Monday, November 30, 2009

TIPI! . . . we made our home out of ?????????


We made our home out of paper bags
128 to be exact
We sewed and sewed 'til our fingers exploded!
We made our home out of paper bags
But not from skins of buffalo
We Ralphed and Gelsoned and Trader Joed it.
We used twine instead of sinew
Metal needles instead of bone
Leave your matches outside when you
Step into our paper home:
Our Tipi!
- from The Tipi Song

If you visit one of the third grade classrooms during the fall, you may be lucky enough to view a Willows tradition in full swing:  the building of the tipi.

It is definitely not a project for the fainthearted!  Picture desks covered with piles of brown paper grocery bags and a roomful of  children threading needles, measuring seams, and sewing bags together in groups of two, four, and eight.  The challenge of creating a completely handmande, life-size tipi over 6' high and 12' in diameter seems daunting - but somehow it all works!

The Willows' very first tipi was created in 1997.  A rainy El Nino winter and bad weather forced the children inside during recess and lunch day after day. (Remember, this was when there was only one building and no gym where kids could blow off steam!)

The third graders were in the midst of a unit on native American life, reading novels about Native Americans, creating clay kachina dolls, and building Seneca medicine masks.  Third grade teacher Erin Sullivan was searching for a larger project that would give the class a collective mission. She also thought it wouldn't hurt for them to have an activity during the rainy recess periods.

"Let's make our own tipi," suggested one third grader.  Together, they discussed the materials needed (we can't use buffalo skins, so why not paper bags?) and the steps to take  (let's make small rectangles and piece them together into bigger rectangles).

"As the project unfolded, the tipi started to take on a life of its own," remembers Erin.  "The kids had to use multiplication to calculate the dimensions of the canvas they were sewing - how many bags long? how many bags wide?  We had to work with the number pi to cut the canvas into a tipi-shaped semicircle. Then, of course, they had to research and read about the pictographs that they would use to decorate the outside.  The tipi project wasn't just 'social studies' anymore - we were integrating all the disciplines and drawing on a huge set of skills to get the job done."

That spring, the completed tipi was erected in the atrium of Willows I.  On the day of their end-of-unit culmination, the third graders stood proudly at the entrance and provided tours for parents and friends.

That morning, the students also presented the very first performance of "The Tipi Song," a staple of The Willows "songbook" that third graders have sung at every Step-Up ceremony for years.

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