Thursday, December 9, 2010

Homeschooling- Colonial History

This year in our homeschool history with my boys we are learning about the early American colonies. I picked up a few books that I thought would work well with what we needed to cover and I just want to report that I am extremely pleased with them.

This book is a comprehensive and well-written account of the history of the Separatists and Adventurers that colonized Massachusetts. I am reading this aloud to the boys, a little every day, and it is a no-holds-barred rendering of the people, preparations, ocean voyage and colonization of the New World. It also gives the history of the native peoples as it is known including their interactions with the early explorers who preceded the colonists. I am learning so much more than I did in my own elementary and high school history classes or in the history accounts that I taught to my older children years ago from text books. This book was published in 2008.

I had this reading book in our library for the boys to use for their own daily reading. I am very pleasantly surprised to find out how closely it correlates with The Mayflower. If it hadn't been published in 1987 I would have thought that it used The Mayflower as a source book for information. Of course both books were probably written from the main history document of the colonies, William Bradford's Plymouth Plantation. All of the names in Pilgrim Boy are the actual names of the real historical people, including the children. This makes lining the two books up quite easy. I guess I expected this elementary reader to have the same water-downed, traditional account of the Mayflower passage for little people that I have encountered over the years. I was delighted to find out that it doesn't but rather contains details of the hardships and the unfortunate deaths that the travelers faced. This is no sugar-coated story of the Pilgrims and Indians though it does convey the difficult details of the history in a gentle way.

For instance, one sad part of the Mayflower's history is that William Bradford's wife, despondent over leaving her son behind in England, died by drowning while the travelers were still quartered on the ship off of Cape Cod and while her husband was out exploring the land for a colony site. Both of the books flatly stated that it is unknown whether Dorothy Bradford fell from the ship or jumped to her death. As a woman and mother, I can let my imagination go with this story- Dorothy Bradford had been on a cold, wet, stinky ship for two months and had left her young son behind her across the ocean and maybe would never seen him again. People were dying from disease; it was the cusp of winter, prospects were bleak, she was malnourished and....who knows what her relationship with her husband was like. On that cold, wet, December day...did she fall or jump?

Though this reading book doesn't go into any details of wars with the natives, it does give attention to the unfortunate parts of history such as the deaths of large groups of natives from disease brought on those early English exploring ships and of the kidnapping of Squanto and his comrades by a ship captain. This whole account as well as other parts of history involving the clash between the old world and the new is given in much more detailed writing in The Mayflower which is fleshing out the story when we read both together. Pilgrim Boy told the story of the colonists "finding" some corn and taking it while The Mayflower showed how they actually stole the corn from a tribe. A few chapters later it tells how this crime was rectified and how payment was made to the victim and that the pilgrims were glad to be able to make restitution for their early mistakes. Pilgrim Boy ends with the peace treaty and the first Thanksgiving while The Mayflower continues the story with the subsequent changes in relations among the people.

I want to supplement our history class with some documentary films to give the boys some visuals of events. I already found a PBS film on Netflix that they enjoyed. After the Christmas holidays we will break out the book that has projects connected to colonial life.


  1. This looks so good! We are studying that time in history also, so maybe I'll have to find that book too. Which Netflix did you watch?

  2. Jules, I think they watched the National Geographic title "Nightmare In Jamestown" which was not made for kids, btw. I also found another one that looks excellent...The Untold Story of the Mayflower. We'll probably also watch Colonial House again and there is a Spencer Tracy movie called Plymouth Adventure.


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