In many places, including Massachusetts where Tinkergarten is headquartered, October 10th is a holiday entitled Indigenous People Day. In honor of this day and for the Native American people who live and have lived on the land on which each of us lives today, we share this series of steps you can take to learn about and include Native American History in your outdoor adventures. Enjoy and share what you have learned with others.
This activity is part of our October, 2021 calendar of play activities. Don't have yours? Get a free copy at tinkergarten.com/calendar.
Step 1: Who is native to your local land? A great place to start is by researching which native people or peoples are indigenous to the land where you live. You can try using an app like https://native-land.ca/ to enter your zip code and find out which Indigenous People live, or historically lived, in your area. You can let kids know that "We live on the ancestral home of" whichever people or peoples you discover.
Step 2: Learn more about People indigenous to your area. If you don't know about those native to your area, do some online searches to find out more about the specific peoples. As an adult, make time to find out what happened to them and their relationship with the land, as so often forced relocation and harsh treatment displaced and diminished thriving communities and whole peoples.
Step 3: Focus on the present with kids. For young children though, a great starting place is the present — using present tense and the thriving, vibrant cultures of today. Here’s an example of how you can start this conversation with children. “Native people today, and all of (our/their) family and ancestors before (us/them), have always lived here on the land where our country is built. The Tonkawa tribeis from the land where we live.”
You can also share with kids what you learn about the strengths, talents and unique ways of living of the people native to your area. In many places, the names of important places or natural features like rivers, mountains or even whole regions come from native languages that were spoken in the region, and the meaning behind these names can help us learn more about the land, too.
Step 4: Share. Share a photo of the land on which you live with a caption that acknowledges whose ancestral home the land is. Or, create art to share that you are learning about the people who came before us on the land on which you live. This step is not only concrete for kids, but it spreads awareness to others about how we can learn more about and honor the native history of our land.
Step 5: Read books about Indigenous People. Tinkergarten teammates, Erika McLemore and Cholena Smith-Boyd, and I collaborated to select these beautiful picture books to inspire learning. Erika is both Muscogee Creek and a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Cholena is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation of Long Island, NY and the former Education Program Manager of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum.
It's never too early to help children develop a strong sense of their own culture as well as a genuine curiosity, awareness and respect for different cultures and people. Learning about how different people live or have lived also helps children take another person's perspective—a key component of empathy. Finally, when kids do confront either stereotypes about Native American People or learn the devastating history Native American People endured, they will have strong, positive and more fully formed understanding of these people and can better understand and commit to making sure that history is neither forgotten nor repeated.
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People use critical thinking skills to gather information, evaluate it, screen out distractions and think for themselves. These skills help us identify which knowledge to trust and how to use new and old knowledge together to decide what to believe or do. People also use these skills to develop arguments, make decisions, identify flaws in reasoning and to solve problems.
Also referred to as “higher-level thinking,” critical thinking draws on many other skills that matter (e.g. focus/self control, communication, making connections, and even empathy). Kids won’t fully develop critical thinking until adolescence or even adulthood, but remarkably there is lots that you can do to help your kids build its foundation during preschool and early school ages.
How do little kids build a base for such a complicated set of skills? A key building block to critical thinking is the ability to develop theories about the world and to adjust your theories as new information becomes available. Kids can practice this as they attempt to solve mysteries or actively wonder about why things are as they are. As a family, the more you ask questions, make predictions and allow kids to take active part in discovering the answers to their questions, the stronger you make their foundation for critical thinking. As kids grow out of the 3-to 5-year-olds' freewheeling relationship with reality, you can also train them to question information and see the inconsistencies or flaws in certain ways of thinking.
Why does it matter?
In a world that is increasingly saturated with media messages and where information comes from a wide range of sources that differ in quality, critical thinking is more important than ever. Kids need this skill in order to be informed and empowered consumers, to either suggest or evaluate new solutions to complicated problems, to make decisions about our society and its governance, and to form the beliefs that guide their personal and professional lives.
What does it mean to develop Curiosity?
Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!