Studying Christopher Columbus for kids? Need help with how to explain Columbus Day to kids (including the controversy)? We have 23 Columbus Day holiday lessons and activities, perfect for Christopher Columbus high school studies all the way down to elementary school (and even Christopher Columbus for kindergarten!).
Christopher Columbus for Kids
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 (or Christopher Columbus children’s song) I learned in school about who “discovered” America.
And, chances are, it is probably some form of the poem or one of the songs about Columbus Day that you learned too, right?
However, it might not exactly be…true.
In fact, there were explorers who experienced “America” long before Columbus (including, reportedly Leif Eriksson, and let’s not forget the Natives who were already here).
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Before we get to how to cover Columbus Day controversy with kids, let’s first answer common questions about Columbus Day history.
When is Columbus Day?
Columbus Day 2020 is on Monday, October 12. It is always observed on the second Monday in October.
Is Columbus Day a federal day?
In the United States, Columbus Day is a federal holiday. Although it is a federal holiday, it is not considered a major holiday for many, especially because of the controversies surrounding the day.
What does Columbus Day stand for?
Columbus Day was originally created to commemorate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. However, today many use the holiday to instead honor their Italian-American heritage or to honor the Native and Indigenous heritage.
Why is Columbus Day no longer celebrated?
Columbus Day is still celebrated by some. However, the Columbus Day holiday is definitely declining, and many states or even separate cities within states are choosing not to observe the holiday. Many people are choosing to focus on honoring Indigenous and Native American Indian cultures or an Explorer’s Day that focuses on many different explorers over time.
ALSO CHECK OUT:
Native American Heritage Month Lessons, Activities, and Totem Pole Craft
Should Columbus Day be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day?
Some cities have moved to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day as part of the history instead of honoring Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day. So, while Columbus Day has not officially been renamed, there are some temporary redesignations across the nation that many hope will become permanent.
So, how do you teach Christopher Columbus for kids?
You Need to First Start with Columbus Controversies and be honest about
Columbus Day facts for kids…
The fact that Columbus didn’t even experience America first isn’t even the worst part of the Columbus controversies.
(Let’s remember you can’t “discover” something when people already lived here.)
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, by the way, 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 long-term negative effects on the Native people and the land.
Some of the diseases included small pox and the influenza.
3. Columbus forced Indigenous people to his belief system.
It is reported that Columbus completely disregarded Native belief systems and instead forced the Natives to worship Christianity.
Whew. That’s a lot.
Before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at the explorer . . .
Christopher Columbus Facts
Christopher Columbus Biography for Children: Famous Explorers Video
Christopher Columbus was born…
Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy
Christopher Columbus was from…
Was Christopher Columbus Italian? Was Christopher Columbus Spanish?
Christopher columbus nationality is Italian (since he was born in Italy).
Christopher Columbus Real Name
Since Columbus was born in Italy, his real name was Cristoforo Colombo.
“Christopher Columbus” is the English pronunciation of his name.
How did Christopher Columbus die?
Columbus died in 1506 in Spain. It is reported that he was in very poor health and thought to have died of heart issues.
Christopher Columbus Voyages
Columbus had many voyages that started when he was just a teenager.
Christopher Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492 when he ended up in a New World.
What were the Christopher Columbus ships?
Christopher Columbus had three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
Why do we celebrate Columbus Day?
(And What Should We Celebrate Instead?)
So, why do we even celebrate Columbus Day if there’s a swirl of controversy around him and the Christopher Columbus voyages?
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.”
Some people prefer to refer to Columbus Day as “Explorers’ Day” or “Discoverers’ Day” and discuss multiple explorers during this time, which is a good educational angle for this day.
Italian-American Heritage Day
Some 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.
Contrary to popular belief, most educated Europeans in Columbus’ day understood that the world was round, but they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed.
As a result, Columbus and his contemporaries assumed that only the Atlantic lay between Europe and the riches of the East Indies.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day
As time goes by, more people are choosing to ignore the “Columbus Day” designation and instead celebrate the indigenous people that were already living on the land.
Today, there is a movement for this day to replace the “Columbus Day” name in order to educate people on the genocide, oppression, and historical truths (and mistruths) about Native communities.
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.
Columbus Day Video
This short video explains some of the controversies surrounding the Columbus Day holiday.
Teaching Christopher Columbus for Kids
No matter your belief system or viewpoints on Columbus, you can’t deny that there are many controversies surrounding the guy and his explorations.
So, how do you approach Columbus Day during homeschooling or teaching?
What will be your answer to did Columbus discover America?
And, 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)?
Or, is it somewhere in between?
What is the Christopher Columbus truth?
The answers to those questions are up to you.
With my homeschooling, I’m a proponent of always 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 America and never taught any controversy about him. (Gah.)
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, honoring, and celebrating Native cultures, as well as looking into Italian-American heritage and some other explorers.
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Columbus Day for Kids : 23 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, but I encourage you to cover multiple sides and engage your homeschoolers in a discussion about it.
• What Was Columbus Thinking? Lesson Plan
• Columbus Day from the Viewpoint of Indigenous People
• Teaching about Columbus Day: Mythbusters
• Read Extracts from the Christopher Columbus Journal
• Complete a ‘Columbus or Indigenous People Day’ Lesson
• Learn about The Columbus Doors (great for art study, too!)
• Learn About explorers with Discover’s Day lesson plans
• Get a lesson About Italian Americans
• Learn About Indigenous People and then Write a Poem
• Learn the Effects of European Expansion on Indigenous People
• 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
Christopher Columbus Children’s Book and other Children’s Books to Read for Columbus Day
[FEATURE IMAGE: By L. Prang & Co., Boston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
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