winter counts kept the stories, heritage, and records of the tribes alive.

Originally winter counts were painted on hides, but that often was transferred to muslin or paper as those materials became available.

Be sure to read all the way to the end of the post, where I share some resources for learning more about winter counts!

Make Your Own Craft Project Inspired by Native American Winter Counts

Inspired by the beautiful Native American art, I spontaneously suggested that we keep our own version of a pictorial calendar.  Each day for a week, each child drew an image representing the key event of the day.  At the end of the week, we had a “week count,” a calendar that enabled them to narrate an oral history of their week.

Native American Winter Counts Craft

I’m not very good at grandiose craft projects.  When an idea strikes, I have learned to go with it right away!  Now because this was spontaneous, we had to use the materials already at hand…thus, we have quite colorful winter counts on random fabric scraps!

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If you have time to prepare, you could go definitely with faux buffalo hides on which to draw your pictographs.  But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!  We had such fun with our colorful fabric scraps, and you could even try this project on plain paper!

Materials Needed:

  1. Decide how you will keep your calendar. Will 1 pictograph represent an hour, a day, a week, or a month?  How long will you record your history?
  2. At the designated intervals, draw a picture to represent a key event or moment from that time. Make sure you choose something that will spur your memory later on!
  3. After your winter-count-inspired craft project is complete, use the images as memory hooks to share aloud your own oral history.
Native American Winter Counts Craft
Native American Winter Counts Craft
Native American Winter Counts Craft
Native American Winter Counts Craft

Learn More About Native American Winter Counts:

This fabulous online exhibit from the Smithsonian enables you to view several winter counts of the Lakota.

In this YouTube video, Candace Green, anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Emil Her Many Horses, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, discuss winter counts.

This beautiful song (written and performed by Scott Simpson) is inspired by “the Winter Counts of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate and those Elders who are the keepers of the things that must always be remembered.”

We also enjoyed this presentation given by Dakota Goodhouse to students at United Tribes Technical College.

What are some of your favorite hands-on-history projects?

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