Coming Home to North America
A Participatory Program for Children (K - 6)
and their stuffed animals

by Connie Barlow
October 2002 (revised October 2005)

Intention: We North Americans are all largely ignorant of the magnificent deep time story of this continent, a story that begins some 70 million years ago near the end of the dinosaur era. Our story begins 70 million years ago and dramatizes major events up through the present. These events focus on animals and plants evolving in North America or immigrating here, extinctions, and significant changes in landforms and climate. The culmination has our own human ancestors arriving at this continent. Children with Native American heritage are called into the circle first, as the rest of us call out, "Welcome, humans, welcome!" Then children are asked to enter, in groups, from each of the different continents of the world, each group greeted in the same way. (When Connie facilitated this story at an elementary school in Denver, some multi-ethnic children entered the continent 3 times! Example: "Those of us with African heritage, our ancestors came to North America just like the mastodons came to North America from Africa.")

Recommended Group Size: Connie has conducted this participatory program in elementary schools for as many as 60 children at a time (on the gymnasium floor).

Time: 45 to 75 minutes.


(1) STUFFED ANIMALS. Students must be asked a day or two in advance to bring in their 2 or 3 favorite stuffed animals or animal toys.

(2) ROPE long enough to trace a good-size outline of the North American continent on the floor.

(3) BELL , gong, or chime for musically noting an extinction, or for saying "Welcome!" to each new animal.

(4) Print-out of the facilitator SCRIPT. Note: Because Connie presents this program so often, and has a chain of NORTH AMERICA STORY BEADS that shes uses to remember the sequence of events (and a large poster of the timings of immigrations and extinctions; see below), she never uses a script.

(5) BLUE CLOTH or towel or scarf (in 2 segments), which can be draped across the midsection of North America to symbolize the Bearpaw Seaway, and then drawn back to show its recession.

(6) WHITE CLOTH to use for the glaciations.

(7) optional FACE PAINT. Connie uses blue clay from the Ordovician of Ohio and red Alabama clay, and by adding water she gets a "mud" consistency that she sometimes uses to paint the back of hand or face (their choice) of the children, one by one, after she learns what animal(s) they will be.

(8) optional A big "CLOCK" with one hand that can be turned to signify the 60 million years of North American history (1 million years per minute) would be great for the timekeeper to use. The Cenozoic epochs are: Paleocene (red), Eocene (green dots), Oligocene big blue dots, Miocene (red dots), Pliocene (yellow), Pleistocene (blue stripes).


(a) Learn the story. Read some of the adult scripts available on this website in order to learn the North American story. If you have the time, read the book on which this script is based: Tim Flannery's The Eternal Frontier. A superb way to learn the story is to assemble your own loop of BEADS, in which each bead signifies another event in the 65 million year story.

(b) Print the script. Print out several copies of the script outline and become very familiar with it (you may wish to add your own notes to it). Know that you will have to work creatively to find a role for every stuffed animal that the children bring in, and that you may need to delete events for which there is no animal representation (or else recruit child volunteers to act out the part). Remember that it will be more important to ensure that every stuffed animal is used, and that every child participates at least once, than to get the story exactly right.

(c) Get excited about telling the story. Your enthusiasm is important. No child will remember even half the events; the important thing is to have this work as an integrated and fascinating story. Each child may well remember for the rest of their lives the role that they played as individuals! You will be delighted to find that the children are easily entranced by the story and eager to pay attention to listen for when their turn may come. The tone tends to be quiet and reverential. Rest assured that discipline problems are unusual, even for groups as large as 60 or 70. It is more important for you to be a confident and engaging storyteller and attentive to the children's needs than for you to get all the facts correct.

(d) Create a SONG. After each new animal immigrates into or evolves in North America, have the kids sing the same, repeated simple song. One possibility can be listened to (mp3 format) on this website that sings: Welcome, [animal name], welcome!". Click here for the AUDIO. This helps to ritualize the event and draws the kids attention each time. Better, ask the kids to stand each time it is sung, and create some simple body movements to go with each word: "Welcome" (extend right arm, palm up), "Animal Name" (extend left arm, palm up), "Wel-" (both arms come back and cross over heart), "-come" (both arms back out to extended position). You might want to create a separate tune to wish "Goodbye" when an extinction happens, maybe using hand movement of waving goodbye.

