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In  fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

It’s the poem I learned in school about who “discovered” America. And, chances are, it is probably some form of the poem you learned too, right? However, it might not exactly be … true. In fact, there may have been many explorers who experienced “America” long before Columbus (including, reportedly, Leif Eriksson).

Columbus Controversies

And, the fact that Columbus probably didn’t even discover America isn’t even the worst part. According to The History Channel, there are three main controversies linked to Columbus and help explain why some people today do not want to celebrate the life of this explorer or the holiday.

When encountering the indigenous people (that he named “Indians”) of the “New World”:

1. Columbus wasn’t nice.

He reportedly used much violence and torture in his explorations. He also made indigenous people slaves. History.com reports that on one expedition:

Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino ‘Indians’ from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route. Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and on plantations. Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.

2. Columbus brought disease from to the new world.

Columbus and his crew introduced new diseases into the land that had longterm negative effects on the Native people and the land. Some of the diseases included small pox and the influenza.

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3. Columbus forced Natives to his belief system.

It is reported that Columbus completely disregarded Native belief systems and instead forced the Natives to worship Christianity.

Why Do We Celebrate Columbus Day?

Whew. That’s a lot.

So, why do we even celebrate Columbus Day if there’s a swirl of controversy around him and his explorations?

Columbus Day is celebrated in early October to acknowledge that the landing of Christopher Columbus happened in the New World on October 12, 1492 (where “New World” actually means The Bahamas). And, even though he may be controversial, Biography.com says, “At the age of 41, [Columbus] defied naysayers across Europe and led four voyages across an uncharted ocean in wooden sailing ships that were not designed to take on the punishing waters of the Atlantic.”

However, some other people use this day to celebrate Italian-American heritage because Columbus was born in Italy. The day was originally created not just to celebrate the accomplishments of the explorer, but also to honor his heritage and faith, especially Catholicism.

Other areas have different celebrations for the day called Columbus Day. According to History.com:

In many Latin American nations, the anniversary of Columbus’ landing has traditionally been observed as the Dìa de la Raza (“Day of the Race”), a celebration of Hispanic culture’s diverse roots. In 2002, Venezuela renamed the holiday Dìa de la Resistencia Indìgena (“Day of Indigenous Resistance”) to recognize native peoples and their experience. Several U.S. cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with alternative days of remembrance; examples include Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples Day, South Dakota’s Native American Day and Hawaii’s Discoverer’s Day, which commemorates the arrival of Polynesian settlers.

Teaching Columbus History While Homeschooling

No matter your belief system or viewpoints on Columbus, you can’t deny that today there are many controversies surrounding the guy and his explorations.

So, how do you approach Columbus Day during homeschooling? Did he discover America? Was he a hero to be celebrated? Or, was he not a nice man who was given credit for something that he didn’t really do (like discover America)?

The answers to those questions are up to you.

With my homeschooling, I’m a big fan of presenting all the major sides of a topic and then asking my homeschooler what she thinks. So, for this upcoming Columbus Day, we’ll be discussing multiple sides — how when I was growing up I learned that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, even though it was really Leif Erikson. I will also be presenting to her the controversies that now surround him and having an open discussion about those hard topics. We’ll also be learning about some Native cultures, as well as Italian-American heritage.

ALSO CHECK OUT : What Is the Unit Study Homeschool Method?

Columbus Day Lesson Plans and Activities

I’ve included a list of lesson plans, activities, and books — enough that you can choose from the list no matter your beliefs and understanding of Columbus. Just choose what suits you best for homeschooling!

What Was Columbus Thinking? Lesson Plan

1492: An Ongoing Voyage

Columbus Day from the Viewpoint of Indigenous People

 Thinking Historically: The Flat Earth

Read Extracts from the Columbus Voyage Journal 

Complete a ‘Columbus or Indigenous People Day’ Lesson

The Columbus Doors (for art study)

Learn About Explorers (not just Columbus)

Learn About Italian Americans

Learn About Indigenous People and then Write a Poem

Learn the Effects of European Expansion on Indigenous People

Make a World Globe Pumpkin

Make a Compass Rose

Learn About Foods Explorers Ate While Sailing

Make Italian Recipes to Celebrate Italian-American Heritage

Enjoy a Native Cornmeal Cookie

Review Photos of Native Culture, Artifacts, Food, History and More

Columbus Day Books

Columbus Day book (AFFILIATE) Who Was Christopher Columbus (AFFILIATE) Who Was Leif Erikson (AFFILIATE)

Exploring the New World (AFFILIATE) More Than Moccasins (AFFILIATE) All the Way to American (AFFILIATE)


[FEATURE IMAGE: By L. Prang & Co., Boston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

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Jacqueline Wilson is a writer, mom, wife, homeschool super freak and #1 Bestselling Author of It's Homeschooling, Not Solitary Confinement. She has been featured at Huffington Post, Parenting Magazine, Redbook, Kiwi Magazine, Fox News, and more. She is a discriminating sock monkey enthusiast and has a small collection of rescued pets. One more and she gets a free set of steak knives.

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