To The Teacher
This activity begins with students discussing the land where they live, and the Indigenous peoples who once lived there. Then they connect with themselves and get to know each other by reflecting on four aspects of their lives, using Native American teachings on the Medicine Wheel.
The National Institutes of Health describes the Medicine Wheel this way:
“The Medicine Wheel, sometimes known as the Sacred Hoop, has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. It embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky, Mother Earth, and Spirit Tree—all of which symbolize dimensions of health and the cycles of life. The Medicine Wheel can take many different forms. It can be an artwork such as artifact or painting, or it can be a physical construction on the land. Hundreds or even thousands of Medicine Wheels have been built on Native lands in North America over the last several centuries.”
The lesson is written to take up two sessions. First, students share information, discuss, and reflect. After a take-home (or in-school) assignment, they return for a group share and reflection.
Often when we gather in spaces, whether at school, at work, or at home, we bring or share only certain aspects of ourselves. We may not be bringing our whole selves into every place we go or in every community we are a part of. We may only bring our holistic (complete) selves when we have established trust and comfort with those we are with.
Today we will take some time to tune into where we are in four aspects of our lives: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Through connecting to these aspects of ourselves and through sharing, we can continue to get to know each other and build a community together.
Where are We?
Ask students: Where are we? Accept some answers and/or follow-up questions that may arise.
Confirm that we are in a classroom, in school, on planet earth, etc. Note that we are also on unceded land that once belonged to the Native American people of this area. (You can learn who originally inhabited the land you are on at https://native-land.ca/)
Share whose land you are on. Share that you can acknowledge the land that you are on by honoring the people who came before you and the ones who are still here sharing their wisdom.
Check in for understanding. Ask:
- Are there any questions? Does this make sense to you?
About the Medicine Wheel
Tell students that we’re now going to find out about an important idea in many Native American cultures: the Medicine Wheel. Then, we will experience using a Medicine Wheel to check in with ourselves and to continue to get to know each other.
For various Native American tribes, the Medicine Wheel has been used for health and healing. Different tribes interpret the Medicine Wheel differently.
Share this image of the Medicine Wheel from the Canadian Mental Health Association: https://cmhakelowna.com/medicine-wheel/
- Is anyone familiar with the Medicine Wheel? (If not, share a bit from the To The Teacher section above.)
Next, have students watch this 5-minute video of Jeff Ward, from Membertou, First Nation (located in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada), discussing his people’s teachings about the Medicine Wheel:
Check in for understanding. Ask students:
- Are there any questions? Does this resonate with you?
Take a moment to review some key takeaways.
Share with students that in the Medicine Wheel, each of the four directions is represented by a distinctive color: East/Red, South/Yellow, West/Black or Blue, and North/White.
The directions can also represent:
- Stages of life: birth, youth, adult (or elder), death
- Seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall, winter
- Aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical
- Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and earth
- Animals: Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo, and many others
- Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, cedar
A Closer Look
Tell students that today we will be using the Medicine Wheel to touch on various aspects of our lives: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. Note that “spiritual” doesn’t necessarily refer to “religion.” It is about your spirit, your relationship with yourself, and/or your sense of purpose.
In the video we saw, Jeff Ward mentions:
“Right now you’re made of these four different areas. You cannot exist if one of those areas is taken away, also if you’re not happy right now it’s because one of those areas is not getting attention. So if you take care of and maintain all four, you’ll have balance in your life and balance leads to happiness. That’s what the Medicine Wheel Native American teachings are all about is to help guide and find balance in all aspects of life.”
Let's take a closer look at the Medicine Wheel. (Print and share, project, or chart the image below.)
- What are some of the descriptive words we see for each area? Have one student per area read out some of the written words.
- What are some words that come to mind for you when thinking about this area of your life? (If there are not many responses, consider sharing some of your own responses to the question.)
Thank everyone for reading and for sharing.
Tell students that we are now going to do some journaling. Take the next ten minutes to ask yourself where you are spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.
Ask students to write down their thoughts. This writing will not be shared with anyone. (Remind students that “spiritually” can speak to your spirit, your relationship with yourself, and/or your sense of purpose.)
After the 10 minutes, thank your students for taking the time to look inward.
Mention that everyone is experiencing transitions at the moment, including starting school again. Touch on how we have all had different experiences since we were last in school (whether in person or remotely). In taking this time for themselves, even if it's just 10 minutes, they are demonstrating the ability to pause and check in with themselves while still being present.
Creative Expression Assignment
Explain that as an assignment, students will use their reflections to create artwork. In the next session, they will share whatever aspects of this creative expression that they feel comfortable in sharing.
This expression can take many forms, such as:
- Poetry / Spoken Word
- Dance / Movement
- Drawing / Painting / Sculpture
- Comic Strip / Zine
- Lyrics / Song
- Video / Animation
Each student will choose which form they want to use, based on what inspires them and the materials available to them.
Instructions for students:
Through a creative expression, share where you are spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Start with your journal reflection. Allow that to take a new form through any artistic modality, such as poetry, dance, drawing, video, etc. Be prepared to share with your classmates the next time we meet. Remember to be authentic with your share. Sharing is the foundation of our building a community together.
Welcome back students.
Share with them that by actively engaging in the teachings of Native Americans, we acknowledge not only whose land we are on, but the wisdom they graciously continue to share with us all.
Begin by asking students:
- What art form did you choose for your creative expression?
Check in to see if students need any support or technical assistance for their shares.
If you feel called to, create, and share your own artwork with the class.
Create pairs or small groups of 3 or 4. (This can be random or based on your knowledge of your students.).
Instruct each pair to take turns sharing their creative expression. Encourage them to actively listen while others share.
Allocate some time for each group to reflect after every group member has shared. (This can be anywhere from 5 -15 minutes.) Some guiding questions/thoughts for their small-group reflection can be:
- How did it feel to express yourself creatively around these personal aspects of yourself?
- Thank you for sharing so much about yourself. I appreciate getting to know you this way.
- Is there anything else you would like to know about me?
- Did you find this difficult? Did you enjoy this activity?
(Feel free to add questions / thoughts that are fitting for your students.)
Come together again as a class.
Ask if anyone would like to share their creative expression with the entire class. Have students share (time will determine how many), leaving 10-15 minutes for a closing reflection.
Invite students to share their responses to one or more of these questions. (Feel free to add questions that are fitting for your students.)
- What was the hardest area to tune into? Emotional, intellectual, physical, or spiritual? Why?
- Do you feel more encouraged to be your holistic self around your classmates? Do you think this could change in time?
- What did you learn from this activity?