String Figures for Teaching


String Figures were used to teach about the traditions and practices of the culture in which they were made. Storytellers from cultures around the world teach lessons through their stories of Gods, Spirits, People and Places. Animals and all of nature are portrayed in their tales. In oral traditions it was the storyteller who remembered and taught the beliefs of the people. It was through dance and music that the connection between God, Nature and Man was strengthened. String figures and their chants were used to tell stories in Hawaii. Even today we do "talk story" as a form of communication and connection with others.

String Figures are a game. Play and games have an important part in the culture of today and they played an important role in the cultures of the days of old. String is an ancient tool and the concept of string figures going back to the stone and bronze ages is not hard to believe.

In the book Secret Games of the Gods By Nigel Pennick (1989), Games had influences, beyond simple play into the ancient ritual systems of the culture. We have explored the use of string figures as a tool for divination. For those that are interested, we have found that a piece of string can be used as a radionic device. Again please contact us if you want to learn more.

Abraham (1928: 86-89) talks about string figure’s use in games and competition. One had to have great pride in making a complex string figure quickly. In Hawai’i it was reported that string figures were made during the Makahiki season where work and war were put to rest and the time for relaxation and celebration had arrived.

The Navaho used string figures to teach about the stars
(Sherman ISFA Bulletin 7: 197-207). Many string figures in Hawaii are made relating to the sun, moon, stars and in particular the Pleiades. Navigators played an important role in the use and spread of string figures throughout the world.

Knotted strings were used in Peru, the Marquesas and in Hawaii. The knots were used as mnemonic devices to help those of an oral tradition to remember and to record. We have been told that knotted strings were used to help a chanter remember the chants of the genealogies that he recited. We have seen their use in ritual.

Today, because this is a living tradition, we feel that string figures have a place in the education of every child. First, taught from family and friends to strengthen the communication and connecting bonds which are so important in our lives. Then, as an essential element in formal education. If string figures were used as a teaching method, teachers would see how their educational goals and objectives could be met. Children with all levels of abilities could benefit from the development of memory, attention, motor development and coordination skills. The development of confidence, perseverance and problem solving skills among others can also be facilitated though string figures. There is value in the integration of string figures into the social studies, language arts, science and mathematics curriculum. But we need not stop there. They have a valued use by Counselors, Health Practitioners, Physical Education Teachers, Special Education Teachers, Speech-Language Pathologists, Physical and Occupational Therapists, Learning Disabilities Specialists and the many, many others that work with children in our schools, hospitals and clinics.

Please contact Lois if you are interested in knowing more about the use of string figures as a teaching tool. She holds a Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology and has a strong belief that a simple loop of string is an inexpensive diagnostic and teaching tool.

© 2011-20 Lois & Earl Stokes