DIY Native American Corn Meal

This fun DIY Native American Corn Meal activity for kids is a hands-on history lesson that incorporates the 5 senses.

Native American Corn Meal represented by dried corn kernels and piles of corn meal

The bountiful feast covering your modern Thanksgiving table is likely a far cry from the what was served at the original Thanksgiving dinner. Not only are many of the foods different, but thanks to the invention of the modern grocery store, preparations are a whole lot quicker and easier.

This fun hands-on-learning activity gives kids a glimpse into the time and effort that went into preparing the first Thanksgiving dinner. The activity also allows them to explore the materials using their 5 senses.

Corn is Maize is a great book to accompany this activity. It talks about how crucial the corn crop was for Native Americans and the various uses for corn.


  • Corn Is Maize book (optional)
  • 1/4 cup loose dried popping corn
  • 1/4 cup of fresh corn kernels (optional)
  • magnifying glass
  • mortar (optional)
  • yellow cornmeal
  • food processor
  • printable observation sheet


Using the magnifying glass and their hands, allow your kids to explore the loose corn kernels and fresh corn kernels. Explain that the dried kernels are created by leaving the fresh kernels in the sun to dry.

pile of dried yellow corn kernels

Note how the dried kernels are much harder than the fresh kernels. Then, allow the kids to drop a few fresh and dried kernels onto the table to hear the difference in sound, between the hard and soft kernels.

After allowing time for exploration, explain to your kids that Native Americans dried corn to store it for winter, and that they ground the dried corn into corn meal, for breads and cakes. Then, let them try to crush the dried kernels using the mortar. If you don’t have one, no worries. You can skip this step.

Next, explain to the kids how machines can make the process easier and faster. Place 1/4 cup of the loose popping corn into the food processor. You really don’t want to use any more because it really takes a long time to break the corn down.

dried yellow corn kernels in the food processor

After about 15 minutes, you should have a nice meal. If necessary, you can sift out any larger leftover pieces. Throughout the grinding process, occasionally stop the food processor to check your progress. On a little side note, it starts to smell like popcorn during this process.

fresh ground corn meal in a food processor

After grinding the kernels into meal, allow your kids to compare it to commercially prepared cornmeal. Again, allow them to use their hands and the magnifying glass for this process.

pile of fresh ground corn meal next to a pile of store bought corn meal

Finally, combine your homemade meal with a commercially made meal and use it to create a delicious recipe for tasting. You can use this traditional Native American Johnny Cakes (corn pancakes) recipe. Or, make my most favorite (totally non-traditional) cornbread recipe.

Happy learning!

*special note: popcorn is a different kind of corn than what is used in commercial corn meals. For this activity, you are creating such a small amount of cornmeal, out of popping corn, that it shouldn’t alter the taste or texture of your recipe.

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