Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grade 2 Wampum Belts

Second Graders in Massachusetts learn about Native American heritage.  At Wood End School, second graders are working on making Wampum Belts in art. 

Wampum were made from seashells.   They were typically made from the quahog (purple beads)  and the whelk (cream/white beads) shells. Wampum were used between tribes to send messages or to tell stories.  Read more about Wampum here.

2nd graders made their own Wampum.  First we came up with a design using a grid that I made on paper.  I made it 12 squares by 6 squares.  Each student created 2 designs and chose their favorite. 

Example of grid design by Margaux G.

We then used purple and white pony beads and pipe cleaners (chenille stems) to create our belts.  We used our grids to create our design.  We then glued the belts to black construction paper. 

Margaux G.'s finished design

By Chloe M.
 I have to tell you though, it didn't start out this easy...I had a whole big plan to make the beads out of model magic and it just didn't work out the way we wanted it to.  We ran into problems of making different sized beads, some people not being able to finish on time, difficulty stringing beads because we forgot to put holes in was a learning experience.  So I saw a lesson online by Phyl at "There's a Dragon in my Art Room".  So I simplified it for grade 2 and the results came out better.  A lot of the kids were really happy about the change and some thought we did a lot of hard work for nothing.  But I explained that it wasn't for nothing, we learned about how to make beads, we learned about the wampum, and we also learned that sometimes things don't always work out the way we plan so we have to be flexible and change it.  Definitely a good change!!!


  1. The pipe cleaner idea is a FABULOUS solution for younger kids! What we did would have been WAY too difficult for that age group. I love that you kept it just the traditional purple/white, and that you had them design a pattern beforehand. They should be very proud!

    My 4th graders learn about the regional Native Americans in their classroom, so I don't have to teach much about the belts at all. They already know it by the time they start the project in art; it just coordinates with the classroom teacher's unit beautifully, and simplifies what I actually teach, which is simply the design development and the actual process.

    1. Thanks Phyl!
      I often take ideas from your blog or others and try to simplify them or change them. Thanks for looking and thanks for your fantastic blog!

  2. I work on a First Nation reserve in Canada and teach a split grade one/two class. We are learning about patterning in math and I know the students will love a hands on project like this, especially since many of their family members do beadwork. Thanks for the wonderful idea. I love how the kids plan out their design on paper first, much like the beadwork artists do here.