(e) Download POSTERS. Click to view or download HIGH RESOLUTION, LARGE FORMAT POSTERS. Kinkos can print them out large-scale for you.


(a) Stuffed animals. It is important for the teacher to ensure that the kids each bring in 2 or 3 stuffed animals on the appropriate day. Ask the teacher to tell the kids that, in addition to the usual cats, dogs, and bears, if they have any of these more unusual animals they should be sure to bring them in: horse, rhinoceros, elephant or mammoth, camel, squirrel, frog, lizard, turtle, armadillo, possum, porcupine, a raven or crow, snake, deer, buffalo, cheetah, extinct giant ground sloth. Because dinosaurs, horses, elephants, and turtles are so important, you might want to borrow stuffed animals of these yourself, just in case the kids don't bring in any.

(b) Geography lesson. If the teacher wishes to do a little geography lesson in advance to help the children understand that they live in North America, and where South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia are in relationship to it, that would be great.

(c) Dinosaurs. If the teacher wants to do a little program in advance on the dinosaur era or on how the dinosaurs went extinct, that would be good too, but not necessary, as the story of North America will start right as the dinosaurs are going extinct.

(d) Parental permission. Because this program deals with deep time and presumes that evolution occurs, it is least controversial to do in a private school or for a religious education program in a liberal church. If the school is public, the teacher may wish to send home permission slips for parents to either allow or disallow their kids attendance.

(e) Beginning and ending the program. Ask the teacher to figure out how best to have the children set aside their stuffed animals for you to inventory, how to get the children seated with their animals at the site, how to direct the children to recover their animals out of the pile at the end of the story and return to the classroom. Ask the teacher to be prepared to help with discipline, though it will probably not be necessary.

(f) Timing. Make sure you know when the program will begin and end, and that the teacher has set aside sufficient time for you to set up the site and to inventory the stuffed animals.


Clear the floor of chairs and tables, and use the ROPE to demarcate the boundaries of the North American continent, including Mexico. It is very important to make Florida prominent, as this helps children recognized the continent. If possible, have North really be in the north. Lay down a BLUE CLOTH to signify "The Bearpaw Seaway," which is a shallow sea that has flooded the interior of the continent all the way from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The children will sit on the floor in a semicircle, with the North side of the continent reserved for where you will sit or stand to guide the ceremony. Allow room, or leave a corridor, for children to transit the Beringia land bridge from Asia. Have the BELL OR CHIME by your seat, and the WHITE CLOTH ready to use for the Ice Ages.

2. INVENTORY THE STUFFED ANIMALS: Have the children put all their stuffed animals outside their room in the hall, so that you can inventory the animals in solitude. (The children will have no problem sorting through them to re-possess their own on their way to the ceremony.) Use the script of animals/events below, and then write in alongside each which ones can be represented with stuffed animals. Use your imagination: if someone brings in a koala bear, then you can make sure to have the child place the koala where Australia would be, at the time that Raven is flying to North America from Australia. Be sure to write down a role for every single stuffed animal! It is okay to make something up to ensure that every stuffed animal has a role. The easiest solution is simply to ask just before the first humans arrive in North America whether there are any animals that have not yet been called? Identify each animal and what continent they are native to, then have them all come into the continent together to signify that we now have them here in ZOOS!

3. GET THE CHILDREN SEATED: in a semicircle around the continent, holding their stuffed animals. Instill an atmosphere of awe and mystery.

4. INTRODUCTION: The teacher or you will introduce you. Explain why you are here and what is going to happen, especially what the children are going to be doing with their stuffed animals. Make sure that every child has at least one stuffed animal. If you brought any with you, distribute those to the neediest children.

5. A TRUE STORY: Explain that even though we will be using stuffed animals, the story we will be celebrating today is the TRUE STORY of the North American continent, as best as SCIENTISTS understand it. Ask how scientists know the story: (discovering fossils). Ask if any of the children has ever seen a fossil (where?); whether any have ever found a fossil themselves (what was it?). Explain that this story will be 70 million years long and end with today. It will start back when the dinosaurs were still alive. Explain that some of the stuffed animals will represent animals who go extinct during the course of the story, and ask for a volunteer to explain what extinction means. Assure them that after the story has ended, the children will each pick up their own stuffed animals and take them back to class with them, and then back home.

