Teaching Young Children about the Anasazi

Circles of Knowledge

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Why teach history to young children?

I had a professor in college who began his class by explaining to the room full of eager young students why he could not teach much to freshmen. He stood in front of his whiteboard. Imagine this is all the knowledge there is. Then he drew a small circle on the board. This is what freshmen know. Then he drew a slightly larger circle around that. This is what sophomores know. He continued drawing circle through seniors, each a little larger than the last. His point was that at each stage you can only learn what is at the edge of your circle leaving the remaining whiteboard of knowledge unattainable.

So what does that have to do with teaching history to young children? Simple. By providing children with lessons in history you are providing them with circles from which their knowledge can grow. History provides context for books they might read, reasons for the behaviors of society, exposure to foreign cultures to touch on just a few of the areas of knowledge these circles you plant will allow your child to branch into.

Cliff Palace, at Mesa Verde

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Historical Key Points

Obviously, since your goal is to establish a circle of knowledge you will want to emphasize a few key points. With history the main points are fairly easy to pull out - simply answer the questions who, what, when and where.

  • Who are the people involved in this piece of history?
  • What are they mainly remembered for?
  • When did they live?
  • Where did they live?

When teaching a younger child any portion of history those are the main points you will want to focus on reiterating them until your child has them down. Yes, I am talking about memorization. To truly establish a circle of knowledge your child should be able to recite the information backwards and forwards. Then he or she will be able to build upon the knowledge, adding crumbs of information to it as he or she comes across it.

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly

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Anasazi Lesson Plan

Day One

On the first day I went over the simple summary in the Kids.Net Encyclopedia emphasizing the key points (see below). While I talked about the Anasazi I showed my children several photos of adobe structures including the Mesa Verde ruins pictured on the Kids Can Travel site. After going over the simple summary I provided them with a coloring page (from USA Printables) and we recited the main points of the lesson while they colored.

  • Who? The Anasazi.
  • What? Adobe structures built within cliff walls.
  • When? circa 500 BC to circa 1200 AD (Because this is a prehistoric tribe the dates vary depending on the source. Choose a source and stick with it using the term circa before your dates. If you children ask you can explain that circa means about and that because this tribe is so old historians do not know the exact dates.)
  • Where? Southwestern United States

Day Two

On our second day talking about the Anasazi we started by going over the key points. Then I went back to the Kids Can Travel site and went over the summary of Anasazi history found under the "fun stuff" tab. This particular summary ends with a question inviting the children to speculate about what happened. This was a perfect transition for dressing up and acting out our imaginings of life among the Anasazi.

To bring the lesson back to our key points I provided my girls with another coloring page and we again recited our key points together. (The coloring page can be found on the fourth page of the Arizona Bureau of Land Management Activity and Coloring Book PDF.)

Day Three

On the third day we again began by going over the key points of our lesson. I showed my children a couple of Jennifer K. Keller's Native American illustrations. Then they constructed their own "adobe structures" while I went over the more detailed history provided by HistoryforKids.org.

We discussed how the Anasazi were farmer of pumpkins, corn and beans, also raising turkeys. I told them about how they grew cotton for clothing and made a variety of pottery. We discussed their use of turquoise for money.

We discussed the question of why they moved to the cliff dwellings. Was it because of climate changes? Were the structures built for greater security? Eventually the cliff dwellings were abandoned too. Was it because the weather just got to dry for farming? Had the danger grown to great? We discussed several options and I asked the girls what they thought before reiterating the archeologist don't know the answer.

Adobe structures can be constructed from mud if you don't mind your kids getting dirty and the weather permits. Sugar cubes make excellent bricks if you are forced indoors. Or you can always choose Legos for your construction purposes.

We ended the lesson by again reciting our key points. And after review our key points on a couple other occasions even my four year old had established a circle of knowledge about the Anasazi.


I also included a link to the Digging for the Truth episode about the Anasazi. It is presented in an engaging way but it is about forty-five minutes long. The show does discuss the possibility of cannibalism starting about halfway through (the 20 minute mark), so watch with caution.

Some Anasazi Ruins in Southwestern United States

show route and directions
A markerMesa Verda National Park -
Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez, CO 81330, USA
[get directions]

Location of one of the largest and best preserved Anasazi ruins.

B markerCanyon de Chelly -
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Tsaile, AZ 86556, USA
[get directions]

Hike the White House Trail to see more examples of Anasazi adobe structures.

C markerWoodenshoe Canyon Utah -
Woodenshoe Canyon, Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah 84535, USA
[get directions]

The Doll House ruin is near the top northeast rim of the Woodenshoe Canyon

D markerChaco Canyon -
Chaco culture, Chaco Culture, 1808 county rd 7950, Nageezi, NM 87037, USA
[get directions]

Trading center of the Anasazi

Digging for the Truth: The Mystery of the Anasazi

Do You Believe in Teaching Children History?

At what age did you begin teaching your child history?

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