One of my goals at KCA is to introduce traditional ways of knowing into my teaching.
This is definitely an area that is outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve decided that the best way forward is to take action, learn as much as possible, and figure out how to keep growing based on that experience.
I live in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded and ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people which is today known as Nova Scotia. As I’ve learned more about Mi’kmaq culture, I’ve learned that archery plays an important role in their traditions.
At the 2023 North American Indigenous Games which were held here in Nova Scotia, one of the events that athletes could compete in was 3D Archery. I’m not an archer and hunting isn’t part of my family’s traditions, so 3D Archery was new to me.
From what I learned, 3D Archery involves a course set out in nature that archers travel on foot. Along the course are different three-dimensional animal targets that archers must hit in order to score points. Unlike traditional archery targets, the target area on the animal is not centred at its middle. Instead, it’s located where the animal’s vital organs would be. Archers score different amounts of points based on where they hit the targets.
Now, I teach P-3 physical education, and our school doesn’t have an archery set. I also wasn’t super keen on overemphasizing the hunting aspect of 3D Archery, as I’m sure it would have traumatized some of my littles. That being said, I decided to get crafty (literally).
Before the break, I was cleaning/organizing the massive equipment room that we have at KCA and came across a kid-friendly bow and arrow set from a company called Two Bros Bows. I liked the design of the set, but I didn’t have the budget to purchase enough for my classes.
So I decided to build some myself.
After playing around with a few material options, I settled on this design. The bow is made out of Pex pipe that I was able to pick up at my local Home Depot in 10’ lengths. From a single pipe, I could make four bows. Side note: I originally made these with ½” PVC conduit, but they were too stiff for kids to use (although they did shoot like crazy). The Pex pipe isn’t ideal, but it’s light, cheap, and flexible enough for kids to have fun with.
After cutting the pipe into four pieces, I then cut a groove into each end of each piece using a hacksaw (pro tip: use a vise so you don’t cut your fingers off).
For the bowstring, I used nylon string that I bought at the dollar store. I tied a loop on one end, measured and cut the string, and then tied a loop on the other end. I found that I had to cut the string a lot shorter than expected since the nylon stretches pretty dramatically. I then inserted each loop into the grooves that I made at either end of the bow, bending the bow as I did so. I added a piece of electrical tape to prevent the string from slipping out of the grooves, which happened a few times in testing.
I originally didn’t have grips on the bows, but decided to use foam pipe insulation, hot glue, and a zip tie to create some. They just make the bows easier for the kids to grip and also serve as an arrow rest (which proved to be essential for my primary kids).
The arrows were a whole lot more annoying to build.
The shaft is made from a 5/16 hardwood dowel that I got at Home Depot in 4’ lengths. I cut each dowel in half to make 2’ arrows.
Before assembling the arrow, I did two things:
First, I used my vise and hacksaw again to create a groove at one end that would serve as the arrow’s nock. I smoothed out and widened the nock using sandpaper to make it easier for student to nock their arrow on the bowstring.
Second, on the opposite end of the arrow, I whittled a notch about two inches down from the tip. A Dremel or router would have been super useful for this, but I don’t have those tools, so I did it all with my bushcraft knife. This was, by far, the most time-consuming part of making these arrows.
For the tip, I used foam from old gator skin balls that had lost their coating. I cut each ball into halves, and then quartered each half to make eight equal pieces (enough for eight arrows). As for the fabric that secures the foam to the tip, I used a leakproof dropcloth from the dollar store. Once in place, I secured the tip to the shaft using a zip tie that I tightened as much as possible so that it caught in the notch I whittled out. I haven’t lost a single tip since I made these.
Now, truth be told, I didn’t fletch all of my arrows. I didn’t find it necessary, given that my students were never shooting from a far distance. Still, I was curious if I could, and I did notice that the fletching significantly improved the arrow’s flight when I used the PVC longbows I made. For reference, I can consistently hit the backboard of a basketball net while standing on the opposite baseline.
I fletched some of my arrows using duct tape and the following method I found on YouTube:
I found it pretty tedious, and duct tape was annoying to work with, so the rest of my arrows were fletched with packing tape using this method:
The duct tape is definitely way more durable, as evidenced by some of my packing tape fletching already being broken. Again, this is all a learning process.
All in all, I have 20 bows and 22 arrows that I made for about $50. It took a lot of time to build them all, but I have to say that I enjoyed it, and my students love it, too!
Getting back to 3D Archery, I’ve spent the last three lessons teaching my P-3 kids how to use a bow and arrow.
I’ve been using an approach that is based on what I learned from a NASP (National Archery in Schools Program) workshop that I attended and have had a lot of success. Most (if not all) of my students can now get into their bow stance, nock their arrows, and safely shoot at their target.
January is Wellness Month (née Health Month) at KCA, and our first weekly theme is Physical Activity. I decided that I wanted to set something fun up for the entire school, so I built a Forest Archery course in the woods behind our building.
I marked the boundaries of the forest playing area using bright orange flagging tape. I then swept the area for debris (e.g. glass, garbage, etc.) to ensure it was safe.
For the targets, I didn’t have access to 3D models of animals. Instead, I built a set of 18 targets using foam squares that we used to use for our kids’ play area at home. I cut a circle in the center of each square and drew a bullseye on each circle. The idea was that students could knock out the circles by hitting the target in the middle, and I have to say that it works really well!
With my boundaries marked off and my targets made, I went out into the woods and set the targets up in the trees using zip ties.
Yesterday was a day I’m not scheduled to teach, so I volunteered to lead Forest Archery for the classes I don’t see in PE. We used the course to play two games:
For the first game, students worked in pairs to collect as many discs as possible. Each pair was given a bow, an arrow, and a 12’ length of rope. After going over safety rules and the basics of archery, students were given some time to practice with their bows and arrows on the soccer field beside the course I made. Once I blew the whistle, the game was on and everyone ran into the woods to look for targets.
Once a pair found a target, they had to try to knock its center out using their archery skills. Before setting up to shoot, the pair needed to mark a shooting spot that was 12’ from the target (which is what their rope was for). Each member of the pair got two attempts at knocking the center out. If they managed to do so within those four shots, they took the disc and went on to look for more targets. If they failed to do so, they had to move on from the target without the disc.
At the end of the round, the team with the most discs won!
If the first game had pairs playing against pairs, the second game had teammates working against teammates.
At this point, all of the foam targets had their centers knocked out. For Forest Archery Golf, each pair walked around the woods to find a target they wanted to play. Once at the target, the pair had to agree on where they would shoot from (their tee). Once that was agreed upon, each teammate took one shot at the target. Pairs used the following scoring system to play the game:
1 Point: Get the arrow through the hole in the middle.
2 Points: Hit the foam target.
3 Points: Miss the target completely.
The goal of the game was to have the lowest score within your pair by the end of the round. Once pairs were done playing one “hole”, they got to move onto another one.
I’ve had a lot of fun introducing archery to my students in this DIY way. It has given us a chance to try something new, learn about Mi’kmaq culture, and reconnect with nature.
Long-term, I would love to bring proper archery to KCA. I hope that this effort has helped plant some seeds of interest for when we finally manage to do so!
If you have any questions, let me know on Threads!