An Interest-Led Learning Expedition

Our sailing sloop, Infinity

Our sailing sloop, Infinity

History credits Christopher Columbus with opening the “Age of Exploration.”  We studied Columbus in the fall, and while the results were not as epic as the beginning of an age, our study did open the way for more exploration.  Our learning expedition kept us engaged up until the holidays, and now it seems that we have moved on to other areas of study.

The decision to study Columbus was mine.  I admire those teachers and homeschool parents who provide stimulating environments and provocations and then gently guide their students to take the initiative in project-based learning.  I have never become one of those teachers or parents.  My students, and now my children, have always seemed to need just a little bit more direction to keep them on track.  As I homeschool my boys, I always try to have areas of study waiting in the wings, but I also have plenty of flexibility to follow that study wherever it may lead.

Such was the case with Columbus.  I had planned to start some reading in early American history.  It just happened to be October, near Columbus Day, and I just happened to have some good children’s books on Columbus.  I did not merely set these books out.  I sat down and read Meet Christopher Columbus by James T. deKay with Jack, and I gave Thomas reading assignments, complete with a study guide for Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus? by Jean Fritz.  Of the two books, I like Where Do You Think You’re Going? better because it gives a more balanced view of Christopher Columbus.  In his final writing assignment, Thomas was able to conclude that, “although he was a good sailor, Christopher Columbus was not a good leader.”  Jack’s book focuses only on the first voyage to the Americas, but that was enough for him.  Indeed, it was Jack whose interest was really piqued by our Columbus study.

Studying the Santa Maria

Assimilating what we’ve learned

Soon Jack was busy drawing pictures of ships.  We read about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, and even more ideas started percolating.  (It is so fun to watch Jack think because he is quite transparent.  Thomas is a little harder to figure out.)  After he had finished writing his assigned report about the Pilgrims, Jack wrote his “Yellow Pod and Green Pod” story.  It’s rather a compilation of things he learned from Columbus and the Pilgrims, and I have included it here.

Jack's ship pictures

Jack’s ship pictures

Of course, it was only a matter of time before we had to start making boats.  We used a You-Tube tutorial to make origami boats, but Jack was a little disappointed that they were not seaworthy for very long before becoming waterlogged.  We also used a large box from a friend to make our own sailing sloop.  It is pictured above, and though also not seaworthy, it was fun to make.  We even learned some sailing terms in the process.

Jack tried reinforcing our origami boat with duct tape.

Jack tried reinforcing our origami boat with duct tape.

Thomas engineered a rudder for a small cardboard ship model.

Thomas engineered a rudder for a small cardboard ship model.

I tried to find more library books about sailors and ships from the same era, but I had trouble finding very much at Jack’s second grade reading level.  I did find a book about Ferdinand Magellan.  I also checked out Pirates Past Noonwhich is part of the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne.  This became Jack’s first independent chapter book.  He read it in a matter of days, and he has been hooked on the series ever since.  To date, he’s read about ten more Magic Tree House books.  They are a perfect fit for him.  He is building reading fluency and confidence, he his learning a lot of facts, and he is fostering an enjoyment of reading.  In my estimation, these are all good things.  Jack has also spent quite a bit of his allotted computer time on the Magic Tree House website, and he’s taken to carrying a notebook in his backpack just like the “Jack” in the series.

I was looking for Jack to do his chores, but I ended up unloading the dishwasher myself!

I was looking for Jack to do his chores, but I ended up unloading the dishwasher myself!

It is actually a Magic Tree House book that may determine our next area of study.  Shortly after reading Pirates Past Noon, Jack read Eve of the Emperor Penguin.    Much dramatic play ensued, with Jack in the lead role as “the Little Blue Penguin.”  I can’t be sure, but I think a polar expedition may be in our near future.  I’ll keep you posted . . . .

"Captain Jack" in the Infinity.*  I'll share some of our boat-making process next week.

“Captain Jack” in the Infinity.*  I’ll share some of our boat-making process next week.

*The idea for Jack’s pirate/Halloween costume came from his reading as well, but not from Pirates Past Noon.  This past summer he was immersed in the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant.  In one of the books, Henry dresses up as a pirate.  Thus, our Halloween costume, which also works very well in a cardboard boat!


2 thoughts on “An Interest-Led Learning Expedition

  1. Looks fun! Do you also have them memorize dates and names of the people and places in these stories? That\\\’s where my kids get bored and cranky–when they have to memorize stuff. Another good book on explorers that might be good for maybe 3rd-5th grades, is Exploring Planet Earth by John Tiner.

    • We keep a timeline book and log our dates and events there. Each item gets a picture and a synopsis. I think it is a Charlotte Mason idea. We don’t focus on memorizing the dates, but our book is always there for reference and review.
      Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ll have to check it out.

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