Explorers of the World History Unit

This year in history we have come to the dreaded “Age of Discovery,” which is a misnomer, because all these European explorers really “discovered” nothing at all. These places were already inhabited and well-established, sometimes with populations even greater than any in Europe at the time. A better name for this time period might be “European Colonization.” Wanting to create a little more variety in our explorations of this time period, I opened the explorers to not just this age or geography, but to all the ages and the world. We had a nice variety of explorers from all over the world when we finished. These are the explorers we focused on:

  • Vikings
  • Marco Polo
  • Zheng He
  • Ibn Battuta
  • Christopher Columbus
  • Ferdinand Magellan
  • James Cook
  • Mary Kingley
  • Matthew Henson
  • The Picards
  • The Apollo 11 Mission

We used Into the Unknown and The Lives of the Explorers as spines for our unit, supplementing books as we went along. Some explorers we spent a good deal of time on, up to two weeks; others were only a couple of days. Our projects included a Viking ship with peg people and clothing, clay runes, a Mongolian yurt, dyed silks, and a paper caravel model. Below is a video going over the unit, links to books (affiliate) and other resources.



For the Viking ships with felt project, my inspiration was Dana, @the_education_of_little_tree_ on Instagram. We used the dolls that we had made from our summer project. I feel like I need to say that we know Vikings did not wear horned helmets. My child loves the shows How to Train your Dragon and Dragonriders, and thus our Vikings were given horned helmets.

Our largest, most complicated project for this unit was the Mongolian yurt. We made the lattice out of bamboo skewers using this Hyperboloids model that I found. We used a circle of cardboard to the center ring of the roof, poking the skewers through it to stabilize the roof. I talk about this process at the end of the video above. White tea towels are ripped and placed around and on top of the roof, and craft thread was tied around it to hold it all together. We did not pay much attention to the dimensions where I started. If I were to do it again, I would half the skewers to make a more accurate model.

We also dyed silks for the explorer Marco Polo. I purchased the silks from Dharma Trading Company and used turmeric, red onion skins, and beets for the dyes. The beets did not work, but we were able to salvage that silk by placing it in the leftover turmeric dye. If I were to do the silks again, I would likely choose yellow onion skins as well or perhaps avocado skin and pits.

Our last project was a paper caravel. We found this project a few years with my son, and I’ve been looking forward to doing this with my daughter. An author created this cute little model and has so generously given it to the world to us. We printed it on cardstock, cut it out, and assembled. He also has a pirate ship model.

Our art lessons from Waldofish.com also had a perfect Viking-themed pastel project to go along with the unit. We love our art lessons from Waldorfish.

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