How to Make a Model Tepee for a School Project

Updated February 21, 2017

Seeking a common architectural style among Native Americans? You won't find one. Compare cliff dwellings inhabited by Southwest tribes to huts built by proud tribes originating in the Northwest. See a resemblance? Sure, some equate the tepee with all tribal nations, but the honours go to Plains societies that relied upon easy-to-move buffalo hide and pole dwellings that could be collapsed and reassembled quickly as these Midwesterners moved from one hunting ground to the next. Show your classmates that you know a thing or two about this culture by building a tepee that's as authentic as it is beautiful.

Scout around your yard, a park or local wooded area near your home, gathering up twigs from fallen trees or bushes. Trim the best-looking twigs down to individual pieces, winding up with anywhere from four to eight 12-inch lengths that will serve as the base for your tepee model.

Wrap a rubber band tightly around the twigs about 3 inches from the top. Using an 18-inch square of thick, green styrofoam as your base, spread out the legs tripod style so there's an even amount of distance between the twigs. Plunge the legs into the styrofoam square so the tepee base is secured.

Prepare a bowl of papier-mache paste using a commercial powder. Make your own paste by mixing flour with drops of water until the combination reaches a thick paste, or use white glue as a binder for forming the cover of your tepee model.

Rip up strips of old newspaper. Dip each strip into your glue of choice and then wrap the saturated strips around the twig base, smoothing the material with your hands as you work and avoiding the twig areas above the rubber band. Keep wrapping and smoothing until you've completely covered the twig base.

Add authenticity to your tepee while it's still wet. Carefully cut a 3-inch slit in the bottom of the tent model (in-between two twigs) and then fold back both corners to replicate the way a Native American tent flap opens.

Allow your tepee model to dry thoroughly---this may take some time if you've used a lot of glue. Accelerate the pace at which it dries by putting it out in the sun, or use a fan to speed up the process.

Paint and embellish your tepee. Cover the entire dwelling with a coat of brown paint and allow it to dry. To decorate, emulate cow hide by splashing the tepee with white paint; glue colourful beads around the tent; hang rawhide strips and feathers from the opening; or apply Native American-themed decals to the finished model.

Spruce up the landscape. Glue moss or artificial grass to the styrofoam base. Add a couple of jackrabbits to the landscape and you're going to receive a terrific grade for all of your hard work.

Things You'll Need

  • Twigs
  • Paste
  • Newspaper
  • Styrofoam
  • Rubber band
  • Grass
  • Decorations
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About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.