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Christopher Columbus Unit Study

Christopher Columbus Unit Study

Dateline: 10/8/05

Dh wants me to do a unit study on Columbus Day. I have a real problem with the unit studies I have found since they are all bubbly and happy and Columbus tames the savage country and all that cheezy stuff. I am looking for something that isn’t “Columbus: The first US terrorist,” but isn’t “… and we all lived happily ever after” either. Is there something that is somewhere in between that explains what really happened without traumatizing the kids?

~Dotchi

Our Yahoo Group (Now defunct) had been trying to help Dotchi out, as many are interested in this subject, too. How do we help our young children understand the impact of Columbus on America when it seems the materials out there are either bleak or too white washed for children about 7 – 11 years old?

This page is an attempt to help parents see all sides of the controversy so that they can better evaluate material they present to their children regarding Columbus and his times, according to the age and maturity of their children.

Here are some of the suggestions.

Dotchi, What about putting some basic stuff together yourself such as just the facts m’am and only the facts kind of thing? We have just finished discussing this in our native American unit and early explorers in North America…. I just basically said that there were others and told about them, the Bering Land Bridge theory, other possible early explorers. Regarding Columbus we just put him into perspective of so many others who came also. I mean, we did talk about the fact that we (in the US) consider Columbus the first because that is how our history books are written but they had to think about what if the Vikings had stayed or the Spanish had the whole country, etc.?


We live in the SW and for the most part we really discussed the Spanish. They do not celebrate Columbus Day here except for the federal employees. As for all the bad stuff that happened later, I would only discuss things for their age and by sticking with the facts. It gives them a good foundation to say they knew who he was but that he was not the only one and not the first! That way he becomes another person in history and not the end all and be all of the new world!

I hope this is making sense I am writing on the fly making dinner… Take care.

~Tabbi


I think the thing to point out is that whenever one culture has “invaded” another, change happens. It is happening right now in Iraq. It is happening in many states just as a result of Cajuns moving in where there were no Cajuns before!

Did you read the story about the welcome party Salt Lake Mormons threw for the Cajun hurricane refugees that came there? I’m just trying to imagine the social scene of white Mormons trying to figure out New Orleans blacks and having a Cajun food and music fest. Could Salt Lake wind up being a new capital of jazz?

While we’ve come a long way to understanding and respecting those of other cultures, we still have a long way to go. Talk with you little children about how in your family you have certain standards and traditions, and then ask them if their friends have exactly the same or different ones. One family may have a “thing” about doing chores and getting the house neat each morning. While a neighbor could care less! In your own neighborhood do SOME people think they are always RIGHT, and lord it over others they feel are WRONG or DIFFERENT?

Oh! I just got the neatest book! I get samples every once in awhile.

Anthony and the Magic Picture Frame
By Michael S. Class

In it, the author has taken deliberately posed photos of his son and done a great job in PhotoShop of editing his son into historic photos. On the cover he is walking on the moon With Neil Armstrong. The story is told through the eyes of 12 year old Anthony who discovers that the picture frame on his bedroom wall has amazing properties. Anthony begins to live modern American history. In the back of the book are tons of resources.

My thought was: help your son imagine being either one of the sailors on Columbus’ ships or one of the natives on the island where he landed. Find some illustrations of Columbus online and then take a photo of your child, cut it out, and place it in the photo. It will take some doing to get the sizes of the people right. What would it have been like to sail past what was thought to be the edge of the earth… and not fall off?

Now the natives that Columbus met were in the middle of a war with their neighbors. They wanted to “use” Columbus and his men to aid them in this war. Columbus thought these folks were going to give him tons of gold. No one is entirely innocent of greed in this story. Any parallels with Iraq and oil are just coincidence… or do we never learn the lessons of history?

Remember, though, that unlike schoolers, you can return to a topic again and again through the years. You don’t HAVE to teach “Columbus” and then forget all about him. Little kids will get some of the concepts and older ones more complicated ones. The point is to understand that the study of history is a lot like the TV show “Cold Case.” New evidence shows up, old clues make new sense, and our culture changes so we see things differently.

~Ann Zeise


I don’t know if this will help much, but I had the same concerns last year. This is what we did. First, before covering Columbus, we covered the Americas. And the Indians. Then, using books and maps as aides, the summary went like this: Columbus was looking for an easy way to get to the Indies (and why). He didn’t know the Americas were in the way. He ‘bumped’ into them. Since he thought he was in the Indies, he called the people he met there, “Indians.” Eventually, he figured out he wasn’t in the Indies….and all that led to the eventual colonization of the Americas by Europeans.

