STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities invite kids to use cross-disciplinary skills to explore the world through inquiry and solution-based learning. When kids have plenty of opportunities to discover and create using critical thinking skills, they develop the tools necessary to apply new knowledge to problems encountered in their everyday world. Come investigate a simple Fall STEM challenge and learn about the legend of corn husk dolls!

Fall STEM for Kids: The Legend of Corn Husk Dolls

Fall STEM for Kids: The Legend of the Corn Husk Doll

The following lesson plan is intended for use with kids in 3rd-5th grade. The lesson can be explored with slightly younger or older kids. The design and creation of additional features for the doll will make the challenge more difficult for older students. For younger students, create several corn husk dolls as a group (or small groups with an adult). Adults should guide younger children with open-ended questions that will allow independent thinking about the potential design and construction of the doll(s) before experimenting with construction together.

STEM Skills Presented in this lesson:
Science: Kids will explore how the “moral lesson” in the legend of the corn husk dolls relates to their everyday world. Students will also use skills within the scientific method as they plan and construct the corn husk doll.

Technology: Kids will extend and/or document learning through use of technology.

Engineering: Students will plan and construct a corn husk doll that exhibits early attempts at engineering from simple supplies.

Math: Kids will use lines, patterns, and explore mathematical relationships as they plan and design the corn husk dolls.

Background Information for Parents and Teachers
Corn husk dolls are some of the first known dolls in America. According to Native American legend, the Iroquois people have three sisters or “sustainers of life”. These three sisters are corn, beans, and squash. The corn Spirit asked the Creator what more she could do for the people. The Creator told the corn Spirit that a beautiful doll could be formed from her husks. The Creator set to work on the doll and, when finished, gave the doll a beautiful face and sent it to the Iroquois children to play with. The beautiful doll was not a very kind doll and would tell everyone how beautiful she was. The Creator spoke to her and explained that it was not the right behavior, but the beautiful corn husk doll continued to disobey the Creator. As the doll was looking at her reflection in a creek on day, the Creator sent a giant screech owl to snatch her beautiful reflection from the water. From that day on, the doll had no face (thus the reason many traditional corn husk dolls are designed without facial features). When an Iroquois mother makes dolls for her children, she tells of this legend to remind them that it is wrong to think they are better than another. All children must know that the Creator has given a special gift to each and every one of them.

Corn Husk Doll Creation Challenge for Kids

The design challenge is to create a corn husk doll using simple supplies. The challenge can be completed individually, with partners, or in a small group.

Materials needed:

Challenge Directions:
Kids are asked to design a simple corn husk doll using only the given supplies. Kids should have access to a ruler and scissors, but no additional supplies. The kids do not have to use all the supplies in the doll’s construction. The time limit to plan and create the doll is 25 minutes. The kids will ask how to design the doll, but try to offer open-ended questions to allow them to think independently about the planning and construction phases of the challenge.

The corn husk doll (see photo) was designed by a 5th grade student. The student measured lengths of raffia necessary for his initial design. He folded the raffia in half and secured the raffia with a Wikki Stix “belt” design in the top third of the doll. The head was created from a Styrofoam ball wrapped in Wikki Stix to secure the raffia and then connected to the doll’s body with Wikki Stix. The doll’s hair was created with additional yellow Wikki Stix. The arms for the doll were designed with braided Wikki Stix strands and secured to a back loop in the raffia. Later, in lesson wrap up, the student shared that he tried to wrap the Styrofoam ball with just raffia. The raffia fell off the ball even when he tried to tie the ends. He improved his initial design by adding cut Wikki Stix pieces to the styrofoam ball to secure the raffia – brilliant solution to the problem!

To test the construction of the corn husk dolls, invite younger children to pretend play with the dolls. Share the “moral lesson” in the Legend of the Corn Husk Doll – the Creator designed each beautiful child with unique and special gifts!

Using Technology to Extend and Document Learning
Students can use technology in a variety of way to extend and/or document learning in the lesson. Some suggestions might include:

  • Invite the kids to take photos of the planning and construction phases of the challenge. Print the photos or create an online slideshow to share with others.
  • Have the kids search online for variations of the Legend of the Corn Husk doll. Invite them to write about the differences and similarities.
  • Have the kids search online for photos of various corn husks dolls. Show the kids how to find the webpage where the photo(s) originated.

Lesson Wrap-Up
Print the challenge questionnaire here (download the Corn Husk Doll Challenge Response pdf here). Have the kids come together to share the biggest obstacle in completing the challenge.

STEM challenges do not have to be complicated for kids in order to encourage important inquiry and solution-based learning. By providing simple activities to engage kids in higher level thinking, students will gain new knowledge to solve problems they encounter at school, at home, and in the larger community.

For more ways to challenge kids with STEM (STEAM) learning, please visit the FREE Lesson Plans at the links below:

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Corn Husk Doll Construction

Corn Husk Doll STEM Challenge Solutions

Corn Husk Doll STEM Challenge Solutions

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