A Sense of Belonging

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Subjects Image: 
Grades: K - 2nd Grade
Lesson: 2
Unit: 2: American Indian land tenure history
Subject: History/Social Studies
Achievement Goal: Observe how individuals or groups establish a sense of belonging within their environment or homelands.
Time: Two class periods
Lesson Resources:

Lesson Description:

Students interview elders about special places and, as an option, take a field trip to discover their own “special places.”

Teacher Background:

Students’ discovery of their environment—and of their families’ and their own special place within the environment—promotes respect and care for the land. This lesson provides an opportunity for the students to interview elders, to experience finding their own special spot in the community’s landscape, and to explore the connection between land and people.

Teacher Preparation Resources:
  • Review and obtain one or more of the books in the Lesson Resources section.
  • Invite an elder or another community member to the classroom for students to interview about memories of special places on the land. Alternatively, ask students to interview an older family member at home.
  • As an additional option, plan a field trip to a location where the students can have an opportunity to find a “special spot” somewhere in the environment. This location should have a variety of trees, rocks or other natural features where the students can sit for a short period of time. Arrange for several parents or aides to accompany the class on this field trip in order to supervise the children at all times. See the detailed suggestions for this option below.
Student Activity:
  1. Review stories from the Lesson Resources section.
  2. Tell students that our lives and the places where we live have changed over time. Some of us have descended from American Indians who have lived in or near the same places for many generations, while others are descendants of recent immigrants. Explain to the students that past generations have used the plants and animals around them and perhaps changed them a bit too.
  3. Have an elder or community member talk about special places on the land. Or have children discuss what they found out through interviewing family or community members.
    • Brainstorm class questions with your students. Here are some suggested questions and “prompts” for elders: Where did you grow up? What kind of food did you eat? Where did your food come from? Describe what your house, and the land outside the house, was like. Tell me about a time when you had fun outdoors on the land—for instance, at a lake, river, mountain, or another place. How did the land change while you were growing up? (For example, were trees cut down or planted, was there more or less water as time went on, did you see different animals, etc.)
    • If you interview an elder at home, when you return to the classroom describe for your classmates the places where your grandparents, parents or other caretakers, and you have lived. Where were these places located? On what plants, animals and other resources have your families depended for food, shelter, and fun? How have your families changed the places where they have lived?
    • At the conclusion of the interview(s) lead a discussion, encouraging the children to share information about the places where their elders have lived. Ask students to summarize or list the elders’ answers to the questions. Ask the students to also draw pictures or make a collage of photos that shows the places where the elders have lived.
  4. If possible, take a field trip:
    • On a day when the weather is cooperative, take the students to the location you have selected beforehand
    • Have the students sit in a circle.
    • Discuss with them the idea that their homelands offer a unique and special environment. Help them learn what a sense of belonging to their environment means. Explain that bonding with the world around them, regularly, is a way for them to begin to understand the lands that they live in. Also remind them that TV, radio, computers, family and friends can be noisy and don’t give them a chance to experience the sounds of nature and the land. This would be a good time to read the students a story about nature or the environment.
    • Ask the students if any of them can tell the class about a time they spent sitting and listening to the birds, watching a dog play, watching a stream flow by or any other type of individual reflection in a natural setting.
    • Instruct the students to find their own “special spot” somewhere in the environment they are visiting.
    • Tell them that they need to stay in sight of you or one of the parents. Explain to them that they should find a comfortable place under a tree, next to a rock or even in the open where they can sit quietly and just listen.
    • Instruct the students that while they are sitting quietly and listening to think about their “special spot,” the things around them, and how they are part of the environment they are sitting in.
    • Allow the students to spend about five minutes to find their “special spot.” Make sure that you or one of the parents account for each of the students. Depending on the age of the students, allow them another 5-10 minutes to sit and enjoy their “special spot.”
    • Call the students back to the circle. Do a head count to make sure all the students have returned. Ask them to volunteer and tell the class what they heard as they sat quietly in their “special spot.” Discuss with them the sense of belonging to a place. Ask them if they felt comfortable in their “special spot” and if they felt a sense of belonging to the land while they were sitting there.
  1. Listen to the students as they talk about their elders’ experiences in special places and as the students discuss their summaries and drawings that they have based on the interviews.
  2. To evaluate the students’ learning on the optional field trip, listen to them tell of their experiences in their special places as they listened quietly to nature and the environment around them.
Lesson Resources:
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Native American Stories. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1991.
  • Caduto, Michael J. and Joseph Bruchac. Keepers of the Earth: Native American stories and environmental activities for children. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1989.
  • Caduto, Michael J. and Joseph Bruchac. Teachers Guide to Keepers of the Earth: Native American stories and environmental activities for children. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1988.

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