While our kindergarten curriculum includes a very gentle approach to first lessons in history and geography, mostly focusing on the life events of the child and their family, I felt like I should start to incorporate some additional unit studies into our learning. There are so many historical figures worth studying, worth investigating, even when our children are very young, and many of the lessons we learn from their experiences shape future ideas for our children as they begin to connect the dots of world events and people.
I wanted a casual approach, and a flexible one, and because I know that many of our families have learners of multiple ages, I wanted something that could be done together. So I decided to start putting together unit studies for history and geography that would last approximately four weeks each, and would center around the birthday of the figure being studied. In October, we will begin our first one: Thor Heyerdahl (birthday October 6th, 1914) and the Kon-Tiki. It will include some casual map work, timeline activities, copywork and vocabulary words, notebooking pages, a S.T.E.A.M. activity, a dramatic play prompt, several topics to investigate as a family with different activities to bring them to light, and a final unit-closing party (we’re a Brave Writer family–we love parties.) My girls are young, so we will be following their lead in terms of how deep to delve.
When I was little, I was fascinated with explorers and expeditions. I poured over adventure stories and played for hours outside, imagining that I was on a journey to some exotic land, far away. In all my reading and playing, I never heard of Thor Heyerdahl until I was an adult. I first heard about his 101-day voyage on a balsa wood raft from Peru to French Polynesia when I was living on Maui. I was reading an article about the Hōkūleʻa that mentioned how the making of the 2012 movie Kon-Tiki was damaging to the legacy of the Polynesian voyagers, who did not simply “drift” as the film’s content suggests, but were actually very skilled navigators. I was curious about the Kon-Tiki, so I looked it up and learned about Thor Heyerdahl in the process. There’s a bit of arguing back-and-forth about the merits of his discoveries, but my take-away (and what I hope to focus on in our unit study) is that he was incredibly committed to his vision to prove a theory that he had developed while living amongst the people of Fatu Hiva as a skilled and compassionate ethnographer.
Because I felt like it was important, and extremely relevant, I also included several activities that focus on the Hōkūleʻa. One of the best things about history is that it is always being opened further. The more we learn, the more we see the truth about our past. It’s a lot like having your eyes checked–with each new lens, the picture gets clearer. Sometimes what we thought was a letter “B” turns out to have been a letter “E.” Just when we begin to wrap our minds around that, a new lens drops and we see that it was a “T” all along. Thor Heyerdahl’s discoveries helped us to see one way that the Polynesians may have settled the islands of the Pacific, but the voyages of the Hōkūleʻa have shown us an even clearer and more complete picture of what transpired. The most important part is that the legacy of the Polynesians as skilled navigators is being preserved with each new expedition.
If you want to join in, I’ve got happy news for you. I’ve assembled all of my materials for our unit study into a free 30-page PDF download for you! That’s right–all of the map work, timelines, copywork, activities, suggested links, and more–ready and waiting for you. All you have to do is fill out the form at the bottom of this post. 🙂
Here are my suggestions, if you feel inspired to do our first Historical Birthdays Unit Study:
- Keep it flexible. The older I get, the more I see that children all have the own pace and rhythm and it has nothing to do with “grade level” or age at all. If your child is digging it, go deeper! Do more google searches, check out more books, ramp it up to their heart’s content. If they’re lukewarm, skip it. Do they respond well to the hands-on stuff but balk at the readings? Stick to the activities! Are they wrapped up in the S.T.E.A.M. activity for days, never wanting it to end? It doesn’t have to. Let them guide the study. This is how they are going to take away lessons that resonate with them for life.
- Don’t go crazy buying a bunch of stuff. You do NOT need it. You don’t need a “raft-building kit” or a miniature replica of the Kon-Tiki or an antique sextant to make this a successful unit study. Here’s what you will need to follow it: internet access, random objects already found around your house, paper, something to write or color with, and maybe some fruit for the party. That’s it. Save your money for books in your Amazon wish list. (Did I mention this download is totally free?)
- Save the timelines for the older kids. Time is a really abstract concept for little ones (and, honestly, it can be for adults as well.) If your child is under 7 or 8, skip the timelines. They might have fun coloring them, but they probably aren’t going to really get what it means. Of course, as I just said, every kid is different, and you know them best, so it’s totally up to you.
- Have fun! Here are my goals for when we do this unit study in October: learn something, have fun. That’s all. 🙂
If you do decide to tackle our unit study, I would LOVE to see pictures of your family in action, so please share on Instagram using #blossomandroot. Want to see more awesome unit studies from other homeschoolers that focus on famous October birthdays? Click the picture below!
To download your FREE Historical Birthdays Unit Study on Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki, fill out the form at the end of this post. 🙂
Download your FREE 30-Page Unit Study!
Our first Historical Birthdays Unit Study focuses on Thor Heyerdahl and the voyage of the Kon-Tiki, as well as the ongoing legacy of the Hōkūleʻa. It includes map work, timelines, copywork and vocabulary, STEAM and dramatic play activities, topics to investigate as a family, and suggested links to learn about Thor's expedition. Grab yours today!