4-6, Unit Four, Activity 1: "Painted Lodges"

Students learn to think about themselves as individuals and members of a social group of animals sharing an environment with other species. They recognize that traditional American Indian shelter was as much a part of the surrounding environment as a beaver lodge. Students also recognize and explain the personal and traditional culture behind the design and decoration of tipis.

Grades: 4 – 6
Time: 1 hour
Subjects: Visual arts, social studies

Teacher Background:
This activity helps students identify themselves as significant members of an important culture, and allows them to examine their relationships with wild animals. Much of the background information provided has been gleaned from generalized readings on lodges and the traditions behind painted lodges. Symbolism and design varies significantly from tribe to tribe, band to band, and from individual to individual. Some people take offense when they come across randomly designed tipis and sacred designs that have been inappropriately copied out of ignorance or arrogance. This activity has no intent to do such a thing.



  1. Provide the background information contained in the unit introduction (especially the story of the origin of beaver medicine and the above narrative) and any other you might want to add for the students. Stress the individual importance of each person in the world and their potential and responsibility to be and become someone who is genuinely and positively influential upon the future of the Earth and its creatures. Stress the fact that we are all very important people and deserving of our own sacred lodge.
  2. With the background information provided and with respect to American Indian culture, have each child design and draw a lodge that depicts those things of special importance to them and their families. Encourage the students to include traditional symbols of importance to their tribe or band and to use the central band of the tipi for their personal histories, values, and ambitions. Students who have trouble getting started can be reminded to think about personal hobbies like music, dance, or athletics. They could picture important symbols having to do with their avocations (i.e., musical instruments, books, or basketballs). Ask students if there isn’t some special animal with which they identify. Perhaps that animal could be a theme on their special lodge. Remind them to place their lodges in an appropriate setting emphasizing their harmony with the Earth.
  3. When the students have finished their drawings, have them write short essays explaining the significance of the traditional and personal symbols they have included on their lodges.
  4. Encourage the students to show and explain their lodges to the rest of the class.
  5. If students are willing, collect the pictures and essays, put them into a binder or book.

Variations and Extensions:
Some students may be interested enough in this idea to build a three-dimensional diorama, putting tipis and other kinds of lodging in a natural setting. It would be interesting to see local topographical features and indigenous plants and animals included.

Ask students to write a short essay on how their home reflects their own relationship with animals.

Last updated: November 7, 2017

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