Wampum is short for wampumpeag, which is an Algonquian word meaning “string of white shell beads”. The Native Americans made wampum by boring a hole into shells and then strung on hemp or other plant fibers. They wore it as jewelry. Because it was valuable, it was often used as a unit of trade. I have the privilege of teaching two history classes at our homeschool co-op. We are studying the colonial era of American history. My goal is to make the classes fun and “hands-on” as much as possible. We do not have access to an oven at our co-op, so I made this project at home to show my classes. I am sharing this activity here in case any of my students (or any other readers) would like to give it a try.
- Styrofoam™ trays (I used the ones from The Dollar Tree)
- permanent markers (optional)
- a plastic bottle cap
- penknife or pocket knife
- single hole punch
- Preheat oven to 250 °
Line a cookie sheet with foil
- Take a foam tray and make a round indentation with the bottle cap.
- Use the pen knife or pocket knife to cut out around the circle. Make as many “wampum” as you desire! Use the scissors to smooth out the edges of the foam circles.
- Once you have your circles the way you like, use the hole punch to punch out a small hole in the center.
- If you want to color your wampum, use permanent markers to color them. Be sure you have a covered surface for this, as it can smear onto you and your counter! (Yes, we found out the hard way!) Oh, and regular markers, like Crayola brand, wiped right off the Styrofoam™ surface.
- Place them on your foil covered cookie sheet and bake at 250° for 3-4 minutes. The foam will shrink and harden.
- You can then string your “wampum” on a bracelet or necklace if you desire.
Here is the finished product. I wish we had colored the edges of ours, and perhaps made them slightly larger. Regardless, I was pleased with how they turned out since this was my first time doing it.
I got this idea from the book Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself, pp. 21-22. (Click the image below to view this book on Amazon.)
Thank you for reading, and happy wampum-making!