6. EXPLAIN THE GEOGRAPHY: Show the children that the ROPE is an outline of the North American continent. Ask someone to point out Florida, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, and where their own state is. Put a colorful marker where the state would be. Ask them to point where the North Pole would be. Where would South America be? Asia? Africa? Australia? Make sure they know that South America is isolated 70 million years ago; that Central America has not yet formed a connection, and that a land connection exists between Alaska and Asia, even though there isn't one today. (You may wish to have the teacher show them these differences on a map the day before, and to help them understand that Earth has looked very different a long time ago.) If some of the kids are Mexican-American, make sure they understand that geographically, Mexico is part of North America, even though they normally consider "Norteamericanos" to be just U.S. and Canadians.

7. TELL THE STORY: Be watchful of time to ensure you get through in time. Keep it exciting. Don't get bogged down. Make sure you ask at the end if anyone has a stuffed animal that hasn't been brought into the story yet? Then find a way to use it! Make good use of the chime, especially for being reverential at an extinction. You may need to test the students for a hand signal to get them to quiet, as there will be times for them to act up or make sounds, and then you will need to quiet them.

8. ACTING OUT THE CHARACTERS: Sometimes I encounter a bunch of kids in which a large portion of them are eager to act out any and all creatures. If there are no more than 20 in the room, whenever a stuffed animal is not available for a creature, you can ask for volunteers to act it out. Let any who wish come forward and act out. This allows the quiet shy kids to just watch and the real rabble rousers to enjoy doing their thing. Snakes slithering across Beringia is especially fun for them, as they all get on their bellies and slither.


NOTE: This is merely an outline of events from which you will craft a story based on the stuffed animals that are available and how much time you have. Be prepared to improvise. Or create a chart (like the one below) that Connie uses, so you that she doesn't need to use a script any more. Also, this way the kids can see the animals, and the story unfold. Better yet, also make for yourself a loop of BEADS for telling the story.

For each event, make it interesting, as in "Okay, we now come to 40 million years ago, and it is now time for a kind of animal to evolve right here in North America that many of you might have as a pet at home. It sounds like "woof woof". Yes! The dog family, which also includes foxes and wolves. Do any of you have any dogs or wolves or foxes or puppies to bring into the continent now? Bring them in!" Then while the kids are bringing them in, lead the rest of the kids in repeating in unison after you, "Welcome, dogs, welcome!" You might also encourage the whole class to bark while the animals are being placed there; help them to use up some energy. Ditto with cats meowing, bears roaring, bison thunderous hooves, horses galloping.

Click for an explanation of this chart.

Click for a JPG OF SMALL COLOR CUT-OUTS OF THESE ANIMALS that you can pass out to the children for them to be, especially those who don't bring stuffed animals.

  • 65 MILLION YEARS AGO. Our story begins 65 million years ago. Who is in North America then? DINOSAURS! Dinosaurs have been alive for some 150 million years during the Mesozoic Era, but they are going to be going extinct really soon. What are the names of some of the dinosaurs? Does anybody have any dinosaurs to bring into North America? Bring them in! Very important! Ask if there were any people yet. (And periodically keep asking this question throughout the entire program. Pretty soon the kids will all be replying, Noooooo!)
  • DINOSAUR EXTINCTION. Something that will change the course of Earth history is about to happen. Who knows what it is? Yes! A giant meteor is coming toward Planet Earth, traveling 90 million miles per hour. It blasts through Earth's atmosphere and hits at the southern entrance to the Bearpaw Seaway. It smashes into the coast of Mexico (show where that is). [Explain how things burn up, how volcanoes go off, why it gets very dark for a year or two, and why the plants die, and then many of the animals do too. But explain that plants can easily grow back in a few years when the sun returns because seeds can last a long time, but animals don't have something like a seed to wait out bad times, so that's why so many of them went extinct but plants didn't.] Use the chime to mark the dinosaur extinction, then in unison "Goodbye, dinosaurs, goodbye!" Then ask the children to retrieve their extinct dinosaurs and put them in a pile up by you, where all the dead animals will be placed as the story unfolds.
  • Fortunately, small reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals still survive. The LITTLE MAMMALS were the ones who could burrow into the ground and stay warm, maybe hibernate. These little mammals who survived the meteor impact would become the ancestors of all the dogs and cats and horses and squirrels and people who would ever evolve on Earth. So let's say, "Thank you, Little Mammals, thank you!"
  • Little mammals were not the only creatures to surive the meteor impact. TURTLES and SALAMANDERS and even some ALLIGATORS and CROCODILES that could burrow into the muds of freshwater ponds did surprisingly well despite the terrible conditions of the meteor impact. In fact, turtles did so well that when they finally crawled out of the safety of the mud they went on to become very abundant and very diverse. Thus began a brief "Golden Age of Turtles" throughout the two halves of North America and the Bearpaw Seaway. [Note, skip Alligators if no-one brought that in as a stuffed animal.
  • Start the "clock" at 60 million years ago (mya).

