This month, the journey continues with the story of “Jumping Mouse”
with an emphasis on courage, perseverence, vision and goals,
compassion,integrity, and balance. The unit highlights skills of intuitive and
critical thinking, literary elements of plot, literary comparison and
contrast, notetaking, drawing, speaking, and drama.
There are a number of versions of this story. Steptoe has published a
beautifully re-told and illustrated book of this Native American journey that
is based on the same plot structure as the medicine wheel. You may want to
teach a version of the medicine wheel design before you read thestory, or as
you and students read and note take depending on their age and heritage. I
teach the medicine wheel design first because the story has so much depth of
content with fourth graders. However, sixth grade and older would likely do
fine with studying both as complementary concepts.
The medicine wheel (hand-drawn sample pictured) may be seen as a view
of each person, the community and world, nature, and as a journey plot
structure as in the case of the story of Jumping Mouse. The design
incorporates a harmonious structure for the four cardinal directions;
the four primary elements of earth, air, fire, and water; body, mind,
heart, and soul; the four seasons. Many designs that you may have seen
from various Native cultures structure much more than the four
directions, but probably at this introductory point, sticking with the
complexity of four areas and the interelationships between these areas
There is no right or wrong way to arrange the various components in
the design. In fact, different Native cultures, teachers, and individuals
emphasize uniqueness. In fact, a Sioux teacher told me that she thinks of the
medicine wheel not so much as a thing, but more as an action verb, “medicine
wheeling,” designing harmony. You may look at it as a
sphere as much as a two-dimensional design if you consider our medicine
wheels interacting with each other, our environment and nature, earth
and Great Spirit.
I teach medicine wheel in part inductively by having students sit in a
circle around a cleared area in the floor and placing natural objects in a
compass pattern until they guess the connection between the four directions
and the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. A shell usually suggests
water easily, a feather for air, rock for earth, and an unlit candle for fire
(due to fire codes). Then, I tell them that these can also be seen as parts
of ourselves and allow them to discuss and tell me where they would put heart,
body, mind, and soul. (I also tell students that they are welcome to think of
what I call soul, the imagination or deeper self, if it violates their beliefs).
Finally, I ask them where they would like me to identify the four seasons
and encourage them to make their decisions as individuals. For instance, they
don’t have to all agree to place summer, fire, and heart in the same quadrant.
My younger students enjoy making movement shapes and sculptures in the four
medicine wheel directions, center floor, but with older students, you might
like to move straight to a drawing activity. At this point, a quick sketch to
help remember the concept is plenty before reading the story. A more detailed
artistic project could occur later.
I introduce the Jumping Mouse story by briefly describing how various
animals, plants, and natural objects may also represent the “energies” or
qualities of areas in the design. We begin with a large (desk-sized) sheet of
paper and draw and big circle, label the four directions, and draw a quick
mouse face in the direction south. After each encounter-lesson in the story
as it is read aloud, students name the character Mouse meets, sketch it
quickly, and discuss which lesson
and/or quality is exchanged between it and Jumping Mouse Rather than
giving them the entire medicine wheel plot structure before or after the
story, I like them to notetake as they go so that they feel more like they’re
on a journey, discovering as they go like Mouse.
” Many fascinating, valuable discussions may spring from this story;
the ethical and literary topics are abundant. ”
1) What are mice typically very good at doing? (answers like
“harvesting, hording, saving up stuff) How far do you think mice look
around themselves when doing this scurrying? How do Jumping Mouse’s
(mouse) peers react at first to his longing “to go where no little mouse has
gone before?” Have you ever experienced this kind of doubt,
skepticism, even criticism for wanting to try something new, hard, or
2) How does Frog help Jumping Mouse get through this? Has someone like Frog
helped you? Who might be able to be like Frog for you? How can we be
like Frog for ourselves?
3) Discuss each interaction and exchange Jumping Mouse has with each
character on his journey? What does Jumping Mouse give to each
character? What is Mouse given in return from each character? How do
the values that Mouse learns create wholeness? How would Mouse be with
one or two of the qualities, but not the rest? When Mouse gives his
sight to Buffalo, what would happen if he, in turn, did not accept
Buffalo’s return gift. What does this say about ourselves and others?
What does this say about different qualities within ourselves?
4) How is this story like Crow and Weasel (last month’s column)?
Regardless of the particular values you choose to emphasize for your students,
look also at the balance between the qualities and lessons that Jumping Mouse
learns. In the l.a. arena, students may be interested to see how fun
notetaking can be with various shapes and drawing as an alternative to
For older students, you may like to introduce the idea that not all
cultures’ plot structures follow a beginning, middle, end sequence.
This one, like many cultures structure plot in a more circular way. Hoe
does that reflect their views of life? Of time? You may like students
to create a Venn Diagram comparison/contrast with last month’s story,
Crow and Weasel. Countless la. and arts (as well as science and math
such as patterns and shapes) activities may spring from the medicine
wheel theme. I’ll list a few of our favorite activities and encourage
you to “jump” into your own creativity with the theme.
