The explorers to North America are some of my favorite subjects simply because of the courage necessary to voyage out in to the unknown. There are so many explorers one could learn about. Reading about the explorers to America and doing hands-on activities helps us too explore. This time, we’re exploring the explorers!
Learning about the Vikings
Christopher Columbus gets all the credit for discovering America. But Europeans discovered portions of North America in 1000 A.D.
Lesson Objective: The Vikings found the Americas almost 500 years before Columbus, but they did not settle there. (Copy sentence: The Vikings found America but did not stay there.)
One of my favorite books for learning about the vikings, as well as other early “discoveries” of America, is Betsey Maestro’s Discovery of the Americas. In this book, many theories of early North American exploration are shared, and it has an extensive section on the Vikings.
Some other of the best books are these.
- Leif the Lucky by Ingrid and Edgar D’Aulaire
- Leif Erickson by Shannon Knudson
- You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Viking Explorer! by Andrew Langley
As for Viking-specific activities, try some of these from around the web and in various books.
- Download my Runes font and make a code and message in Runes.
- Leif Ericson Discovered America Small World Play
- Make a water compass (much as the Vikings may have used!)
- Make a Viking Shield
- Make a Viking Spear
- Bake Viking Bread
- Create a Viking Longboat
- Design a Viking Broach
- Virtual Field Trip to Viking Village
- BBC Bitesize Viking traders and explorers
- Satelitte Technology Suggests New Viking Site in Canada
Learning about Columbus
Why was Columbus trying to go West in order to get to Asia? A fascinating background to Columbus’ story (and subsequently the discovery of America) is the tale Marco Polo. We play the Marco Polo game to get a feel for the dangers and the challenges that Silk Road travelers would face. We taste salt and cinnamon. We touch silk.
Then we’re ready to learn about Columbus.
Lesson Objective: Europeans wanted to get the spices from the Indies, so they tried to search for a passage. Columbus decided to try going West. Europeans did not realize that another continent existed; Columbus thought he was in Asia. Natives were surprised by the strange people arriving on boats. (Copy sentence: Columbus sailed West to go to Asia. OR Columbus thought he was in Asia. )
Note: There is no need to cover all these lesson objective points for the youngest kids. Simplify if they need less! Sometimes less is more.
The highlight of our reading was Pedro’s Journal by Pam Conrad. In this historical fiction chapter book, a boy writes about his experiences as a member of Columbus’ crew. I loved the way we experience his own hesitation as he travels to an unknown destination, as well as his own surprise at meeting the natives, and so forth.
In contrast, Encounter by Jane Yolen is a picture book from the other perspective, that of the native who meet the strange “white bird” that comes to their island. It shows their confusion and frustration with the newcomers! Together, these two books provide a facsinating perspective of Columbus’ arrival in North America. Many people have complex emotions about Columbus. I think it’s nice to read things from different perspectives.
I also enjoy the early reader Columbus by Stephen Krensky. Similarly, Columbus by Ingri D’Aulaire is a perennial favorite. I don’t like it as much due to some inaccuracies, but it is still a good book. For older children, Where Do You Think You’re going, Christopher Columbus? by Jean Fritz is enthralling.
To learn about Columbus, try a variety of activities, like these.
- Practice using a compass to find a “treasure.”
- Online interacttive game from BBC.
- Go West with Columbus board game (to practice cardinal directions)
- Learn about ships and sails and build your own.
More Hands-on Learning about Explorers to America
Given the hundreds of people who explored the New World, it is clear that for elementary-aged kids, once again choices will have to be made as to who to study.
Objective: Later European explorers (such as Balboa, Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci, Ponce de Leon, Cabot, Cartier, Hudson) learned that the new land was not Asia. It was a previously unknown continent. Explorers came to North America in hopes of finding gold or finding places to settle. (Copywork sentence: Later explorers knew that Columbus had not found Asia. AND/OR Explorers searched for gold.)
- Exploration and Conquest by Betsey Maestro. This book gets intense and may not be appropriate for younger children in places.
- Explorers of North America by Christine Taylor-Butler. This Scholastic TRUE! book has an attractive layout.
- Beyond the Sea of Ice by Joan Goodman. Although biographies about many explorers to North America are few, this account of Henry Hudson is intriguing.
- Hudson by Janice Weaver. This book about Henry Hudson has gorgeous illustrations.
Older kids will learn about lots of explorers and their sponsors in Around the World in A Hundred Years by Jean Fritz.
What can you do to make learning about the explorers extra interesting? Make things hands-on.
- Compare and contrast explorers with a “Guess Who?” type game.
- Study Explorers for 31 Days
- Do a full Early Explorers Unit Study or a full Age of Exploration unit.
- Read more Age of Exploration books.
- Learn to tie knots like a sailor and learn the parts of a ship.
- Eat the food Columbus and his sailors ate and make a Columbus lap book.
- Read engaging living literature about the early explorers.
- Fill out an explorers notebooking pages.
- Make a compass.
- Make a Daniel Boone lapbook as you sign the folk song.
- Learn about Lewis and Clark with the comprehensive ultimate guide to Lewis and Clark activities.