As the pictures above show I first cut out a square block for the body of the totem pole. At this point I would stress exercising maximum safety precautions when sawing round limbs from trees on the bandsaw. I strongly recommend that you first hand plane one flat side so that the limb doesn't roll on you when sawing. With that said and since kids like lots of choices, I cut out these square mini totem bodies at several different lengths and thicknesses ranging from about 6 to 8 inches long on average.
I then rough out a small set of wings about 1/4" thick and approximately 5 to 6 inches long. Using the wing piece for measurement I cut out a slot where they will fit on the rear side of the pole. The only thing that I sketch out on the pole is the bird on top which the carver can decide just what kind of bird that it will be as I try to encourage their imagination. After I guide them through carving out the top bird then they can decide what other animals, beasts, characters, or symbols will occupy the rest of the mini totem under the bird. I always have a couple of finished mini totems on hand and/or lots of reference pictures which help spawn their own ideas.
Image via Wikipedia
I tape the wings to the pole that it fits and then it is ready to carve in a nice and neat little package. Perhaps their little mini totem won't be a masterpiece on the first try but I have a very high success rate using this project in my carving classes.
Heck, maybe after carving one of these neat little projects they will some day be inspired to carve a larger totem pole like the natives of the Pacific northwest coast of Canada and Alaska. During the 1980's I spent many months studying the art of these talented people and especially so in Ketchikan, Alaska which has one of the largest collections of totem poles in the world.
So, if you're looking for a fantastic carving project for kids (and adults too!) then I would strongly suggest that you can't go wrong with this little project that I refer to as "totem sticks". Grab a dried fallen poplar limb like I do or any suitable wood that is available to you, then get started and have some fun.