After recess, antsy first-graders at Vaughn Elementary lined up in front of teacher Ernie Donehower for a special edition of PE class on Wednesday.
“It’s like recess, except Native American,” a student called out.
Donehower treated his students to Native American Games Day. The games are the culminating activity in the Native American component of Donehower’s cultural enrichment class.
A special PE class is made up of different games played by tribes across North America. Donehower tells his students the games have a purpose: To build coordination and learn how to hunt and stalk.
Oh, and they’re also pretty fun.
Stations are set up across the gym. Students can rotate around to play games like “Sliding Snakes” — a game traditionally played on ice by the Mohawk and Cree tribes. In Donehower’s adaptation, cardboard snakes are slid across the gym floor to a finish line.
Or students can play a Harpoon Toss adapted from the Northwest Coast. Fifth-grade helpers looked on while first-grade “hunters” stepped up to throw a “harpoon” through a target.
Each game has a purpose. Donehower taught his students that the hoop target symbolizes the heart of an animal. Young hunters were to learn to shoot to kill an animal, not injure. Otherwise, the animal might run off, and the tribe would not have meat.
It wasn’t a typical PE lesson.
“Mr. D does a fabulous job of teaching our students about other cultures,” Vaughn principal Susan O’Leary said. “He’s just something special.”
Donehower’s class is a time period when all grade levels rotate in and learn about other cultures through art, games, folklore, drama and more. His classroom is full of artifacts and crafts from cultures around the world.
He often tries to tie in what students are learning in social studies classes for a holistic approach to learning culture. The next unit coming up is all about Europe.
Donehower started teaching as a substitute and has been a longtime fixture at Vaughn. O’Leary said Vaughn is the only school in the district with a cultural enrichment class.
Donehower explained each game to the first-graders in his class last week and also spent time at the beginning of the PE lesson with a refresher.
But there wasn’t too much talk.
“I wanted them to have time to just play,” he said.
Donehower wanted to make sure they had time to try games like “Double Ball,” a game from the Plains in which two balls are tied together and a stick is used to throw them up at a target high on the wall.
Before class started, Donehower had to get a pole to re-tape the double ball target to the wall. An earlier class had been fifth-graders who “love to throw (the ball) with great force,” he said.
The chatter of excited first-graders, “double ball” on the wall and rolling marbles echoed across the gym.
“It’s fun to do that!” Zoe Stitt, 6, said after she successfully navigated her way through the “Corn Stalk Obstacle Course.”
The green paper mat had holes cut out and Mr. Scent markers wrapped with construction paper to look like tiny corn stalks. Students had to wind their way through the six holes without knocking over the corn.
Stitt and her friend, Yulya Nichipor, also 6, said they look forward to the cultural class — especially the games. Together, they sat on the gym floor and matched footprints to pictures of animals. Students had to guess which track belonged to a fox or a skunk or a bear, among others.
There also were games of chance around the gym. Later, Nichipor tried out “Spinning Bones” from the Plains tribe. Donehower helped her figure out how to spin the circle on two leather strings. Once she pulled the strings taut, the “bone” kept on spinning.
“I wish Mr. D was all we could get,” Nichipor said.
“And PE,” Stitt added.
Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com.