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Author: Marion E. Gridley

Illustrator: Irma Wilde

Suggested by Henry W. Longfellow’s poem Hiawatha
ASIN: B0007I6J5U


Literature Based Unit Study by Wende


Geography – The home of Hiawatha was a Chippewa Indian village on the shores of Gitchee Gumee. This was a real place, near Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, bordering Lake Michigan. If your student isn’t familiar with what a peninsula is, show him a map of Michigan and explain that it is a piece of land almost entirely surrounded by water. Michigan was named after the Chippewa word for great lake, “michigama”, because the state is surrounded by water on four shores. If there is an interest, study the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes region further.

Free Travel Guide to order

General Info on all 50 states

Map of Michigan to color

Coloring page of state flower and bird

Native Americans – Living near the lakes and rivers bordering the forests of Michigan (as well as southern Canada), the Chippewa were good hunters and fisherman. The winter months were spent in the forests hunting animals of all sizes. In the summers they would travel the lakes and streams in their birch bark canoes.  Because the Chippewa wandered often from place to place in search of food, they needed a shelter that was easily disassembled and moved. They lived in dome shaped structures called wigwams, a frame of saplings covered with sheets of birch bark that were rolled up when moving from camp to camp.

     Activity – Make a “Birch Bark Canoe” – Take an empty paper towel tube and cut it lengthwise. Staple or glue the two ends flat. If you have access to a birch tree, gently scrape some bark off it and glue on to your canoe. If not, decorate the sides of your canoe with Indian symbols.

Customs – It was customary for a Chippewa boy to receive an eagle feather when he had done a great thing. Hiawatha didn’t like his white goose feather and wanted to prove he was worthy of wearing the feather of an eagle. What did Hiawatha do to earn his eagle feather? Do you have any customs in your family that you have to earn the right to do? Discuss these with your children.

     Activity – Make an Indian headband with a strip of construction paper, and a small feather. Encourage child to “earn” a larger “eagle” feather by doing something that shows responsibility, whether it be cleaning up his room unasked, helping with younger siblings, or some other chore above the call of duty.  


Trees – Trees were a wonderful and necessary resource for the Indians. They used them for their houses, canoes, tools, bows and arrows, to burn for warmth and cooking, and even for food. See how many types of trees your child can recall from the story. (Pine, Fir, birch, hickory, cedar, maple, ash, oak) Can he recall what each one was used for? Look through a field guide at each of the different trees. Go on a nature hike and see how many different trees your child can identify. If you want to dig further, you could discuss the difference between deciduous (leaf shedding) trees and evergreens, and locate the pictures of each throughout the story.

     Considering God’s Creation – Lesson 11 - Trees

Beavers – Hiawatha would lie very still and watch the beavers build their homes, which resembled the wigwams of the Chippewa. Have your children ever had the opportunity to watch a beaver working? It is quite an amazing task, and they would have a better understanding of the saying “busy as a beaver”! First they build a dam to slow the flow of water down by gnawing down logs, pounding them into the riverbed and gluing them together with mud.  Then the beavers pile up sticks and glue them together with more mud, making underwater entrances along the way. A cute picture book, Animal Homemakers by Aurelius Battaglia has a section on beavers.  

You may want to check-out the beaver report forms and copywork pages on Homeschool Share's Animal Forms page. 

Beaver Report Form from Highland Hitchco

Constellations – Hiawatha looked up at the star figures in the heavens. These groups of stars are called “constellations”. The study of stars is called “astronomy”. Can you look up into the nighttime sky and find any constellations? Maybe you can find Great Bear, or the Big Dipper. A telescope would be wonderful to introduce to your children, or maybe even a special field trip to a planetarium could be planned. To learn more about the stars in our solar system, check your library.

     I Can Read About The Sun and Other Stars by Richard Harris

     I Am a Star by Jean Marzollo (Hello Reader! Science-Level1)

     Considering God’s Creation – Lesson 2 – My Place in the Universe

     Activity – have children cut stars out of foil and tape them to a window in the shapes on constellations, so even in the daytime or on a cloudy night they can look out the window and see stars.

Fish and Crustaceans  – The Chippewa were great fisherman, and Hiawatha knew the names of all the fish. Can you find the sturgeon and the yellow perch in the picture? How about the crawfish? A fish is a cold-blooded animal with fins and scales. It has a backbone, making it a vertebrate, and most lay eggs. Does a crawfish fit this classification? No it doesn’t! A crawfish is not a fish at all! It is a crustacean, with a crust-like shell, jointed legs, and no backbone, making it an invertebrate.  Crayfish Print-out from Enchanted Learning



The Indians liked to sew little glass beads onto their leather clothing for decoration. Use beads for manipulatives to practice math facts, be it addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.



Poetry – This story is based on the poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry W. Longfellow. If you have “rowed” Paul Revere’s Ride your children may already be familiar with this poet. While the content of the entire poem may not be appropriate for your children, to hear the early parts including the childhood of Hiawatha may be pleasurable. Have your child write or narrate a poem about his life from birth to present. Have him include things like the place of his birth, questions he has had, friends, pets, and hobbies.

Storytelling – Native Americans were wonderful storytellers and often explained happenings in nature by making up or retelling stories. The stories often had a moral to them. One such story was of how the bear lost his tail.  Your children may enjoy reading more stories such as these in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Maybe your child would like to write or narrate a story about something in nature such as why the sky is blue, or why raccoons look like they are wearing a mask. If desired, a discussion about God being the Creator of all things may be in order, to explain why non-believers sometimes make up stories for things they don’t understand.


Music and Dancing – Dancing was very important to the Chippewa culture, and as the story says, it was one of the first things that children learned. It was considered an art form, and there were different dances for different activities and celebrations. Have children first make drums out of coffee cans, oatmeal containers, or whatever else you have laying around the house, and decorate them with Indian patterns. Make rattles using a circle of fabric stuffed with beans and then tied around a stick. Look at pictures in story for ideas. While your children are crafting, you can discuss with them that the instruments they are making are called percussion instruments, whose sound is produced by hitting or striking. Take turns doing Indian dances with the instruments, and even try your hands at dancing with two hoops.

Needlework – Older children may be interested in the Indian art of beading. Have them try sewing beads in a pattern like a flower, an arrow, or the sun, on a piece of felt. (The felt won’t fray, and will make the sewing easier for beginners). You could then make it into a sachet or a little change purse (or wallet). You could even buy a pre-punched leather and bead kit at a craft store if so inclined.


For a comparison to the story in Disney fashion, you could read:

     Hiawatha’s Kind Heart, A Walt Disney Beginning Reader

If you would like to read about the legendary Hiawatha of Longfellow’s poem compared to the real life Hiawatha, a great Iroquois leader, you could read the applicable chapter in:

     Our Folk Heroes by Karen Spies

If your children like easy readers to go along with your story, this has a similar theme:

     Good Hunting, Blue Sky by Peggy Parish (Level 2)



Another fun activity may be making some wild rice (available in the grain section of most supermarkets) for a lunch treat. While cooking, you can discuss the different kinds of rice (white, brown, long grain, wild, etc) and where they grow.

If you live in the right part of the country, and row this book during the early spring, you may be able to find a maple syrup demonstration at your local nature center. It is a fun experience to watch the process from the tapping of the tree to the boiling down of the syrup, to the tasting of the delicious candies. If nothing else, splurge on some real maple syrup and enjoy it in honor of Hiawatha’s hard day of tending the syrup.