My kids were five at the time. Like you, I didn’t want to fill their heads with all the grizzly details. But hopefully, nothing was inconsistent with their later learning that Columbus kind of had exploitation on his mind. I guess only time will tell.

I just browsed through the library books until I found a couple that weren’t making him out to be too heroic. They were there. I don’t recall the name of it, but there was even one (a picture book), that was made up of some of his entries from the ship’s log. Kind of interesting.

Hope there is something here that can help.

~Sheri



Our teaching of Columbus and the Native Americans of the United States of America went a little different. While we didn’t tell our son all of the details, we did find child-friendly sites that talked about slavery of the Native peoples of this land and the greed that Europe had. It is tough finding a balance, but it is possible to both teach children about the disrespect of indigenous peoples because of non-understanding religious differences and a different relationship they had with the land and each other, while protecting them from every aspect of what that means.

I know my son was in a class making Thanksgiving Day crafts for first grade and the teacher was talking about Columbus and then the Pilgrims. Andrew ended up correcting her on her facts and was able to give a full picture to the entire class of 1st graders. While it may have changed the concept of the art project, the class was better for it, as these lessons are the seedlings for all future history lessons.

We are also Revolutionary War Reenactors as a family. The lessons reenacting teaches children is amazing. I see little 4 and 5 year olds educating adults on factual information about the British and the Colonials and what actually happened. I see children of all ages, from birth on up, really able to take part in history as a hands on lesson.

It is difficult knowing whether your child is ready for a truthful discussion about history, but I would suspect most children are and would be very open the countless dialogues after that.

~Betsy


Who Got There First?

Indians

The Indians’ Discovery of Columbus
It is by examining events from the perspective of the Indians that we gain real insight into the tremendous culture clash that occurred in the New World and that we can judge events more for their impact on those conquered. By Christine Elmore.

Why Autonomous AIM Opposes Columbus Day and Columbus Day Parades
Columbus personally oversaw the genocide of the Taino Indian nation of what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Consequently, this murderer, despite his historical notoriety, deserves no recognition or accolades as a hero; he deserves no respect as a visionary; and he is not worthy of a state or national holiday in his honor. by Glenn Morris and Russell Means.

Vikings

Vikings
A TO Z EXPLORATIONS FOR KIDS
What is myth? What is fact? Learn about Scandinavian history, play games, and explore with the Vikings.

Chinese

Did Columbus discover Chinese food in America?
According to Menzies, the Chinese were the first to round the Cape of Good Hope, to reach the Americas, and to circumnavigate the world.

Columbus

Columbus for Kids
A TO Z EXPLORATIONS FOR KIDS
Fun facts, games, and crafts for kids about Columbus.

Consequences of Columbus
Whatever else may be said of Columbus, write the editors, he had consequences, and those consequences “hold the key to the meaning of Columbus’ voyages.” By Robert Royal, author of 1492.

Did Christopher Columbus see himself on an apocalyptic mission?
We tend to think of Christopher Columbus as an explorer, a discoverer. … In reality, while that is all true, Columbus was also a man of his day, which meant that he was a man who took apocalyptic teachings, who took biblical passages very, very literally.

Don’t Know Much About American History: Brave New World
Europeans didn’t discover what they came to call the “New World” any more than bears discovered honey. The land was just new to them because they hadn’t known it existed.

Just Where Was Columbus?
Pinpointing the explorer’s whereabouts on October 12, 1492.

Man’s Best Came with Columbus
If you are a fan of Ayn Rand, you’ll like this commentary. Underlying the political collectivism of the anti-Columbus crowd is a racist view of human nature. They claim that one’s identity is primarily ethnic. By Michael S. Berliner.

Original Sources (Translations from Latin)

Christopher Columbus: Extracts from Journal
This document is the from the journal of Columbus in his voyage of 1492.


The Columbus Letter
Concerning the Islands Recently Discovered in the Indian Sea. The following is a literal translation from Latin. Although this will be rather strange to modern readers, it has been done to provide students with a flavor of the original text.

Christopher Columbus, Letter to Luis de Sant’ Angel (1493)
Then, as soon as their minds were reassured about us, every one came, men as well as women, so that there remained none behind, big or little; and they all brought something to eat and drink, which they gave with wondrous lovingness.

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