ARTS ACTIVITIES (mix and match to fit your students interests and ages):
Drama/movement: dance or dramatize the medicine wheel. Group students
by fourths and have each group begin in one of the four directions.
Move through or dramatize the direction in which they begin as winter,
spring, summer, fall; then body, mind, heart, soul. Create body
sculptures for courage, perseverence, imagination, vision, compassion,
wisdom. What totem (or representative) animal might stand for these
qualities? Move the body shape into general space to another quadrant
of the medicine wheel and re-sculpt to express the new area/quality.
Shift the shapes into human characters that express the same qualities;
move this into general space across or next to yours on the medicine
wheel. Consider small groups creating drama or movement medicine wheels of
their own or rotate groups of entire class around the circle. Key questions:
In which area-quality-value did you feel the most interested or energized.
Is there a Jumping Mouse lesson here? What did you observe in other groups
and people? Did any new ideas, images spring to mind during the activity?
Drawing/speaking: brainstorm and sketch various shapes, designs,
geometric patterns; combine and rearrange until students feel clearly
that their design represents wholeness or balance to themselves.
Circular arrangements are certainly not mandatory. In fact, you make
like to take this change to look at pictures of many cultural, natural,
and geometric designs that incorporate various areas with different
types of shapes. Students should think carefully as well as “feel their way
through” how parts of their own designs fall into place and connect with other
areas in the arrangement for qualities they value in
themselves and are working on such as: courage, strength, creativity,
insight, love, clarity. Where do natural elements, seasons,
representative plants or animals, colors, and cultural symbols seem to
want to be placed in relation to each other? For example, one student
may design components of heart, fire, summer, family, courage, red, and
a pet as their animal totem in one part of their medicine design.
Another student may create something totally different. As they draw
and create, encourage them by reminders that this is not an artistic
excellence project, but instead the process of creating it, medicine
wheeling. Explore not only each area in their designs, but also the
arrangement as a whole; the harmony of the entire design and how it
expresses their own unique, individual balance. Which parts of the
design next to and across from each other create balance? How does the
arrangement help in their lives? School? Outside activities? Family?
Friends? Challenges? Thinking these ideas through as they draw, may
help them verbalize as they use the medicine designs for each other
later. I find that my fourth graders are much more comfortable and
speak more clearly when using a visual springboard. Often, we
experience a connection when they present orally for each other that
before had only been intuitive.
In addition to individual oral presentations of medicine designs, you
may like to display them together. Interesting values discussions may
spring from the similarities and diversity expressed in these beautiful
I like to have them up at open house because they can start wonderful
conversations between students and their parents as well as each other.
Additional discussions may occur by comparing and contrasting the student
designs with cultural symbols and mandalas of the world. Actually, a beautiful
coloring-painting book is recently available in paperback with the title,
Mandalas of the World. If you want to take the project even further, consider
putting the designs up in a neighborhood library, cafe, community center with
a brief description of the project. Maybe the students would like to present
to a younger class or share them with seniors in a residential center. They
may also like to use their designs as a pre-write for a story of their own
like Jumping Mouse’s. If you don’t have time for writing a longer story,
maybe you’d rather have them use designs simply as story starters for
oral/dramatic presentations. Next month’s column will feature a
harvest/potlatch theme, and you may like them to work on stories to tell or
dramatize for each other, their families, other classes later at the potlatch
and for autumn, harvest, or Thanksgiving community events.
The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe; Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard
Books, New York, 1984.
Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm, Harper and Row Publishers, New York,
’72. (a more original, complex version of the mouse story, pp.68-85; it is a
story within a story) and countless other powerful legends,
lessons, values for older students, teachers, parents.
Otokahekagapi (First Beginnings) Sioux Creation Story; Tipi Press, Box
89, Chamberlain, South Dakota, 1987. (beautiful story, medicine wheel
designs, and connections between mythological creation of the world and
Keepers of the Earth, Native American Stories and
Environmental Activities for Children, ’89 and Native American Stories, ’92
(both books by Joseph Bruchac and Michael Caduto, accompanying audio tapes
available with great storytellers), Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO.
Daybreak Star Reader (a monthly publication for 3rd – 6th grade students with
culture, history, legends, natural science, math and fun
activities) by United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, 1945 Yale Place
East, Seattle, WA 98102, (206)325-0070.
Carlos Nakai, Earth Spirit and Native Flute Music; Canyon Records (nice
background music for medicine wheel movement, drama, or art project). Jim
McGrath, Drum Spirit.
Video: American Indian Dances, Smithsonian Folkways, ’95 (also includes
information packet about all the pieces and various languages).
Please, email Nancy with questions, comments, or suggestions:
or write me at Seattle Country Day School
2619 4th Ave N.
Seattle, WA 98109
– Dianne Hamry