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Rainy Day Activity: Heading West with Pecos Bill

by Kaitlyn Crites Pecos Bill was one of the roughest, toughest cowboys in the entire West! Raised by coyotes who would expect anything less?  Did you know he used a rattlesnake as a lasso? He rode a tornado through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona! Accounts of Pecos Bill are known as tall tales, exaggerated stories passed from one generation to another. Why should students study tall tales?  These symbolic, insightful tales have survived for centuries, and reflect the cultures, values, mores and beliefs that shaped history.  In addition, they comprise a genre of literature all their own. One of my favorite tall tales is that of Pecos Bill. There are several books for young people I recommend that cover this legendary figure’s engaging antics and lead to good discussion.  Children PreK through grade 2 will benefit from reading with an adult. Students grades 3 through 5 will also enjoy the books. Pecos Bill, Colossal Cowboy: The Graphic Novel by Sean Hamann Tulien and Lisa K Weber Pecos Bill by Steven Kellogg and Laura Robb Here are a few questions to stimulate discussion with your child post read: What does exaggeration mean?  Why do people exaggerate when they tell a story? Do you think that Pecos Bill was really raised by coyotes?  How do you think that story got started?  Do people really believe he traveled on a tornado? Pecos Bill roamed far and wide (you can pull out a map to track his course.) Why do you think he headed in the direction he did? What was he looking for? Pecos Bill used a rattlesnake as a lasso. What would you use to make one? Pecos Bill wore a vest. Why do cowboys wear vests?  I teach a Saturday Enrichment Program course at the Center for Talent Development titled “Superheroes of the 1800s.” Students learn about the first American adventurers through creative hands-on activities related to geography and language arts. One activity the kids embrace could be easily replicated at home to augment learning about tall tales. We make western vests to get more in tune  with legendary cowboys like Pecos Bill. You and your child will be ready to jump into the saddle after creating this western vest!  And, if someone is searching for a unique Halloween costume this might fit the “Bill”! Materials Needed: To have your cowboy or cowgirl create their own western vest, recycle a brown paper bag from your local grocery store, and round up one or more of the following: crayons, markers, colored pencils, paint, glitter, construction paper, stencils, foil, stickers, ribbon, pins, buttons, and/or whatever else is lying around the house that will add color and contrast! Instructions for Doing the Activity:
  1. If there is writing on the brown paper bag, turn it inside out.
  2. On a flat surface, cut from the center of the bag’s open edge to the middle of the bottom with scissors. Cut out a neck hole on bag’s bottom. Cut armholes in bag’s sides. Trim the front edges to complete the vest.
  3. Decorate your vest however you would like using art supplies found at home.  Almost any item works, so get creative!
  4. Cut vertically along the bottom of the vest to fringe the edges.
  5. If you would like to add rosettes, tear two aluminum foil circles (one smaller than the other) to make each.  Put a small circle on top of a larger one. Then, poke ribbon or yarn through layered rosette and into the vest and knot both ends.
  6. Try on your finished product!  Pecos Bill would be proud!
Modifications for Younger or Older Students: For younger students, parents can assist in cutting the brown paper bag and additional items that will be added to the vest. For older students, parents can trace circles on the brown paper bag for their child to cut independently Additional Resource Link: http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/pecos-bill/ offers multiple tall tales of Pecos Bill.  Parents can read these stories and have their child act it out while wearing their vests.  For example, taken from Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado, ‘Well, Bill jest grabbed that there tornado, pushed it to the ground and jumped on its back.’  By using his/her imagination, your child can grab a tornado from mid air, push it all the way to the ground, jump on its back, and ride it like wild old Widowmaker Kaitlyn Crites teaches for CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program. Visit the Saturday Enrichment Program website for winter courses related to storytelling and adventure. Saturday Enrichment Program is offered at multiple sites throughout Chicagoland.  Other writing and literature courses are available online through the CTD Gifted LearningLinks program.

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