November 21, 2008

Native American Dice

This is a game the kids love to break out around Thanksgiving, right about the time that we're watching "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving". If you have the DVD, there is a goofy extra called "The Mayflower Voyagers" which tells the story of the Pilgrims' journey to the New World. I've barely touched the surface of the "Pilgrims and Indians" theme with Lo because I'm still not positive that that whole story on which this holiday is based, was the happy tale of unity and compassion that is so prevalently depicted . I read A Peoples History of the United States years ago and was troubled by the section on the Pilgrims. It portrayed them as opportunists who didn't hesitate to use force to take over land occupied by Native Americans. In the past I've looked for further info on this but didn't find much. If anyone is up to speed on the REAL story of Thanksgiving(as well as Columbus), please contact me! I'm not into teaching my children the public school sugar coated version of the truth!
In explaining the Pilgrim story to Lo, I've focused mainly on the Native Americans and how they lived peacefully and prosperously on the land and how they were willing to share with the Pilgrims who were struggling. Beyond that, Thanksgiving, to us, represents just that... A holiday of Giving Thanks for what we have.

This Native American game of dice fits well with the Thanksgiving themes that work for our family's yearly tradition. I discovered the game a few years ago when I spent a summer working with kindergartners at a camp. I brought the idea home to Dea and we made our first "edition" out of popsicle sticks and seashells. Now, years later, it was time to give Lo the chance to make the game and i thought it would be fun to use the more traditional materials. She loved the whole process of gathering sticks outside, stripping them of bark, drying them by the fire, sanding them and so forth. A really great tactile experience as well as a lesson in history, economics and counting! Anyway, I'd love to share this simple but engaging game.

Materials we used:
10 "counting" sticks per player-no more than 8 inches long
Sharpies in various colors
6 walnut shell halves(these will be your dice!)
Modeling beeswax or Sculpy
Seed beads, tiny seeds, pebbles, bits of sea shell

What we did:

We stripped the bark off the sticks and then sanded them to bring out the lighter color of the wood. You can also use a pocket knife to whittle tough bark off or even leave some bark on for interesting patterns. Make sure to sand the ends of the sticks.
We then created designs on the sticks with the sharpies. You can be as creative as you want or go traditional with simple geometric designs such as bands, diagonal lines and dots. We left a few of our sticks natural and just polished them with beeswax polish.

Next, we carefully broke open our walnut shells with a small spreading knife. I hear an oyster shucker works great to get the nut open- leaving both halves in tact! Our method only allowed us to keep one half whole while the other side broke. We also discovered that Lo likes walnuts! Another food to add to Miss Picky's list!

We used a nut pick to dig out the nuts and scrape clean the shell.

I decided to also sand the edges of the shells.

After putting my hands through torture trying to warm up and soften the beeswax(you'd think I'd have no problem being a massage therapist!) we filled the inside of the shells with it to the brim.

Then we decorated the undersides of the shells with our seed beads.

How to play the game:
Each person starts with 10 counting sticks each. The first player tosses the 6 dice. The score depends on how the dice land.
All the flat sides of the shells up or all flat sides down=2 sticks

Half the shells up and half down=1 counting stick

All other combinations=0 sticks

The first player collects the number of sticks indicated from the second player. The second player then repeats the process. The game is over when one player has all the sticks! This game can take quite awhile, as each person's fortune rises and falls unpredictably! If your little ones have a hard time with the length of the game, they can always play with fewer counting sticks.
With the dice Dea made a few years ago, we labeled each counting stick to represent something of traditional Native American value. Some of the valuable items were a horse, a tee-pee, one tanned skin, etc. Since we are Alaskans, we incorporated such Alaska Native items as mukluks, qiviut, snow goggles, a kayak, and a fur. I think this made the game more interesting with another dynamic! It was always a bummer to loose your horse or kayak, but you could live without goggles or qiviut. It was a challenge to get those certain valuables back! Go ahead and add your own ideas to the game, it's fairly open ended with room for imagination! Enjoy!


tiff said...

There are some great books out now that seem more historical...and not the sugar coated public school depiction...hee :) i tried not to sugar coat...hope i was successful. Isn't it all about the TURKEY anyways...giggle :)

I got this great book from National Geographic part of the Holidays around the World series called "Celebrate Thanksgiving"...I really liked the photographs and the story line...talks about the heartbreak and the unity...but also the evolving Thanksgiving meaning. There is another book called Thanksgiving Gail is pretty good too!

Sharon said...

Very cool project. I love the picture of Lo sanding. :)

Tammy said...

Oh, that is a way cool idea and game. Kayla has a lesson block on native americans beginning in January and I'm going to have her do this!

