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Native American Heritage Month Resources for Preschool Teachers

November is Native American Heritage Month in the U.S. Learn how to introduce Native American culture to preschoolers through reading and other activities.

Native American Heritage Month Resources for Preschool Teachers

Native American Heritage Month Resources for Preschool Teachers

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the culture and history of Indigenous people in the United States. It is important for young children to learn about Native Americans, as they are an integral part of our nation's history. November offers an excellent opportunity for preschool teachers to introduce this critical topic to young children and celebrate the many contributions and achievements of Native peoples. 

This article discusses a mini-history of the month-long observance, how best to explain this topic to young children, and provides activities to help preschoolers understand and celebrate Native American culture. 

children sitting at a table with color paper working on arts and crafts


What Is Native American Heritage Month? 

Native American Heritage Month is a celebration and observance acknowledging the many contributions and achievements of Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians in the United States. The celebration originally started as an effort to get one day of recognition. Because of the many efforts to establish recognition of Native peoples over the years, the observance has progressed from one day, to one week, to one month. 

In May 1916, New York became the first state to declare an American Indian Day. In 1976, President Gerald Ford announced October 10-16 as "Native American Awareness week." Congress later passed a law in 1986 establishing November 23–30, 1986, as "American Indian Week." Congress celebrated American Indian Week for years after the law was passed, declaring one week during the autumn months as "Native American Indian Heritage Week." In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution designating November as the first National American Indian Heritage Month (also known as Native American Indian Month). In 2008 the language used in the proclamation changed to include the contributions of Alaskan Natives

Today, Native American Heritage Month is celebrated every year, beginning on November 1. 

How to explain Native American Heritage Month to preschoolers 

There are many approaches you can take to promote values of diversity, equity and inclusion in your classroom and explain Native American Heritage Month to preschoolers. Before you begin, take time to familiarize yourself with the culture by visiting the National Park Service's Native American Heritage Month website. Here you can discover essential people and their stories. You can also learn about historical landmarks that honor Native peoples. The following are some steps you can take to help your preschoolers understand Native American culture and contributions to the United States. 

Learn about Native tribes in your area 

When you visit Native Land's online map, you'll have the opportunity to learn about tribes that exist where you live. You can also teach children various facts about federally recognized tribes in your area. Native Land is a website and app that helps map Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages. Their mission is to map Indigenous lands in a way that changes, challenges, and improves how people see history and the present day.

You can also use flashcards to share information with children by placing a picture of the tribe on one side and fun facts about it on the other. When talking about specific tribes or nations, you can also share photos of their land so the children can get a sense of where the people live and what it looks like there. 

Read books with Native American characters 

Another way to teach children about Native American life is through storytelling and photos. With age-appropriate picture books, you can share aspects of Native American culture, such as customs, foods, music and art forms, and historical figures. Review recommended book lists from Social Justice Books and Reading Rockets to look for age-appropriate early childhood books. 

Share facts and photos about Native American life

In addition to reading, you can share facts with the children by visiting Native Languages. The site shares child-friendly facts about Native American life. You can choose a topic and use visuals such as photographs of a particular subject matter or of significant Native peoples and discuss their contributions to the progress of the United States. This will help the children visualize what you're discussing and develop a better understanding of the topic. 

How to celebrate Native American Heritage Month

There are several ways to celebrate Native American heritage with your preschool class during November that will help them better understand this important topic and allow them to explore their creativity too! 

Visit a museum

Museums create an unparalleled opportunity where you can introduce your preschoolers to exhibits with preserved culture, art, history, and science. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) estimates that there are around 236 tribal museums in the United States. While popular stops would land you at the National Museums of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. or New York City, you can also find smaller museums that focus on specific tribes including the Cherokee, Pueblo, Iriquois, and more.

Try traditional foods

Serving traditional foods is a great way to teach about any culture because it allows children to connect with and experience the culture firsthand. You can prepare snacks and meals that incorporate corn, beans, or squash, which are staple foods in Native American cultures. 

You could also consider making frybread to share with the class. This dish originated years ago, when the United States forced Native Americans living in Arizona to relocate to New Mexico, onto land that couldn't easily be cultivated, to grow their traditional vegetables and beans. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the government gave them canned goods, white flour, processed sugar, and lard, the ingredients used in frybread, to prevent them from starving. 

Choosing foods associated with tribes in your area will make this part of your lesson even more meaningful.

Learn about musical instruments

Drums are fundamental instruments in Native American culture because they are viewed as spiritual guardians as well as musical instruments. Although various tribes have different traditions regarding how to play the drum, the basic construction—a wooden frame or a carved and hollowed-out log, with finely tanned buckskin or elkskin stretched taut across the opening—is similar. 

You can teach children some facts about how Native Americans view the drum and what it symbolizes and incorporate drum playing into your lesson plans. 

Native American Heritage Month activities

Use the following engaging and culturally appropriate ideas to help bring Native American Heritage Month to your classroom.

Learn a pow wow dance

A pow wow is a Native American gathering, where men, women, and children gather to sing, dance, celebrate their culture, and reconnect with their friends and family. It usually involves a competition where dancers, moving in their own style, are judged on their ability to keep up with the rhythm of the drums. While traditional dances are reserved for Native Americans, visitors are welcome to join in on the Intertribal Dance, usually held between contest dances. Learn a pow wow dance alongside your preschoolers. Pow wows dances are meaningful and exciting and are an engaging way to teach your class about Native American heritage. 

Create artwork

You can have your children create artwork inspired by traditional indigenous designs or make jewelry out of colorful beads. Be mindful when deciding what crafts to create. While a headdress may seem like a fun idea, it can actually be seen as disrespectful by Indigenous people. Instead, consider creating a cardboard tube totem pole or a mini wigwam made of paper.

Watch videos on Native storytelling

Oral traditions, in the form of storytelling, are a pillar of Native American culture. Stories also play a big role in the classroom, as they help children develop listening and comprehension skills and their imagination. Initially, it might seem as if the ancestors were simply telling stories, but they were actually passing down traditions, sharing customs, instilling values, and telling their people how to survive. To honor and celebrate their heritage through words, watch videos on Native storytelling. You can start with The Turtle Story, a popular retelling of how earthquakes happen. 

Read a book on Native American culture

Introducing your preschoolers to traditional Native American stories is important, but you can also include fictional stories that highlight Native American culture and values. You can take it a step further by ensuring that the stories you share are by Native people. During storytime, consider introducing your children to Berry Song by Michaela Goade. The story follows a young girl as her grandmother introduces her to indigenous traditions—singing and thanking the land—while berry-picking.

Introduce children to past and present Native Americans

Many lessons on Native Americans tend to focus on the past. They gloss over the fact that Indigenous people have a rich heritage and culture that is thriving today. Instead of focusing primarily on historical figures, introduce your preschoolers to modern Native Americans and how they live their daily lives. For example, the story of Gia Rose and her family is shared in Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters, where you can follow along as the family keeps the Pueblo tradition of pottery-making alive.

These activities create great opportunities to observe the children as they experience a new culture—experiences their families might like to see too. With a tool like brightwheel’s lesson plan feature, you can store and share pictures, videos, and notes with families to help keep them engaged and active in their child’s education.


November is the perfect time for educators to introduce preschoolers to Native American heritage. By incorporating stories, music, visuals, activities, and even field trips into lessons about this topic, young learners can gain an appreciation for indigenous cultures and acquire respect for all peoples. So get creative and have fun celebrating Native American Heritage Month with the children in your care.

Honor the diversity of your community by acknowledging other important celebrations throughout the year:


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