We all want our kids to be well-rounded. That means teaching them about the realities of the world, from low points in American history to the country’s most heroic moments. Young children may not be ready to learn about the Trail of Tears or The Seminole Wars, but you can still familiarize them with the culture and traditions of the natives of their country.
Most kids like to watch movies, and many like to read, so media is a good starting point for lessons on Native Americans. While you can find a number of documentaries about Native American history, many prove too intense for younger children.
Try introducing your kids to educational media by starting with fictional stories. “The Indian in the Cupboard,” by Lynne Reid Banks is a fantasy book appropriate for younger kids that makes many references to Native American traditions. Kids of junior-high age should be able to handle a book like “The Education of Little Tree,” which touches on more advanced themes of oppression and prejudice. Both of these books were made into movies, too.
Learn a Native American language
An activity that both older and younger kids can enjoy, learning a Native American language is something you can do right alongside your kids and provides two lessons in one. While studying, you can tell your kids about the tribe’s history, and your kids will also be using their brains in a different way by learning a new language.
Several tribes make it easy for interested people to learn their language. The Cherokee Nation and other tribes offer language lessons via their official websites.
Perhaps the most effective way to teach your kids about Native Americans is to let Native Americans do the teaching for you. Consider skipping the home-based lessons and hitting the road, where your kids will be able to experience native culture in a different way.
Oklahoma is home to more Native Americans than any U.S. state and is a great destination for families that want to learn more about Native Americans. You’ll find plenty of learning opportunities as you drive through the state. The Chickasaw Cultural Center is just a few miles east of I-35, the Cherokee Heritage Center lies just 30 miles north of I-40, and Oklahoma City is home to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, which features a wealth of information about all of Oklahoma’s tribes.
While Oklahoma is a prime spot for learning about Native American culture, other states have plenty to offer, too. California and Arizona have Native American populations that near that of Oklahoma. In New Mexico, you can learn about the Pueblo Indians at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Ohio’s Serpent Mound is thought to be the largest sculpture mound in the world. And, for 40 years, Ohio’s Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre has showcased the award-winning drama “Tecumseh!,” offering visitors a glimpse into the life of the renowned Shawnee leader.
Whether in-home or on the road, your kids’ lessons in Native American culture should begin with fun and positive experiences and work up to the more difficult realities of their history. Introducing your kids to Native American culture and tradition gives them insight into who Native American are as a people. By the time they are ready to learn the full history of Native Americans in the U.S., your kids will do so with deeper understanding of what mistakes we made as a country, in our treatment of native populations.