It’s Thanksgiving week and I have a quick and easy craft to explore some traditions of the Northeastern Woodlands Native American tribes that were part of the first Thanksgiving meal. This craft is so simple, we’re talking 4 supplies and 5 minutes! But, the resulting toy has become an obsession at our house. It’s one of those “easy to make, hard to master” situations! Make this with your kids today to keep them busy and out of the kitchen tomorrow.


Let’s Learn A Little About The Lenape Tribe

This craft was inspired by the book When The Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger. If you’re looking for a book featuring Indigenous people, I highly recommend this one. The families in the book are members of the Lenape tribe. Two families are featured, one ancestral Lenape family and one modern day Lenape family; it’s a kind of compare and contrast between the two. At one point, the families are playing sports and it made me wonder what other types of games Lenape kids played. A little research, and I found this kokolesh.

Digging in a little more to Lenape traditions, I discovered that Northeastern Woodlands tribes invented the game of lacrosse. I truly had no idea!

The Lenape were dubbed The Delaware Tribe by European settlers, so that might be the name you’re more familiar with. Prior to colonization, the tribe was centered in the New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Hudson Valley area. In the 18th century, they were removed from their homeland and pushed east, eventually being relocated to Oklahoma. Some groups of Lenape remain in Wisconsin and Ontario today, with the majority of tribal members living in Oklahoma.

A map of the US with highlighted areas indicating where the Lenape originated and where the largest current populations live.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Lenape Tribe, pick up When The Shadbush Blooms and visit these sites to launch your research:

https://nanticokelenapemuseum.org/

https://delawaretribe.org/


Making Our Kokolesh:

Supplies:

Image shows the supplies need for the kokolesh.
4 items and 5 minutes is all we need!

A Tin Cone

Traditionally, this might have been made with a hollowed out bone or a stiff piece of leather, but we’ll use a tin cone instead! I used this extra large piping tip, but you could even make a cone out of tin foil. You really just need a cone with a hole at both ends.

A Dowel 

You could also use a small stick, which is what would have been used traditionally. You need something slightly longer than a chopstick, but about the same thickness.

A Strip Of Leather Or Piece Of String

Traditionally, this would have been a strip of leather. You’re looking for something about 18 to 24 inches long.

A Cotton Ball

Traditional Lenape would have used a rabbit’s tail, but I don’t have one of those lying around! I thought all my rabbits might want their tails!

Painter’s Tape (optional)

You may need tape if your string moves up and down on the dowel quite a bit.

Step 1: Tie The String Around The Cotton Ball

Tying a leather strip around a cotton ball.

To start, we’re going to tie our string to the cotton ball.  Just wrap it around and tie, easy peasy. This allows our cone to move on the string without flying off the end. The cotton ball acts as a stopper.

Step 2: Put The String Through The Cone

Placing the leather strip through the hole in the tin cone.

Now we’ll put the untied end of the string through our tin cone.  The cone should still be able to move on the string. 

Step 3: Tie The Loose End Of The String To The Dowel

Tying the loose end of the string to the dowel.

Once we have the string tied to the cotton ball and the cone threaded on, we’ll tie a knot to keep the string attached to the dowel.  Tie the string roughly 4-5 inches above the end to leave room for a hand hold. If your knot is moving up and down the dowel, you can tape it in place with some painter’s tape. My knot stayed in one place, so I ended up not needing the tape.

Step 4: Practice!

Image shows the author practicing with the kokolesh. The cotton ball is in mid air and the hand is raised in an attempt to catch the cone.

And that’s it!  Now you have a cup and pin game.  You play the game by popping the cone in the air and trying to catch it on the end of the dowel. It sounds easy, but it’s tricky! This is a great game for working on hand eye coordination and is both extremely fun and extremely infuriating! You can tell who picked up the kokolesh at my house because you’ll hear them alternately yelling “YES!” and “Dang it” (or other words that may not be blog appropriate depending on the family member).

The larger the cone, the easier it is to catch. If you make a tin foil cone, make it a little larger, but make sure that the top end isn’t bigger than the cotton ball or it will come flying off the end of your string.


If you want to make an entire unit out of When The Shadbush Blooms, I have math and language arts packs in my shop to accompany the book. I also have a science video that accompanies the book where we talk about the surface of the moon and explore the craters. You can see that video here.

Thanks for coming, I hope you enjoyed! I add new crafts or science explorations every week, check back for more!