    60 mya It is now 60 milliion years ago, just 5 million years after the meteor impact. ROCKY MOUNTAINS RISE, which makes the Bearpaw Seaway drain away. East and West unite. North America is born as a real continent! Chime. "North America is born!" [unison]

    55 mya With the dinosaurs gone, the LITTLE MAMMALS have an opportunity to evolve into many different forms and to become much bigger. Fifty-five million years ago, the earliest HORSES and CAMELS evolve right here in North America! Let's welcome the horses and camels to this great continent! "Welcome horses!" [chime] "Welcome camels!" [chime]

    55 mya Meanwhile, also at 55 million years ago, RHINOCEROSES evolve in Asia and become huge. Soon they walk across the land bridge into Alaska and then down into North America. They can do this because the whole world is very warm 55 milliion years ago. It is so warm that crocodiles can live in what is now Alaska. Does anybody have a rhinoceros? If not, who would like to volunteer to BE A RHINOCEROS - and stand over in Asia, reading to walk into Alaska and become part of North America?

    40 mya The DOG FAMILY is born, and that happens right here in North America. [wolves and coyotes and foxes and finally pet dogs] BARK TOGETHER. "Welcome, Dogs, welcome." chime

    40 mya The CAT FAMILY is born, but in Asia, not North America. [will become lion and tigers and jaguars and leopards and cheetahs and cougars and housecats.] Have kids with stuffed animals line up in Asia and then come through Alaska to deposit their stuffed animals in the center of the continent. All cats are okay to bring in, including African lions and Asian tigers. MEOW TOGETHER. "Welcome, Cats, welcome!" chime

    35 mya Story of a storm in South America, a tree falling into a river and washing out to sea, floating up to North America with little creatures clinging onto it and then getting off and making North America their home too. TREE FROGS, and TOADS, and WHIPTAIL LIZARDS. Not regular frogs, which we already have, but tree frogs, like Spring Peepers: [sound of frogs] "Welcome, Tree Frogs, Welcome!" [NOTE: If someone brought in an IGUANA have that on the stormy tree too.]

    35 mya My goodness! Who is that flying into our continent 35 million years ago? I see a big black bird, flying into our continent, coming all the way from Australia, the continent of its origin! [If no stuffed animal, ask for several volunteers to act like this bird flying in.] RAVEN — cousin of crow! Raven evolved in Australia and now is sending descendants to all continents of the world. [all cawwww like a crow or raven.] "Welcome, Raven, welcome!" [chime] NOTE: if someone brought in a BAT you could have the bat fly in from Asia at the same time; otherwise ignore bats. NOTE: If there are other birds kids have brought, have them brought into the circle now, mentioning that because birds can fly, they can go just about anywhere, so there was lots of exchange bt. our continent and the rest of the world. If anyone has an ostrich, that will have to stay in Africa. Ask why? Because it cannot fly!

    35 mya Around the same time I see something slithering from Asia into Alaska, and then heading south. Oh, who might that be? GARTER SNAKES! Welcome, Garter Snakes! Other kinds of snakes are slithering in, too. These are powerful snakes. These ancient snakes will gradually evolve into a family of snakes unique to North and South America: RATTLESNAKES! Do you feel the spirits of rattlesnakes slithering toward your feet right now? "Welcome, Rattlesnakes, welcome!" Remember: Kids love to volunteer to act this out, slithering from Asia into America on their bellies.

