Lesson Plan

Corn Husk Dolls

corn husks
Enslaved children made toys from discarded materials like corn husks.


Students will learn how to make a corn husk doll, and then compare the toys they have with toys that children of the 19th century played with (and often made) as a daily life comparison.


This activity will show students how to make a toy from corn husks, a common item that today we often throw away. Corn was grown at Kingsley Plantation, and while it was used for food, other parts of the plant were useful too. Children back then would have had as much fun using their imaginations to make their toys as they did when playing with them!


 This worksheet guides students through the doll making craft.  


Corn husks can be purchased at local craft stores, though it would be less expensive to contact your local grocery store's produce department and ask them to hold the husks during the appropriate season. Once you take the husks home, lay them out to dry in the sun. Once dried they will keep indefinitely. Remember to soak the corn husks for at least 20 minutes before craft use. Each student will need 6 corn husk strips, scissors, and string. Print out the activity sheet for step-by-step instructions.
Begin with a class discussion. Have your students imagine what life at Kingsley Plantation, over 150 years ago, would have been like. Would there have been grocery stores or department stores to shop at? Where would someone acquire children's toys? The planter's family might have been able to purchase toys such as lead soldiers, marbles, metal jacks, or dolls with porcelain heads and hands, at a general store (if there was one in the area), but the slaves had no way to earn money to pay for such luxuries. Most toys back then were homemade by the child or someone they knew using leftover materials, for example cloth from making a dress, or materials found in their environment such as wood. Have students brainstorm ways they could use materials found in the environment for making toys. What sorts of games do you think children living in the 19th century played? [some examples: hopscotch, tic tac toe, yoyos, dominoes, jackstraws (known as pickup sticks today), tops, singing games] How do they differ from toys and games kids play today?
Hand out the worksheet which accompanies this lesson.  Have students follow the step by step instructions to create their doll.  

Park Connections

This lesson can be used before or after a class trip to Kingsley Plantation.  Call 904.251.3537 to schedule your field trip. 

Additional Resources

Ideas for this project taken from: Lauri Carlson, EcoArt! (Charlotte, Vermont: Williamson Publishing, 1993).  and http://www.teachersfirst.com/summer/cornhusk.htm


compare, contrast, slavery