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How to Make a Tepee

written by: purplehip • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 1/6/2012

For a fast and easy school project, make this model tepee. With only a few household items, you can build a small Native American tepee, perfect for a U.S. history or state history study.

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    Understand and Plan Your Project

    Tepees (also known as tipis or teepees) were movable, tent-like structures used by Native American plains tribes, including Sioux and Blackfoot Indians. These homes were made with a wooden structure covered with buffalo hides. They provided shelter and warmth from inclement weather, but were easily moved by nomadic tribes who never stayed in one place for long. Each family had their own tepee, which they dragged, disassembled, behind a horse during moves.

    This tepee design is suitable for for all ages from a kindergarten class study of Native Americans to a 5th grade U.S. History unit. Start by designing your base. Cover a sturdy 12-inch by 20 inch piece of wood or cardboard with craft paper. Add a river, grass or mountains with markers or tempera paint.

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    Gather Your Materials

    To make a tepee, gather the following items:

    • 4 straight twigs or dowels, about 1/8 inch in diameter and 12 inches long
    • 1/2 yard yarn or twine
    • Large brown grocery bag
    • Scap paper
    • Scissors
    • Crayons, markers or tempera paint for decorating

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    Make Your Tepee

    Hold the dowels or sticks together and tie the yarn or twine around them about 3 inches from the tops of the dowels. Gently spread the dowels out and set them on a table, so they look like the foundation of a tepee. Hold a piece of scrap paper against one side of the tepee, between two of the dowels. Trace the triangle shape between the two dowels.

    Cut the triangle out on the lines. This is your template. Lay your template on the brown grocery bag. Trace around it. Now move the template over so one long side is touching the triangle you previously traced. Trace another triangle so you have two triangles, touching each other. Now trace two more, also touching. When you're finished, you'll have four triangles, long sides touching.

    Cut the triangles out on the outside edges only. Don't cut the inside lines. This is the covering of your tepee. Decorate the triangles with pictures of animals or symbols, using crayons, markers or tempera paint. Set the paper bag triangles upright on a table. Bring the two outside edges together so you have a cone. Tape the two long outside edges together. Cut 1 inch off the top of the cone so it is open. Carefully slide the dowels through the cone. Move the dowels to adjust the fit of the cone.

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    Finishing Touches

    Set your tepee in place on the base you previously made. Use tape to secure it. Add plastic horses, buffalo or Indians. Extend your study of Native Americans by reading one of the many great books on the subject.

    Look for books that avoid stereotypes and portray Native Americans authentically and accurately. Some titles include "Star Boy," by Paul Goble, "Morning Girl," by Michael Dorris and "The Birchbark House," by Louise Erdrich.


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