This afternoon, the children (ages 4 and 5) and I discussed Columbus Day and what it must have been like for the ninety sailors who accompanied Columbus across the Atlantic, as well as how the Native Americans may have felt after their encounter with the European explorers.
We constructed a cardboard Santa Maria, dressed up as Christopher Columbus, made a telescope and compass, consulted the globe and other maps, and discussed the Columbus story and explored MANY little tangents along the way!
To see the tutorial of our Santa Maria ship and our petri dish compass, just skip past the Lesson portion of this post.
We began this lesson by talking about "the olden days" before cars and trucks, electricity, and indoor pluming. We talked about chamber pots, outhouses, candles, and wash basins to set context.
We looked at a picture of Christopher Columbus and discussed some of his characteristics and attributes, as explained by various sources. They were not all pleasant. He was known to be an angry and bossy Captain, who beat his sailors.
Next, we consulted a print-out of a map of the known world in 1492, and compared that to a modern world map. The children noticed differences in the accuracy of each map, the shapes and sizes of the continents, and that some land masses were missing from the older map. We discussed how difficult map-making would have been before satellite images and safer forms of transportation were invented.
We discussed how many people at that time still believed that the earth was flat, and imagined sailing a ship from Spain across the Atlantic, and falling off the edge of the Earth. Then I introduced Columbus's theory of a spherical earth. We rolled up our 1492 map to show how short the passage to India would be, if Columbus's theory was correct. The children agreed that his route was a much shorter and safer one, and supported his exploration.
We discussed how challenging and difficult such a trip must have been for sailors who were unaccustomed to sailing straight across such a large body of water.
- falling off the edge of the earth
- giant sea monsters
- not enough food or fresh water (we recalled that salt water is not drinkable)
- terrible storms
While I spoke, I held a globe and positioned a little laminated fleet of ships over Spain, and slowly moved them across the Atlantic until they arrived at the Caribbean. With my storytelling, I painted a picture of the sailor's relief at after 60 days, finally spotting those first tangles of seaweed, at spotting those first land birds which must belong to some country, and at noticing those clouds which turned into real mountains and trees.
The children were fairly well captivated, and I was glad I chose a story-telling method rather than simply reading from a book.
When Columbus and his sailors landed, they saw people who looked and dressed very differently from themselves. I presented a few select images from a Non-fiction Native American book to show how the people looked and what their dwellings looked like. I reiteratd that these events took place a very long time ago, and there were no cities, tall buildings, or vehicles, because they hadn't been invented, yet.
The children wanted to know where the native people got their clothes and food, since there were no stores, so we read a brief passage about the wild foods that the Native Americans gathered and prepared, and how they made their clothing from tanned animal hides.
I made a rather brief conclusion to the story, but did touch briefly upon Columbus's unpleasant interactions with the Native Americans along the eastern coast, as well as his requests for ever more gold, and dissatisfaction with the "treasures" which the Native Americans shared with him. We imagined what it would have felt like to be a Native American who gave away many of their special possessions to someone who seemed ungrateful and kept asking for more. We also imagined how frustrating it would have been for Columbus to think that the "Indians" were holding out on sharing the gold, pearls, and spices which he "knew" they possessed!
From a Humanistic perspective, we believe that it's very important to discuss opinions that seem in opposition to each other, but are equally valid in their own contexts.
Making our Santa Maria
I threw together this cardboard ship with supplies we had handy and cobbled it all together with packing tape and pipe cleaners. It withstood a very active afternoon of role-playing, and is awaiting further adventures.
1 curtain with tabs
2 light-weight curtain rods
4-6 pipe cleaners, wire, or good strong string
1 large cardboard box - as sturdy as possible
1 pizza box
Boxcutter and scissors
1 sheet red scrapbooking paper
I made a house/roof type of structure by attaching the pizza box to one end of the large box. The pointed end would be the bow of our ship.
I filled in the "floor" of the triangle bow with a scrap piece of cardboard, cut into a triangle shape, and held in place with packing tape. This helped reinforce the bow.
Our ship begun taking shape, and from here after, I was working around the kids, who were already inside, recreating the Columbus story, while I worked.
Next, I stood up one curtain rod against the wall of box, towards the front of the ship. Patrick held it in place while I used the box cutter to poke a small hole on either side of the rod, in three locations down the length of the rod. I was able to thread a pipe-cleaner through each of these holes and twist it good and tight to hold the rod upright. This would be our Mast.
I threaded our tabbed curtain onto the second curtain rod, and at the top of the mast we just attached to the box, I balanced the second curtain rod in a "T" shape. I used packing tape to hold the two rods together, and reinforced that with twisted pipe-cleaners. It isn't pretty, but it did turn out very sturdy.
On the front of our sail, I attached a red scrapbook paper cross, Columbus-style, with a paperclip.
We used some scrap fabric for a Columbus cape, and dug out our under-used tri-corner hat.
Columbus didn't have the luxury of using a telescope, but we made one anyway, for the sake of play.
Columbus DID use a compass, and we made a very pretty "play" compass by setting a circle of construction paper into the bottom of a petri dish. We labeled the circle with North, South, East, and West. Inside the lid of the petri dish, we attached an arrow. By spinning the lid, the children can adjust their direction, and decide which way they must travel to find the New World.
Another good option: use the petri dish to make a real, working Water Compass.
Finally, the original Santa Maria had four cannons, two on each side, so we cut a little hole in our box and installed a hefty piece of driftwood to serve as our makeshift cannon. The children used it to fight dragons and sea monsters, of course.
Construction of our Santa Maria took less than an hour, and it was a leisurely and fun build. The children were active helpers when they weren't already re-creating and expanding upon the story of great adventure upon the high-seas!
Additional Columbus lesson ideas:
- Discuss navigation by using the sun and stars.
- Draw some play maps of your own to roll up into scrolls, tie with string, and consult as the "Captain" sees fit.
- Trade with the Native Americans. (Prop-supported role play) Sailors should offer sheets, blankets, cookware, or other interesting things, and the Native Americans can offer necklaces, bracelets, vegetables, shells, baskets, or "weapons".
- Use hand gestures to try to communicate with each other, due to the language barrier. Try making stick and dirt drawings of the things you want to trade, and what you want to eat.
- Read In 1492 by Jean Marzollo for a simple rhyming poem and pretty illustrations suitable for ages 4-6.
- Cut and paste construction paper to create the Santa Maria and attach the text, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Point out that two and blue rhyme, and that helps us remember the year.
- Discuss how it would feel to be a Native American seeing the European ships for the first time. And who were those strange-colored people on board the ship? Why were they dressed in heavy robes and fabrics when it's so hot, out?
- Make a list of what you would bring on a long sea voyage. Label one side of the list "WANTS" and the other side, "NEEDS".
- Weave a mat. Christopher Columbus's father was a weaver - a very important job in the 1400's. What things are woven? (A: Clothes, blankets, table cloths, curtains, rugs). Weave a paper mat using one piece of paper cut into slices and separate stripes of paper. Demonstrate the over-under technique. Show a real woven piece of fabric,and discuss how much harder it would be to weave so many small pieces of fabric.
Have fun with your upcoming Columbus Day history lesson!
Happy Columbus Day to you, and Happy 100th post, to me!