Early Explorers Unit Study

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A couple of weeks ago, while looking through some old computer back-up discs for something, I found some of the unit studies I used to write for Brianna. Since one of them was on early explorers and next week is Columbus Day, I thought I’d share my outline with you. This is how we used to do school. Considering that I used to put all this together by myself, it’s no wonder I got so burned out.

Columbus Unit Study

I’m pretty much posting it just like I found it. I did make sure the links still worked, but other than that, it is what it is. I had to take out the entire “Internet Resources” section. None of the links worked anymore.

I’d suggest taking the things that interest you and dumping the rest. Oh, and for what it’s worth, this was written to cover 4-6 weeks and nowadays, I would never, ever attempt to read all those book in that amount of time.

(This was also back when there were only four named oceans. Just for the record.)

Early Explorers & the Oceans They Traveled


Learning Objectives

  • Students will understand the purpose of exploration.
  • Students will become familiar with the early explorers of the New World, with emphasis on Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America.
  • Students will understand how the exploration of the America affected the people who were already living here.
  • Students will come to realize that Spain was the ruling power of the day during the Age of Exploration.
  • Students will learn about the oceans on which these explorers sailed and be able to name each of the four oceans.
  • Students will learn the layers (or shelves) of the ocean and will be familiar with the creatures that live in each.
  • Students will learn the water cycle.

Read-Aloud Title

  • Christopher Columbus – Sower Series biography
  • Call it courage / Armstrong Sperry

Personal Library Resources

  • The Aztecs / Gillian Chapman
  • The Vikings / Gillian Chapman
  • Christopher Columbus / Ann McGovern
  • In God We Trust – Columbus, p. 17.
  • What Your First Grader Needs to Know, pp. 116-120.
  • The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, p. 207 and pp. 196-201.

Library Resources

  • Junie B., first grader: shipwrecked / Barbara Park
  • Adventures with the Vikings / written by Linda Bailey
  • Christopher Columbus [videorecording] / Nest Entertainment and Rich Animation Studios
  • The log of Christopher Columbus / by Steve Lowe
  • The Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María / Dennis Brindell Fradin
  • The discovery of the Americas / by Betsy and Giulio Maestro
  • Leif’s saga: a Viking tale / by Jonathan Hunt
  • Juan Ponce de Leon and the search for the Fountain of Youth / Dan Harmon
  • St. Augustine [videorecording] / Summer Productions
  • The Sad Night: the story of an Aztec victory and a Spanish loss / by Sally Schofer Mathews.
  • Lost city of the Incas / written by David Roberts
  • This is the rain / by Lola M. Schaefer
  • Down comes the rain / by Franklyn M. Branley
  • Water up, water down: the hydrologic cycle / by Sally M. Walker
  • Scholastic’s The magic school bus kicks up a storm : a book about weather / TV tie-in adaptation by Nancy White
  • The magic school bus on the ocean floor / by Joanna Cole
  • Oceans / by Darlene R. Stille
  • Across the big blue sea: an ocean wildlife book / Jakki Wood
  • Seas and oceans / written by David Lambert
  • Mollusks and crustaceans / by Peter Murray
  • A house for Hermit Crab / by Eric Carle
  • The Sea is calling me: poems / selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Vocabulary: buoyancy, explorer, displace, knot, league, continent, spices, voyage, conquistador, navigator, mollusk, bivalve, univalve, cephalopod, invertebrate


  • Begin an American History timeline.
  • While reading Call It Courage, learn about the area known as Polynesia. Where is it located? What islands are included?
  • Using the information found at https://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/oceanography_how_deep.html (not available due to government shut down – hopefully it will be back up soon), chart how deep different animals and objects can go. Tape two pieces of graph paper together to form your chart. You may want to print clip art for your graph.
  • Complete the following worksheets from Earth Science:
    • The Ocean Floor, p. 76
    • Ocean Currents, p. 77
    • The Water Cycle, p. 93
    • A Cold Front, p. 95
    • Clouds and Weather, p. 98
  • Complete the following experiment: Pour a cup of water out on the sidewalk on a sunny day. What do you think is going to happen? Write your hypothesis on a lab sheet. Draw a circle around the puddle with sidewalk chalk. Check the puddle every 15 – 20 minutes. What happened? Why? How long did it take the puddle to disappear?
  • Write a cartoon about the water cycle, perhaps from the perspective of a drop of water.
  • Drop a ball of modeling clay into a sink or pail of water. After observing what happens, try molding the clay into a shape that will float. Discuss buoyancy and water displacement, using the information found at https://www.bible-history.com/resource/ff_float.htm.
  • Allow each student to choose three objects. Guess which ones will float the best. The older students should fill out a lab sheet stating his/her hypothesis. Test your theory in a sink full of water. Were you right? Why did certain objects float better than others?
  • Read The discovery of the Americas by Betsy and Giulio Maestro and learn about all of the explorers who discovered the Americas.
  • Choose at least six explorers about which to complete an “Explorer Profile.” Use the Explorer Information Sheet. Place these profiles in your notebook.
  • As you discuss each explorer, trace his route on a blank world map. Label the map with the explorers name and place it in your notebook.
  • Choose one explorer to study more in-depth. Create a presentation for this explorer.
  • Create an advertisement for the Fountain of Youth. It should demonstrate knowledge of the fountain was supposed to do and should entice people to visit the fountain.
  • Discuss how people used to think that the world was flat, but we know that the world is actually round (look at a globe). Discuss how Christopher Columbus thought that the world was round. Explain that Columbus was an explorer from Italy. Find Italy on a map or globe.
  • Discuss that Italy is on the continent of Europe. On a blank map, color Europe green.
  • Discuss how Europeans wanted to trade with people in the Indies for spices. They also wanted to spread Christianity. Find the Indies on a map. They are in Asia. Color Asia yellow.
  • Make a sailor cap out of newspaper.
  • Create a compass – https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/hiking/compass2.htm
  • Identify the parts of a ship – https://www.enchantedlearning.com/explorers/page/c/columbus.shtml
  • Discuss what a fish is. Are all creatures of the ocean classified as fish? Give some examples. After discussion, label the part of a fish.
  • Complete the Major Groups of Fish worksheet.
  • Learn about the different types of shells and practice identifying them.

Field Trips

  • aquarium
  • the beach

I prefer the much-less-stressful option of doing school with Trail Guide to Learning these days, but Brianna and I did have fun. I hope you find a couple of activities you can use.

Do you have any fun plans to celebrate Columbus Day?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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    1. I don’t add unit studies in. This is the way we used to do school, so we did unit studies full time. Once we started using a more eclectic mix of standard curriculum, we quit doing unit studies. On the rare occasions that we would do one after that, I would do it instead of their regular curriculum, not in addition to. That would have been overload for all of us.

  1. Hi Kris, I enjoy your blog. We had a lesson on Christopher Columbus a few weeks ago but for Columbus Day we do a review use some of the items in your unit study. Thanks for posting. 🙂

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