No worries at Whiteman

Students study ancient

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Forget DVDs and video games; last week, Lowell Whiteman Primary School first-graders Jesse Laughlin and Nate Bowman found themselves enthralled with yarn and cardboard.

"Once you get used to it, it gets funner and funner and funner," Laughlin said to no one in particular as he painstakingly began a weaving project in Keri Searls art class Friday.

The result of the project eventually will be a small pouch to hold worry dolls, also made by the students, much like the ones constructed by Mayan and Incan children centuries ago.

The art projects correlate to a yearlong social studies unit on the modern and ancient cultures of Central and South America being taught to students of all grade levels at the private school.

The unit began in August with a study of the geography and modern political landscape of Central and South America. The focus of the unit eventually went back in time to the ancient cultures of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans.

Teachers divide the school-wide unit into age-appropriate lessons. The younger students particularly are interested in the ancient civilizations of those regions, especially in the differences between the cultures, social studies teacher Cindy Ruzicka said.

"The cultural differences were so strong that it really jumps out for the kids," Ruzicka said.

For one, the students like the warrior aspects and multiple gods of the Incans and Mayans.

"I like the Incans because when you were 14 (years old) you got to be a warrior," first-grader Bowman said.

"I like the Aztecs," Laughlin said. "Their armor and jewelry is cool. I like the Mayans second and the Incans third."

Integrating units across subject areas helps the students develop a deeper understanding of what they're learning, Ruzicka and Searls said. Art projects using simple supplies also provide a frame of reference for the students to compare their lives to those of ancient peoples.

"It helps them recognize the privileges and benefits of technology, as well as the drawbacks of it," Ruzicka said. "It's so different from their reality that it's almost like a fictional story to them."

The integration of content across subject areas also applies to Whiteman's older students, who recently made detailed masks such as those worn during rituals in the ancient cultures.

For the younger students, worry dolls have become an ancient custom applicable to their lives.

"The idea behind them was that you would tell your worries to the worry doll, which would take on your worries so you could sleep soundly at night," Ruzicka said.

Bowman likes the idea of passing off his worries to the doll he made, but added that he has no particular worries bothering him.

"If we have a worry we can always tell them," he said. "Then in the morning you won't have your worry anymore."

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