Early Native American History Unit with American Girl Kaya

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Last fall, I shared with you our plans for learning American History with my 6 year old American Girl Doll fan and her friend. You can click over to that post to see our list of resources. We began with the first book in the historical series, Kaya.

More Information About How We Used the Book

Finished Native American Indian Dresses to fit an American Girl doll and a Bitty Baby doll.

Finished Native American Indian Dresses to fit an American Girl doll and a Bitty Baby doll.

Each week I read a chapter to my 6 year old daughter. She is not yet reading at the level of the AG books but she is interested in them. While I read, she often acted out the story with her Kaya’s Magnetic Mini World  (watch Amazon for used copies, I got ours for less than $20). I was very glad I purchased this to go along with our books as she has gotten a lot of use out of it. Meanwhile, my friend Krista reads the chapter to her daughter, so that we are all ready for Book Club meeting on Mondays to do projects and talk about what we read together. This has worked beautifully. I don’t even really think the girls realize this is part of “school”.  They just think they have a fun play date with crafts and AG dolls every week. It’s a beautiful thing!

We began by adding Kaya stickers to the historical timeline on our wall. We’ve been using this timeline since we started formal history studies in our homeschool. We also added pictures of the girls to the year they were born on the timeline so they could see that in relation to when the Kaya stories take place.

Next we put Kaya stickers on our wall map of the United States so they could see where Kaya would have lived in relation to where we live.

Then we embarked on many fun projects and activities, detailed below. We did not use all the Kaya books. I’ll talk more about that later in this post.

Hand Sewn Doll Dresses
Wait! Keep reading, even if you don’t sew. I am not a sewer by any means but I made these very simple dresses and I’ll explain it to you so you won’t make the same mistakes I did (making them too small, wondering whose idea it was at the AG company to make these dolls heads so darn big so you can’t fit clothing over them, and so on).

I purchased some brown fabric from the costume section of the fabric store. It’s similar to a microsuede so it won’t fray easily when cut. I folded it in half and sketched a paper template. I used a piece of chalk to outline the template onto the fabric.

template for Kaya dressIMG_8710

Cut the neckline small. you can always enlarge it if it won’t fit over the doll’s head. Cut out the entire outline on the doubled up piece of fabric. Then pin the two pieces together and sew a simple stitch down the sides of the dress and the underside of the sleeves. I have no idea what this stitch is called. Remember how little I know about sewing? I just tried to use a strong thread because I knew my daughter would be pulling the dress on and off the doll and I didn’t want it to fall apart.


Next, cut fringe at the bottom of the dress. That’s it. The first one I made was too small so that wound up fitting a smaller doll. If you measure 8 inches across your fabric, like I did with the second dress, it should fit a standard 18 inch doll.

The dolls wore their Kaya dresses to Book Club each week. Often, the girls wanted their hair and their dolls’ hair braided like Kaya as well.

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Doll Beaded Necklaces
Pony beads and plastic beading string from the craft/hobby store is all you need to make these. They were a fun accessory to add to our Kaya doll dresses.


Mini Teepee for the Dolls
We gathered sticks, tied four of them together with twine at the top and then leaned the rest of our sticks onto this.

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The girls painted a long piece of white butcher paper with brown paint and we wrapped it around the stick structure. A few staples held it in place. We cut out a flap for the door.

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Painted Paper Parfleches
What do you mean you don’t know what a parfleche is? Well, neither did I until I read about Kaya, but as it turns out, this is a project my daughter came up with after seeing it in the Welcome to Kaya’s World. A parfleche is a large envelope of sorts, made out of animal skins by the Nez Perce Indians and painted with brightly colored geometric patterns. They used the envelopes like suitcases for their belongings, or to give gifts to others, often transporting them attached to the side of their horses.

We used large sheets of white butcher paper, some primary colored paints, and a bit of ribbon to make ours.


Stovetop Popcorn
Ideally, this would’ve been great over an actual campfire, but we used our gas stove instead. The girls enjoyed watching the popcorn pop and learning that this snack has been around since Kaya’s time, needing no fancy preparation.  For more information on making stovetop popcorn, click over to my Kiwi Crate post on this topic.


Weaving Baskets, Making Fans, Jewelery and Woven Bags
Fellow homeschooling mom and the creative brains behind this project, Krista, did these projects with the girls. She ordered basket kits and the girls wove them.  They also made fans and necklaces like we noticed in the photos of the Nez Perce, part of ceremonial dress for dancing. Unfortunately, despite endless searching, I cannot find the pictures I took of these things so you will have to use your imagination. 

I did find this picture of my older son weaving a potholder on a loom, which is how he occupied himself while the girls were weaving their baskets and discussing the latest Kaya chapter.

I did find this picture of my older son weaving a potholder on a loom, which is how he occupied himself while the girls were weaving their baskets and discussing the latest Kaya chapter.

Our Own Pow Wow
We ended our 3rd book with a Nez Perce Pow Wow.  We made drums out of empty Pringles canisters, watched You Tube videos of Pow Wow dancers, then danced and drummed ourselves. We divided the girls and their siblings up into two tribes and one tribe visited the other to exchange gifts (the woven bags we’d made) and share food. We pretended goldfish crackers were salmon.  The girls wore their necklaces and carried their fans that they’d made. The siblings made vests out of paper bags and wore those.

Here are the siblings wearing their painted paper vests and getting ready to dance and drum at the pow wow.

Here are the siblings wearing their painted paper vests and getting ready to dance and drum at the pow wow.

Field Trips
Checking out what is available in our area (metropolitan Washington, D.C.), we found two local Pow Wows and the Museum of the American Indian. These hands-on experiences have been so valuable for our girls in reinforcing the concepts we’ve been talking about with books and making with crafts.  

Dancer at the Pow Wow at  George Mason University.

Dancer at the Pow Wow at George Mason University.

A Word About the Books

KayaThe books are recommended for ages 8 and up.  Our girls are age 6 and some of the content of the Kaya books was a bit heavy, so here’s what we did.  There was one thing that we edited out of the first book,  Meet Kaya, because we thought it was a little scary for 6 year olds (a group of children being beaten) and we skipped the second book, Kaya’s Escape, altogether, because the themes involve kidnapping of children and death of a major heroine.  We moved on to the 3rd book, Kaya’s Hero, with some editing for content there as well. For now, we are not continuing with the Kaya series, as we feel the girls are ready to move on after studying early Native American history for 2 1/2 months.

Next up:  Felicity and Colonial Times.

For more ideas, follow my Learning With American Girl Pinterest board.

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  1. These are wonderful ideas; thank you so much for sharing! We just finished up an Addy Study and will be doing Samantha this winter. Now I can’t wait to do a study on Kaya!

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  2. This is fabulous, such a fun hands on way of learning, gleaning ideas for a our small group history co-op, thanks 🙂

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