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Native American Life Studied
0515 Native Am Day 3
Learning to make clay pottery was another station where third graders at Fair Oaks worked on May 8 during Native American Day. Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

A “field trip” came to school for Fair Oaks Elementary third graders on May 8 to study the Yokuts people. The Yokuts populated this area at one time and consisted of a number of different tribes.

Fair Oaks third grade teacher Bob Greenhow coordinated the effort and reported that the day-long event to study the Native Americans was part of meeting California standards where students describe the American Indian nations in their local region long ago and in the recent past.

Mary Hess of Living History Experiences provided the learning event for the students, setting up stations and training parent volunteers and third grade teachers how to man the stations the night before the event in Greenhow’s classroom. The program started on May 8 with a one-hour assembly presentation to the third graders. Then the more than 120 students were divided into groups and rotated through seven different stations that were set up to help give the students a “day in the life” experience.

The students spent 25 minutes at each station doing hands-on activities, which included archery; spear throwing; rag doll; pine nut bead bracelet; pump drill; clay pots; and acorn grinding. Students who did spear throwing also played tug of war with the two competitors each standing on a block of wood and a game where a circular piece of wood is “speared” by a stick that is attached to the circular piece with a string.

Greenhow said that he felt it was an outstanding program.

“I thought it was great at helping the kids understand a little more about the life of the Yokut Indians.”

He explained that the assembly presentation was also very good in that the presenter talked about some details of how the Yokuts lived. For example, he said, they carried their quiver of arrows at the front of their bodies instead of slung around their back like Robin Hood. That way, they could pull the arrows out silently and not scare away deer while hunting. He said that Hess talked about the courtship between young braves and maidens, as well. Greenhow said the presenter also explained the process of how the Yokuts took the acorn flour and bleached out the tannic acid by putting it in an indentation in the sand near the river and poured water over it until the acid leached out.

Greenhow explained that at the spear throwing station, the kids threw four spears at a group of five circular targets with one point for the largest and five points for the smallest – trying to attain a score of 10 each time. At the pump drill station, the students made a hole in a small piece of soapstone using a special drill made of wood pieces, leather string and a sharp point of stone or bone. They later engraved designs on the soapstone piece using horn or bone and then it was attached to a piece of leather to make a necklace. At the acorn grinding station, they used wooden mortars (bowls) and pestles to make acorn flour. Greenhow said the Yokuts used wooden bowls, unlike the Miwuks who used stone mortars for grinding.

As for the students’ favorite stations, Greenhow said it was hard to pinpoint just one.

“It was interesting… It was pretty divided what each individual child liked the most,” he said.

Greenhow reported that this program was completely funded by the Oakdale Educational Foundation and the Fair Oaks Parent Teacher Club. He wrote the OEF grant request for the main part of the program while the PTC paid for the one-hour presentation.