    32 mya Oh, who is that climbing about in the trees? I think I see some SQUIRRELS, evolving right here in North America. Welcome squirrels! And squirrels are not just evolving here. The squirrel family is co-evolving with nut trees: with the acorns of oak trees, and with the nuts of walnuts and hickories and beech trees, too. You see, squirrels gather and bury acorns and other nuts during the fall, storing them safely in the ground so that they can eat them later during the winter. But not all the buried nuts are dug up and eaten. Some remain in the soil, and then grow into trees. Squirrels are so successful that very soon they migrate into Asia and then Europe and Africa too. But they originated right here. [If noone has brought in a squirrel stuffed animal, ask for volunteers to pretend to be squirrels planting nuts in the ground.] "Welcome, squirrels, welcome!" [chime]

    Any time. Now here is something amazing about our continent. More than anywhere else in the world, one type of storm occurs mostly on our continent. What is it? Note: There will always be some kids who guess correctly, TORNADO. Explain that because the Rockies/Cascades/Sierras run N-S, and the Appalachians run N-S, there is nothing to block the flow of cold air from the Arctic moving way south, and warm air from the Gulf of Mexico blowing way north, across the broad flat mid-section of the continent. When cold air and warm air meet, tornadoes may form. Who has ever seen a tornado? Let's all stand and act out tornadoes, and making the sound of wind too. (Kids love this part; let it go on awhile to let them all get some energy released.)

    20 mya Oh my! I think I see something Big and Ferocious coming into North America now, after it evolved in Asia. The BEAR FAMILY Do I hear any bears growling out there? "Welcome, Bears, welcome!"

    20 mya Trees may be beautiful, and are very important for feeding squirrels their nuts. But if you are a horse, you can't reach up into the treetops to eat the tree leaves. Better to have plants growing near to the ground. So it is time for Earth to bring forth the GRASSES. It would be a great help to HORSES and other grazing animals if grasses evolved. Well, sure enough, by 20 million years ago, grasses did evolve, and their seeds rapidly spread throughout the entire world. Like acorns co-evolving with squirrels, grasses co-evolved with big mammals. This is because grasses actually want to be eaten! Other plants have their growing cells, their buds, at the tips of their branches and stems, so when animals munch them, they find it hard to grow. But grasses figured out a way to protect their growing cells by putting them at the base of the stem, right next to the ground, rather than at the tip. So grasses grow the same way our own hair grows: from the base! Feel your hair right now. Does it hurt you when you get your hair cut? No! In the same way, it doesn't hurt grasses to have a horse eat the tips, or a LAWNMOWER to clip the tips in today's world!

    17 mya A most wonderful family of mammals has evolved in Africa, has spread into Asia, and is now beginning to migrate into North America. This animals has a very long nose and beautiful white tusks. Who is it? ELEPHANTS The first kinds of elephants to come into North America are MASTODONS, and later Asia will send us MAMMOTHS. Ask all the kids to stand up and move one arm like it is the trunk of an elephant and to make elephant sounds. Welcome to North America, you big beautiful beasts! "Welcome, Elephants, welcome! [chime]

    15 mya Now a whole new family of plant-eater will evolve on the American grasslands, to join the horses and camels that have been here for many millions of years. Who is this new family? The PRONGHORN antelope. It is not at all related to the antelope of Africa, though it looks somewhat like them. What distinguishes North America's pronghorn is that no plant-eater in the world runs faster. Why does our pronghorn run as fast as cars are allowed to go on the freeway? Well, because right here in North America, about the same time, evolved a new genus of cat from older cat ancestors that had long ago come in from Asia. And this cat will be the fastest running animal in the world. Who is this cat?

    15 mya A special kind of cat will evolve right here, and later it will go over to Africa before it becomes extinct here. CHEETAH.

    9 mya Oh, who is that swimming the rivers of Asia, entering Beringia, and then swimming the rivers of Alaska and down through Canada and throughout North America, wherever there are rivers? BEAVER

    5 mya DEER evolve in Asia and then migrate into North America. So do MOUNTAIN SHEEP.

