The Inuit Way of Life

Eskimo girl named Minnie
Photo © 1906 University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections | more info (via: Wylio)

{It's important for children to understand the history of our country - even before it became a nation in 1776. November being "American Indian Heritage Month" makes it a great time to explore the various native peoples and cultures that could be found in America before the land was "discovered" and settled by easterners. This series of lessons attempts to introduce your preschoolers to the original Americans.}

Unit Introduction

  • Having been granted the proper permissions, take your students on a trip to an "unknown" part of the school (i.e. the gym locker rooms, the teacher's lounge, the janitor's closet, etc.). Before opening the door, ask your students if they know what's behind it. Take a few answers and then unveil the mystery room. Explain to your students that, at one time, the world seemed just as big and "unknown" as the school seems at times. They will be surprised to find out that, just like they had no idea the mystery room in the school existed, many people didn't know that America existed (or the native peoples occupying it!)
  • Back in the classroom, find a globe and show students where Spain, Asia, and America are located. Introduce Columbus - his mission, his journey, and his discovery.
  • Provide your students with a map of America and ask them where they think the Native Americans lived before Columbus arrived. Next, show them a map of the Native American Cultures/Groups inhabiting the Americas. Discuss how every part of the Americas is highlighted – showing that native communities were spread throughout both continents.
  • Armed with a piece of printer paper and graphic art tools, have your students draw an Indian. Discuss different stereotypes - clothing, houses, language, etc. (at their level of course) - explaining that not all Native Americans dressed or acted in these ways. Because of differences in environment and resources, there were notable differences between each cultural group and tribe. Let your students know that they will be learning about these very differences in the next unit.

The Inuit (Eskimos)

The objective of this lesson is to teach your preschoolers about the Inuit way of life - where they live, the climate in their region, housing, how they dress (both regularly and ceremonially), what they eat, their customs, transportation, and everyday tools/weapons.

Basic Information

  • Habitat: Arctic (North)
  • Housing: Igloos or tents/houses made from animal skins, wood, sod, or mud
  • Clothing: Sealskin parkas in the summer, caribou skin parkas in the winter, and boots made of walrus hide
  • Food: Expert fisherman and hunters - the Inuits survived on seal, walrus, caribou and other animals
  • Tools/Transportation: Harpoons, kayaks, umiaks (open boats made of wood and skin), and dog sleds

Literature & Songs

  • Five Little Eskimos Song >> Consider designing finger puppets for a fun fingerplay.
  • Mama Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse.
  • The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale by Lydia Dabcovich.

Dress Like An Eskimo Activity

Discuss with your students what the weather is like in the Arctic. Show them pictures of the clothing worn by the Inuits. To help them understand the many layers worn by this Native American tribe, take turns dressing students like Eskimos. Be sure to collect the following to put over student clothing:

  • Bulky sweatshirt = Inuit "inner" coat.
  • Sweatpants = Inuit "inner" pants.
  • Snow pants = Inuit "outer" pants.
  • Snow parka = Inuit "outer" coat.
  • Large thermal socks = Inuit stockings.
  • Snow boots = Inuit "mukluks".
  • Leather work gloves = Inuit mittens.
  • Knitted hat and fur hood
  • Goggles

It might also be fun to collect several Eskimo "outfits" then have a relay race - students are divided into teams, the first player on each team is helped into the outfit, completes a task (i.e. 'runs' to the end of the mat and back balancing a craft pom pom on a plastic spoon, etc.), races back to the finish line, transfers the Eskimo outfit to the next player in line who must complete the same task, and this process repeats until all team members have played. The team who does it the quickest, wins!

Inuit Sensory Table

Consider filling your sensory table with Insta-Snow™ and Inuit-themed objects - plastic animals (seals, whales, caribou, dogs, etc.), boats, small Styrofoam blocks (for igloo building!), and other fun items! Your preschoolers will be delighted with the change - and amazed to find snow inside, in November!

For more great lesson ideas, games, crafts, etc. be sure to check out this American Indians Heritage Series: The Inuits. Native Languages of the Americas is another a great resource for learning about Inuit heritage, traditions, and way of life!