Birchbark (Wiigwaas) Triangle and Ball Game

Lesson submitted by Darilynn Ronn (Art teacher) of Northeast Range school.

Birchbark, or Wiigwaas in Ojibwe, played a key role in many northern Native American cultures, including the Penobscot from the northeastern region (Maine, in particular) who used it for containers, canoes, and toys. A traditional game played by Penobscot children was the Wiigwaas game, played with a stiff piece of birchbark cut into a triangular shape with a hole in the center and a string attached with a small ball. Children grasp a corner of the triangle opposite the string, toss the ball into the air, and try to get the ball to drop through the center hole in the bark.


See related lesson plans: Birchbark Baskets, Birchbark Birdhouse, and Birchbark Scrolls.Image courtesy of Waaban Aki Crafting

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Penobscot Native American children do the same things all children do - go to school, help around the house, and play games. In the past, American Indian children had more chores and less time to play, like early colonial children. But the Penobscot children did have toys and games like corn husk dolls, child-sized bows and arrows, the dice game, and the birchbark triangle and ball game.


Demonstrate, in stages, how to assemble the toy and play the game.


  1. Introduce students to the birchbark game. Discuss that this was a game that the Penobscot children played for fun.
  2. Show students Google images of the birchbark game
  3. Discuss what an equilateral triangle is (equal sides and equal angles), as well as other geometric shapes with equal sides, such as a rombus, square, octagon, and pentagon.
  4. Explain that this bark came from a dead birch tree that was being cut up for fire wood, and impress upon them that it's important to not take the bark off of live birch trees because it can harm or even kill the tree.
  5. Provide each student with a pre-cut birchbark triangle with the large center hole and smaller corner hole drilled, as well as the bead glued to a piece of sinew.
  6. Have students determine the length of the string (explain that the string length determines how hard or easy it is to play the game), cut the string with scissors, and tie the string to the punched hole in the triangle.
  7. Once the triangle and ball toy is assembled, invite students to decorate their triangle birchbark with Native American designs (it's best to decorate the darker side of the birch bark).
  8. Invite students to play the birchbark triangle and ball game.


Students will play the game, trying to get their glass bead through the hole in the birch bark.


Did students make the birchbark triangle and ball toy and play the game?

Vocabulary Words


This lesson was taught with 1st graders, however it can be taught up to grade 8. For older students, have them find and make the center hole (measure the length of a side, divide it in half, draw a line from the opposite angle to that point, do this for each side, and when finished, the center can be found where the lines cross) with a pencil and drill the hole. They can also punch the corner hole, glue their glass bead to the sinew, cut the string to their desired length, and tie the string to a corner hole.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Areas

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards




Social Studies