Homes: Past, Present, and Future

Standing Bear, Attributed to
about 1880

After studying the history of the Lakota community and aspects of living in a tipi, students will compare the Lakota Tipi to other types of homes in the present and formulate ideas for homes in the future.

Intended Age Group
Early childhood (ages 3-5)
Standards Area
Social Studies
Lesson Length
One 25 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • use chronological sequence to put information in order;
  • work together to develop ideas for homes in the future; and
  • use visual tools to make connections between how they live and how others live in the world.


  1. Display a simple visual timeline, labeled “Past,” “Present,” and “Future.” Talk about the concepts of these three words and their meanings.
  2. Show students the Lakota Tipi. Focus on the details, such as how the materials used make the tipi portable and why that would have been important. Explain that tipis in the past were often made from animal hides. Share about who in the community made them. Share details about the story depicted on the Tipi. Ask students to share their observations.
  3. Identify on a map where the Lakota lived in the past (on the Great Plains, which covers the area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada) and where they live today (you can show them Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where many Lakota live today, but tell students that not all the Lakota live on this reservation, and many don’t live on any reservation. They can live anywhere). Show where the children live in relation to the Lakota.
  4. Post a cut-out image of the Tipi on the timeline above the word “Past.” Ask children if anyone in class lives in a tipi now. Explain that some people still live in tipis today (to avoid confusion, you should also tell students that most Native Americans live in modern homes). Ask what they imagine living in a tipi would be like.
  5. Review the meaning of the word “present.” Talk about the homes of today. Show images of many different types of homes from the present such as apartments, ranches, etc. What kind of homes do the students live in?
  6. Talk about similarities and differences they notice about the Tipi and homes from the present. Write these words or phrases on the board.
  7. Discuss why different materials were used to build the Tipi versus the homes from the present. Talk about how people live today in comparison to the past when they had to move from place to place to find food.
  8. Post a cut-out image of a home from the present above the word “Present.”
  9. Ask children to design a home for the future. Explain the concept of the future. Spend some time as a group brainstorming about what a futuristic home would look like. Write or illustrate the ideas on the board.
  10. Create a drawing representing their ideas of a future home and post this on the timeline above “Future.”
  11. Have children illustrate their own versions of a future home.
  12. Review and compare homes from the past, present, and future as the lesson comes to a close.


  • United States map
  • White board and markers or projection board
  • Images of homes from the present
  • Pencils, colored pencils, and paper
  • About the Art section on the Tipi (included with the lesson plan)
  • Color copies of the Tipi for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards
  • Social Studies
    • History
    • Geography
  • Recognize change and sequence over time
  • Develop spatial understanding, perspectives and connections to the world
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction


about 1880
Attributed to
Standing Bear, 1859-1934
About the Artist

This tipi was made by a Lakota artist. The Lakota people lived on the Great Plains, an area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada. Many, but not all, of the tribes who lived on the Great Plains used tipis as their primary form of residence. In most tribes, women were generally both the makers and the owners of the tipis, although men sometimes provided assistance in their construction. They were often made from the skins of buffalo that the men hunted. Women tanned the skins and then sewed them into a pattern to create a semi-circular one-piece covering. The name “Standing Bear” is written on the Denver Art Museum’s tipi, but we are not sure whether this is the name of the artist or possibly the identity of one of the figures depicted. It was not a Lakota custom for artists to sign tipis.

What Inspired It

The tribes who lived on the Great Plains moved frequently as they hunted for food and required homes that could be erected quickly and transported easily. The earliest tipis were relatively small but increased in size after Europeans introduced horses to the area, which allowed tribes to carry larger and heavier loads. The materials used to construct tipis were dictated by what was readily available. The tipi covering, for example, was originally made from buffalo hide. The decimation of buffalo herds in the mid- to late-1800s, along with the availability of trade goods, caused a shift to tipis made of canvas. Later, with the building of western-style housing on reservations, tipis as a primary dwelling completely disappeared.

The construction of tipis varied slightly among the different tribes. Generally, three or four foundation poles are tied together near the top while they are lying on the ground. The tripod is then lifted upright and the poles are spread at the base. Additional poles are added to create an oval floor plan. The cover is then attached to the top of a pole and spread across the frame. The two edges of the cover overlap and are secured with wooden pegs. Smoke flaps are controlled by the use of two longer poles. During the hot summer weather, the sides could be rolled up to allow air to flow in and out of the tipi. Extra warmth was gained in the winters by banking snow outside the tipi. An inner layer was also added to the tipi and grass was used as insulation between the two layers. The Denver Art Museum tipi may have been used as a decorative outer cover for another smaller cover, since it lacks evidence of smoke at the top.

The images painted onto the tipi cover probably represent battle scenes. The establishment of reservations ended the nomadic and warrior lifestyle of the Lakota. Military exploits of earlier years became more significant for the Lakota and artists kept the stories alive through their drawings. Enemy tribes, such as the Crow and the Pawnee, are painted in great detail, allowing the viewer to recognize them by their distinctive clothing and hairstyles. Tipis like this one now serve as a historical record of the lives of those who created it.



This tipi is made of canvas, with wooden poles for support. Canvas was more readily available than the traditional buffalo hide (buffalo were becoming increasingly rare) and it made the tipi much lighter and easier to transport.

Narrative Painting

This style of painting, referred to as narrative painting, depicts a military scene. Military paintings were done exclusively by men, while women painted abstract patterns. By the late 1800s, Lakota drawings began taking on more realistic proportions. Paintings were not typically painted in chronological order. Images were arranged according to the artist’s preference, recording the essence of an event and not the specifics of time or place.


Red, green, and yellow horses circle the tipi. Artists often painted horses in a more decorative manner, in colors not normally attributed to the animal. In Lakota society, horses were an important symbol of power and wealth. Artists frequently depicted them as trophies secured in battle or as the prized possession of a rider.

Enemy Tribes

Warriors from the Pawnee and Crow tribes are recognized by their distinctive hairstyles and clothing. The Pawnee warrior is shown wearing high fashioned black moccasins.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.