Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Learning with games at First Nations University summer camp

By Kerry Benjoe, Leader-Post

REGINA — Who knew sticks and string could be fun?

Lemarr Oksasikewiyin did.

On Monday, as part of the 17th annual First Nations University’s Health and Science Camp, he demonstrated how traditional toys and games could not only be fun, but were great ways to teach things like math.

Oksasikewiyin, an elementary school teacher on Mosquito First Nation, has been researching traditional games and toys for the past seven years.

“They are still valid,” he said. “There is still merit to these games.”

Oksasikewiyin said using games is one of the best methods to teach because they rely on imagination and creativity to work.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make (the games),” said Oksasikewiyin. “It’s a piece of wood some string and there you go. It’s just scrap wood too. The tie up game that I showed them was a discarded skate lace. We use whatever is around.”

Over the years, he has compiled about 100 traditional games that he uses in the classroom.

“They learn the same things they would learn in school,” said Oksasikewiyin. “There’s games that involve math. You can learn trigonometry with some of these games, predicting patterns, predictability. There are so many concepts they can learn from these and it’s just another way of learning.”

As an educator, Oksasikewiyin sees the benefits of reviving and utilizing the old ways of teaching.

“This is actually part of their culture,” said Oksasikewiyin. “We survived for thousands of years. It wasn’t by fluke. We did it without motor vehicles. We did it without Internet. We did it without welfare or high-powered rifles. We did it and we’re still here. The games are a way of acquiring skills and knowledge to survive.”

Jacob Paul, 12, said the first day of camp was great.

“I liked how you can just make up a game in your head,” he said. “You can find a stick on the ground and you can play something with it. I like how it teaches you how we have it so good now. (Back then) they had such great creativity.”

Paul has six siblings and said he’s anxious to teach them some of the games he learned.

Oksasikewiyin said most children are receptive to the games.

Nastacia Cloe-Missens, 11, said the games were fun because everyone could play.

She didn’t know there were so many traditional games out there, but she did know of a few of them because she has played them.

Cloe-Missens said when they were told they would be playing with sticks she was curious, but knew it would probably be fun.

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