    5 mya It is still 5 million years ago, and I have a very sad event to report: Somebody is going to go extinct in North America, but fortunately they will live on in Africa and India. Who is that? RHINOCEROS. [If there is one in the pile, have it removed.] "Goodbye, Rhinoceros, goodbye!" [chime]

    5 mya Some monkey-like creatures are coming down out of the trees and beginning to walk around in Africa. Who are these? ANCESTORS OF HUMANS. But it will be a long time before these human ancestors migrate into North America. By the time that they do, they will have spears and will have figured out how to rub sticks together in order to create a spark to make campfires. If somebody brought in a MONKEY or GORILLA, have them place it in Africa. Better, ask for volunteers who want to huddle with you where Africa would be. Then ask those volunteers when there, "Who wants to be the person who discovers how to make fire? Who want to be the person who discovers how to sew warm clothes so that you can later cross Alaska and come into North America? To make spears for hunting mammoths?"

    3 mya Oh, something very special is about to happen. Three million years ago, South America finally connects with North America, when the Isthmus of Panama rises up out of the ocean. It is now possible for animals to migrate between these two continents on their own four feet, instead of clinging to a storm-launched, floating tree like the tree frogs and lizards did. The good news is that South America sends North America PORCUPINE, POSSUM, and ARMADILLO. Welcome, all you cute little creatures! South America also sends North America GIANT GROUND SLOTHS and GLYPTODONTS, which are big mammals who will do well here for a couple million years before going extinct. Ask the kids to pretend they are a ground sloth and see how hard it would be to go fast. Have them stand on the sides of their feet, like the ground sloths do. Ground sloths stand on the sides of their feet because inward turned feet like that are great for climbing trees to safety when you are a baby, but by the time you become too heavy to climb trees, your great claws and strong arms will protect you on the ground from predators.

    3 mya The bad news is that, 3 million years ago, North America also sends so many of its own mammals across the Isthmus of Panama that many of the mammals native to South America will not be able to survive. They will go EXTINCT. After millions and millions of years of evolving in isolation in South America, all the new arrivals prove to be too much for the residents, and the native South American mammals will go extinct. Who are the North American animals who are getting ready to expand their home range into South America and make that continent their home too? SQUIRREL, RABBIT, RACCOON, MICE OR RAT, PECCARY (PIG), DEER, CAT, DOG, BEAR Any of you come up here. And we'll need CAMEL, too, to represent LLAMA, because Llama is a kind of camel that evolved first right here in North America, before moving into South America just 3 milion years ago. [Have the kids walk south into South America, and then return their animals to the stack in North America.]

    3 mya There is an important migration moving in another direction too: out of North America and into Asia and from there down into Africa. Who has a HORSE OR CAMEL here in North America? Get it and carry it across Alaska into Asia and down into Africa. Anybody know what that horse will evolve into in Africa? ZEBRA! A Zebra is really a North American horse that has moved to Africa and grown stripes! There will still be horses and camels in North America too, but not for long! Eventually, they will go extinct here, in their land or origin.

    2 mya This is the beginning of the ICE AGES [explain glaciers and use the WHITE CLOTH, or have a volunteer take over, while you talk.] A kind of brown bear will turn white to match the snow during this time. Who will that be? POLAR BEAR

    400,000 years ago Oh, I hear the thunder of hooves, whole herds of hooves, as big snorting beasts come from Asia through Alaska and into North America for the first time. These are the BISON, also known as buffalo. Does anybody have a BUFFALO, or its close relative: A COW? [yes or no, invite ALL THE CHILDREN TO STAND, and stamp their feet and snort like buffalo.] Buffalo: We have been waiting so long for you to come our way! Welcome to our continent! Now go on out into the plains and prairies and enjoy eating all our wonderful grasses.

    ANY STUFFED ANIMALS NOT YET CALLED? Find out if anybody has any stuffed animals remaining, and find a way to bring them into the continent (we now have them all in our zoos!) or put them on some other continent now.

