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Pound Ridge Elementary School Students Explore Artifacts While Learning About Lenape Culture

 PRES students examine animal artifacts

“Wait, this is actually bear skin?!” a Pound Ridge Elementary School fourth grader asked incredulously. The student was petting the soft fur but pulled back her hand quickly when she realized what it was. On display tables around her, there were a variety of artifacts made from animals and other natural elements: a piece of deer jaw that was used to take off corn kernels, a fishbone necklace, a turkey bone whistle.

The artifacts were brought to PRES by Carla Messinger, a Lenape descendant from Pennsylvania, to teach students about Native American culture in celebration of Native American Heritage Month and as part of the fourth-grade curriculum.

“The Lenape people were incredible recyclers,” Messinger told students. “They used and reused everything they could.”

She told students how the Lenape used animal bones for everything from instruments and jewelry to spoons. They used hollowed-out and dried squash to create drinking vessels similar to today’s sports bottles. They even used the fluffy part of cattails to stuff diapers.

Messinger also spoke about how the Lenape and colonists influenced each other’s cultures, showed traditional clothing, explained how the Lenape were a matriarchal society and so much more. After her talk, students were able to explore all the artifacts she brought with her and ask questions.

A couple of the girls in Randi Neglia’s class were incredibly interested in something called a rain stick. While it looked like a piece of a branch, if you moved it around, there was a tumbling sound inside of it. As the students explored it more, they tried to figure out what could possibly be making the sound inside and wondered why it made different noises in different positions.

“We’re not going to know what’s on the inside unless we ask,” Neglia said when the students brought it to her attention. “That’s how we get answers.”

The girls brought the stick to Messinger, who was happy to explain that it was a dried-out piece of cactus that was plugged up after pebbles were stuffed inside. Sticks like that were used to pray for rain, as a soothing sound to get babies to sleep and even as a percussion instrument at celebrations.

“This is another example of how they reused things in really resourceful ways,” Messinger said.

The presentation truly inspired active, connected learning and pushed students to examine artifacts, ask questions and think critically.

PRES students touch animal pelts