We just finished watching Colonial House, and they also mentioned that it wasn't the great "love fest" that is so often shown in movies, cartoons, and books. The colonists only invited the indians to keep peace, as they were passing through at the time. The indians were not very happy about it all, but joined anyway. I guess it was a pretty strained dinner all around.

Anet said...

Oh boy! I love this post!!! Thank you first of all for teaching your children the non-sugared coat tale of the "First Thanksgiving"
Being a Native American family, our family is not celebrating the traditional Thanksgiving anymore and will replace it with a Ghost Supper/Harvest Dinner focusing on our Ancestors and Native traditions.

Noah and I have been digging in deep the last few weeks searching for the true story. We have been on this truth seeking kick lately.
We found out a few interesting facts.
First of all, they called themselves Puritans or First Comers. It wasn't until many years later in a book that William Bradford wrote and referred to them as Pilgrims.
With in the first few weeks of land fall they raided the Massasoit's winter food storage and helped themselves. Then a few weeks later they saw the Natives and just started shooting at them. Hmmm... I wonder why the Massosoits were so freaked out. That and the fact that earlier explorers wiped out entire villages of Natives with small pox and tuberculosis.
Guess who made the first move to be friendly? yep, the Natives.
That spring and summer the Natives taught the Pilgrims to plant and hunt. They shared seed with them.
That fall in mid October they had a 3 day feast.
That really wasn't the "first" Thanksgiving, the Indians have been having simular harvest feast for many years.
There was a treaty made between the Indians and the Pilgrims and was kept until years after Bradford's death. That's a whole other story.
This is a great game, I love how you put an Alaskan Native twist to it! We are going to make us a set of sticks and dice as soon as I can get my hands on some walnuts. I can't wait to play! Thanks for sharing this :)

Anonymous said...

Thanksgiving is a hard holiday to explain! I've even read that "the Pilgrims" were actually several different groups, including some that wanted to reform the Church of England and some that wanted to be completely different and thus were called "Separatists". So it's not like it was all peace and harmony even among themselves.

Great game...I like how you personalized it.

Sarah said...

I was just thinking about writing something on Thanksgiving history. Maybe I will now. Plimoth Plantation has an interactive web site that allows you to view the story from the perspective of either a European child or a Wampanoag child.

My kids loved the "thunder hole" dice game we made last summer. I'm going to try something like this now!

Loring Wirbel said...

That popular book, Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, is actually not that sugary, and it can refer you to the books on "Prince Philip's War," which was the series of wars that took place a decade or so after the First Thanksgiving. Yes, we exploited and killed many of the more hostile tribes in the area, but there are important caveats. I hate to say it, but you have to read Howard Zinn with the same sort of caveats that you read jingoistic and right-wing history books. Zinn can be a rhetorician and pretty dogmatic at times.

What we really need, though, is a history of settler-tribal warfare that is the equivalent of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, but goes from Prince Philip's War in the 1630s up until the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears 200 years later. There are a few books on the Pontiac rebellion in the 1760s, the Ohio-Indiana wars in the 1780s and the Tecumseh wars in the 1810s, and lots of books on what a total prick Andrew Jackson was, but no comprehensive book from the Native American point of view. Or am I missing something?

dawn klinge said...

I think your approach to teaching Lo about Thanksgiving sounds balanced and fair. Thank you so much for sharing this game and how to make it. I've read about it being played in books before, but couldn't really picture it.

Ruth said...

I have Phillbrick's book Mayflower and like so many books, it sits unfinished on my window ledge. But yeah, Don asked me yesterday how many Thanksgivings the Pilgrims and Native Americans spent together? One.

Satsuki Rebel said...

Thanksgiving was actually never meant to be a feast anyways- not in the sense we think of it as, though it would coincide with times of abundance. Considering the deep religious beliefs Thanksgiving was meant as a day for prayer and worship, a day to give thanks to God for giving them a healthy harvest and such.

I would suggest holding a yearly "Harvest/Fall Festival" if the religiousness of the holiday bothers you. Feasts and the like have been celebrated all over the world. You could simply celebrate the changing of the seasons, the last bit of warmth before winter brings its frost. I would leave the Pilgrims out entirely. (Though some Native American traditions might be nice simply to connect back our own country's roots.)

Okay, that's all I've got I guess.

Jessica Morris said...

Is this just a game for two people? I love the sounds of it!! My boys are too young for it, but I'd still love to make one and play with our dinner guests for thanksgiving this year! :)

RunninL8 said...

Hi Jessica! Thanks for stopping by! I'm sure you could modify this game to include more people. perhas just add more sticks. And you would have to make a rule such as only collecting counting sticks from the person on your left, to make things fair. We wounldn't want people to keep taking just one person's counting sticks! Hope you have lots of fun with this!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this game! We are going to have to play it. Love if you linked this up with me