    15,000 years ago - The clock now turns to 15,000 years ago. The Ice Ages have come and gone. Something very important is about to happen: PEOPLE arrive! People began evolving in Africa about 5 million years ago, but no people were in North America until 15,000 years ago. First, people had to figure out how to make stone tools and spear points, and how to build fires to cook and to keep warm, and how to sew furry animal skins into clothes and boots that could keep them warm way up in Alaska, and during the winter. People needed all these things in order to walk from Asia into Alaska, and then down into the rest of North America. So 15,000 years ago, the first peoples finally arrive. Since we are all people, let's all stand, and welcome ourselves: "Welcome, People, welcome!"

    13,000 years ago - Something very sad is about to happen. Many big animals in North America will go EXTINCT. Some scientists think that climate change is the reason: the end of the Ice Ages. Others think that people were the cause: that the ancestors of the first peoples were mammoth hunters, who killed too many of the big beasts, driving them to extinction. Whatever the cause, a great variety of big beasts go extinct just 13,000 years ago. Gone are the GROUND SLOTHS and the GLYPTODONTS. Gone too are all the ELEPHANTS: our mammoths and mastodons. We will have to say goodbye to the HORSES and CAMELS, too. We are grateful that their descendants still live on in Asia and Africa. So whoever put their stuff animal HORSES OR CAMELS into the pile, please retrieve them now and put them in the extinct pile up here. Goodbye, animals, goodbye! [chime]

    We must say goodbye, too, to all the predators who once depended on the big grass-eating animals for food. Among those who went extinct was the biggest member of the DOG clan: the Dire Wolf. And also a ferocious member of the CAT family: the Sabertooth Cat. And, of course, the American Cheetah went extinct. Also going extinct is the biggest BEAR of all time: America's very own giant bear! We don't need to remove them from the pile of animals, because there are still some species of cats and dogs and bears that remain in North America. Nevertheless, we can say goodbye to the ones that went extinct: "Goodbye big and scary animals, goodbye!" [chime] Know that we will keep your memory alive forever! We will remember your story, and we will display your bones in our finest museums, and write books about you.

    Fortunately, about the same time these animals went extinct in America, two more came here from Asia: MOOSE and ELK.

    Today Now, we come to the present. Today there are many, many PEOPLE on this continent. Our own ancestors came not just from Asia, but also from Africa and Europe and the Middle East and India and Polynesia and South America. First among these peoples were the First Nations: the peoples whose cultures arose right here on this continent: such as the Iroqouis, the Cherokee, the Lakota, the Navajo. And then all the people who followed, much later. And some of those people also brought back an animal who was once native to this land and then went extinct. The early Spanish people brought back the HORSE. Let us welcome horses back into their original home, their continent of birth. "Welcome HORSES, welcome! [chime] Soon, the Lakota and other Native peoples will tame wild horses and ride them to hunt BISON.


    NOTE: There are several ways to end this story. You can ask the students to enter the continent in groups, by ancestry, as you go one by one through the regions of the world. Make clear that some students will enter the continent 2 or 3 or even 4 different times, based on how diverse their ancestry is. Also explain that, geographically, Mexico is part of North America, so Mexican-American students will need to consider how their ancestors got to Mexico. Begin, of course, with the First Peoples, and pay them special honor. For any kids that enter the continent to honor their Native American ancestry, ask the children if they know what tribe or nation is in their heritage. When a group has assembled inside the continent, lead the rest of the children is saying, "Welcome, people, welcome!"

    Note: For early elementary, many kids do not know their ancestors. So I simply ask for any children who may know where their ancestors came from before North America to raise their hand and say what they know, and then I invite all to enter the continent together when that has finished. Then for those who don't yet know where their ancestors came from to join us. And I suggest that they may want to ask someone in their family to find out. Note: You might mention that if there are any adopted kids, then they may have even more ancestors than the rest of the kids.


  • Native American
  • northern Asia, such as CHINA
  • southern Asia, such as VIETNAM OR INDONESIA
  • POLYNESIA (incl. native Hawaiian)
  • elsewhere in the MIDDLE EAST

    NOTE: It is fun to have the clustered students call out one by one, as they raise their hands, any specifics about where they came from. For example: those who enter from Africa may know their ancestors as having come from Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria. And then have all the rest outside the continent be their animal selves and welcome the new peoples, by barking or meowing, or roaring, or whatever they feel like sounding. Do this for each region:

    Mention that it is now time to honor the ancestors that have been forgotten, that we do not know. This may also include honoring the ancestors of those of us who are ADOPTED. (ring chime).

