Weekly Winter Count

Lesson submitted by Carolyn Olson (Art) of South Ridge School.

Keeping track of our own history is important, and yet history is not always written with words: it is sometimes told through dance, songs, and often drawn images. The Winter Count is a Lakota tradition of keeping histories or calendars of events recorded by pictures, with one picture for each year.We kept a historical record of our class's weekly activities by having students draw a small symbol on the collective class "pelt" representing an important event that affected everyone in the class (examples: MCA testing, snow, a field trip, a read-aloud book). One student was chosen to be the "historian" for each week, observing and thinking about what to draw for the class (it is important that they have time to consider what they record for their class's history).


  1. Provide a historical and accurate record of significant class events throughout the school year using images.
  2. Everyone participate in recording their own history.
  3. Responsibility to keep the winter count accurate.
  4. Understand that people have accurately recorded history through images and sculpture without using words.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


On the first day of class I introduce the winter count and show the Smithsonian's Lakota Winter Count website. We talk about the stories depicted on the hides and how the winter count came to be. We compare the stories with some other historical reference of the same incidents (meteor shower, small pox epidemic, etc.) and I propose that this class do a winter count of their school year.


Demonstrate drawing an image of an event that was significant for the entire class, first with a pencil, then tracing it with a thin black marker.


  1. Prepare "hides" for class to choose from using paper and marker in the shape of an animal pelt (cut w/ scissors).
  2. Ask students to prepare an art journal with a Table of Contents, Areas of Study, and Winter Count.
  3. Share about the tradition of the winter count and review online resources.
  4. Ask students to draw images they saw on the winter counts in their journal and write in their own words what they understand to be true about winter counts (3-4 words for K, 1-2 sentences for 1st grade, and up to a short paragraph for 6th grade).
  5. Assign the first week's historian, asking them to keep alert and consider an event to draw on the pelt next week.
  6. Ask the historian student to "speak for the group", drawing their image of last week's event. If s/he needs ideas, ask the class for suggestions, but have the student decide. The student draws with pencil first, then marker over top, and shares about their drawing. Acknowledge the student's gift to their class and thank them for their keen observation. Assign the next week's historian.
  7. Write the student's name, image date, and possibly a number by their image and name on the paper's edge to keep track. This will help remind students who's turn it is to be the historian. Refer to the list for participation/grading purposes.
  8. Connect the images visually (a spiral, square, zig-zag). Trace the "line" with your finger to help students see how each image follows the other, week-by-week.


The winter count continues throughout the school year and will be displayed in the hall during the Spring Open House. We are also considering creating a short iPad video of the class pelts each year and posting it to the school's winter count webpage to recognize past winter counts.


Each week I ask students the purpose of the winter count and in response, the designated historian for the week shares in their own words how the Lakota used the winter count to remind the people of their history using images. They each contribute an image to the class "pelt" that depicts the year's activities. New students are taught as we go through the year that we are the writers of our own history.

Vocabulary Words


More often than not, students remind me that we need to do the winter count. Kids are proud to be asked to represent an important event that affected the entire class: it creates respect for the historian (student) and teaches leadership. It is also a great way to collect the class and begin each day together. Note: Students often draw while I review what we will be doing that day.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards


Language Arts

Social Studies