    End by having ALL THE CHILDREN, if possible, squeeze into the boundary of the continent. And SING A SONG together. It can be as easy as "North America is our home", sung over and over to a tune you create. You might have them sit down to sing this song, reiterating the story by asking, "And what do squirrels sing?" etc.

    Enjoy! And may we all learn to become lovingly native to place, to this great continent, living in harmony with the animals and plants who also have made this their home.

    List of ANIMALS mentioned in the STORY, in order
  • dinosaurs
  • little mammals
  • turtles
  • salamander
  • alligators and crocodiles
  • horses
  • camels
  • rhinoceroses
  • dog family (foxes, wolves, puppies)
  • cat family (lions, tigers, leopars, jaguars, cougars)
  • tree frogs, toads, lizards, iguana
  • raven (or crow), other birds
  • bats
  • snakes (garter snakes, rattlesnakes)
  • squirrels
  • tornados
  • bear family
  • elephant family (mastodons, mammoths)
  • pronghorn family
  • cheetah
  • beaver
  • deer family
  • mountain sheep
  • monkey, gorilla (in Africa)
  • porcupine
  • possum
  • armadillo
  • giant ground sloths
  • glyptodonts
  • rabbit, raccoon, mice/rat
  • peccary (pig)
  • llama
  • zebra
  • polar bear
  • bison (buffalo)
  • people
  • moose and elk

    Outline to Use for Writing in Stuffed Animals (and Deleting)

    65 mya. DINOSAURS (then extinction)


    60 mya. Rocky mountains; Bearpaw Seaway drains; North America is born

    55 mya. HORSES and CAMELS (evolve in NA)

    55 mya. RHINOCEROS (immigrates from Asia)

    40 mya. DOG FAMILY (evolves in NA)

    40 mya. CAT FAMILY (immigrates from Asia)

    35 mya. TREE FROGS, TOADS, LIZARDS (floats from South America)

    35 mya. RAVEN (immigrates from Australia) [BATS; other birds]

    35 mya. SNAKES (immigrate from Asia)

    30 mya. SQUIRRELS (co-evolve with Nut Trees in NA)

    20 mya. GRASSES (co-evolve with big mammals; later lawnmowers)

    17 mya. ELEPHANTS (immigrate from Africa via Asia)

    15 mya. BEAR FAMILY (immigrates from Asia)

    15 mya. CHEETAH (evolves in North America, immigrates to Asia)

    5 mya. DEER and MOUNTAIN SHEEP (immigrate from Asia)

    5 mya. RHINOCEROS goes extinct in NA

    5 mya. HUMAN ANCESTORS evolve in Africa


    3 mya. SQUIRREL, RABBIT, RACCOON, MICE/RATE, PECCARY (PIG), DEER, CAT, DOG, BEAR, LLAMA (colonize South America across Isthmus of Panama)

    3mya. CAMELS and HORSES (colonize Asia and Africa fr. NA, [Zebra])

    2 mya. ICE AGES: POLAR BEAR (evolves in Arctic)

    400,000 ya BISON (buffalo immigrate from Asia)


    15,000 ya PEOPLE (immigrate from Asia)



    500 ya HORSES return (brought back by Spanish; Indians evolve horseback culture)


       Three million years ago, when the Isthmus of Panama rose and connected South America to North America for the first time since the Dinosaur Era, there was a great interchange of mammals between the continents. Tapirs, deer, cats (including the jaguar), members of the dog family, raccoons, llamas, peccaries, squirrels, and the sloth bear immigrated south. At the same time, expanding northward from their home of origin in South America were armadillos, porcupines, possums, glyptodonts, and giant ground sloths. (Thirty million years before that time, toads and tree frogs rafted north from South America to begin populating this continent.)

    To return to the first half of this children's version of the North American story, click HERE.

    To return to the adult version of the North American Story, click HERE.

    Click to return to the list of adult versions of the North American story.

    Return to TheGreatStory Homepage