Q. If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?
Day 1 - The Mayflower and the Speedwell - I prefaced the discussion by reviewing the Columbus story, and reminded the children that we were now jumping ahead almost 200 years after the European discovery of the Americas. We looked at the globe and located England and Holland, where the Pilgrims were traveling from. Prior to this lesson, I'd made two simple paper ship puppets, then laminated them. I now filled each ship with a crowd of paper people, and using the globe, showed how and where the ships set sail, and what they were traveling towards (initially, the area of Virginia, where they hoped to begin a plantation-style village). Halfway across the Atlantic, the Speedwell began to take on water, and I pointed out a small hole snipped in the hull of my puppet-ship. The kids really liked it that I'd made a real hole in the ship, which they'd overlooked until that point!
We theorized the danger that the Pilgrims could be in if they continued forward with their journey, and we voted to have them return to England.
The Speedwell was put into dry dock and repaired, and the Pilgrims set sail for the New World again. And again, the Speedwell leaked - forcing everyone to turn around.
Acting out this lesson helped the kids see how much time these problems took up, and how frustrating that must have been for the Pilgrims, who were impatient to get to the Americas and begin planting summer crops. (It also explains why they had such a difficult winter when they finally arrived, 2 months off schedule, at the start of winter!)
Finally, the Speedwell was sold off, and all of the Pilgrims from both ships crammed together into the Mayflower, and set sail a third time. My paper people had been gently taped onto the ships, and I moved the crowd from the Speedwell over to the Mayflower, to show how crowded the conditions suddenly were.
Day 2 - What they brought with them - I was lucky to have in my possession this charming miniature wardrobe, which the children had never seen, so I presented it as the type of furniture each family might bring with them to store all of their earthly possessions. We discussed items of importance, such as tools, food, clothing, and weapons. Items of leisure, like books or toys, and items of sentimentality, like quilts, furniture, and the family bible. I explained that space on the Mayflower was scarce, and too much weight could sink the ship, so families had to think very carefully about what they would be bringing with them and what they would leave behind. We reviewed illustrations of real items brought along by some of the families, such as the family chair, a suit of armor, and a baby's cradle.
After this discussion, I told the children that I wanted them to imagine they were Pilgrims about to travel very far over-seas to a strange and possibly dangerous land! What would they bring with them to survive the journey and begin their new lives?
I handed out little paper cabinets with shelves inside for drawing their ideas.
Simple Paper Cabinets: take 1 piece of brown construction paper and holding it in the landscape position, fold both edges inward until they meet in the middle. Press down the folds. Cut a U-shape out of the bottom, for legs. Inside, glue down a rectangle of white paper and add a few lines for shelves. On the outside, draw doorknobs and a lock. I later added a little fastener to keep the doors from popping open, but the cabinet looked cute even without them.
The kids were REALLY into this activity. They drew enthusiastically as I challenged them to think of tools, clothing, food, drinks, bedding, toys, and weapons which would help them in their adventure. They mostly stuck within the olden-days limitations, but there was one passionate battle over the legitimacy of wooden pull-toy airplanes. My son refused to back down, and insisted that the Pilgrim children in his imagination should have wooden airplanes and wooden cars to play with!
They also survived on bananas and cookies, apparently.
My daughter chose some nice healthy lettuce as her imagined food item, because she wanted the Pilgrims to be healthy on their long journey across the Atlantic. I praised her for her ideas, and we discussed how a hull of lettuce would keep the travelers more healthy than a hull full of cookies. But conversly! I also mentioned how dry cookies and simple biscuits might have a better shelf life than unrefrigerated lettuce, so perhaps cookies weren't such a poor choice, afterall! This was a very interesting discussion, full of tough choices! We wrapped it up with a decision that some kind of healthier cookie - like an oatmeal cookie - would be ideal and certainly would taste better than hardtack and beef jerky!
My daughter's armor came out looking like a scary clown face, but she had some awesome ideas for the trip; bread, marbles, a sword for protection, and a blackbird to pet to keep all the grumpy and sick people happy!
Day 3 - Tissue box Mayflower
I threw this together for the kids to play with on their display table. The opening on the top is perfect for filling with miniature traveling supplies representing food and water, action figures representing Pilgrims, and small cats to eat the mice and rats. Lots of little pieces means a lot of imaginative play is going on at this table, and they're quick to reenact the story of the Pilgrims and expand upon it in adventurous ways.
The opening on the top of the tissue box Mayflower is also the perfect size for storing our family cupboards.
Day 4 - Daily life. We read Sarah Morton's Day and colored in some little paper dolls for our Plymouth colony. They're attached to old fashioned clothespins, so they stand up. Each colonist has a job to do. The father works in the garden. His pumpkins are coming along splendidly!
[By the way, there are two other books in this photographic Pilgrim series. To see life from a Pilgrim boy's perspective, read Samuel Eaton's Day. To read from the perspective of a Wampanog child, read Tapenum's Day. All were written by Kate Waters.]
The Pilgrim boy tends the fire by cutting down and stacking firewood.
Mother and Sister are making hardtack and cheese. Bowls are laid out for Pottage, which is cooking over the fire.
A picket fence in the background represents the stockade surrounding Plymouth Colony, and many baskets, bowls, and barrels are scattered about for holding food stuffs and linens.
Day 5 - Plymouth Colony Houses. In March, the Pilgrims took their axes into the woods and chopped down enough trees to make seven simple English-style houses with thatched roofs. From a landing crew of around 120 colonists, only 50 people remained. January and February were harsh, and as many as three people died a day from pnemonia and other ailments. Of the 50 remaining Pilgrims, a full 25 were children, and there were only 4 mothers left to tend to them!
The remaining families crammed together into the first seven houses, and worked together on tasks that would help them survive. Children contributed heartily for the greater good - boys assisted the fathers, and girls assisted the mothers. Everyone had important jobs to do.
The houses were small and dark, and had raked dirt floors. To let in light, there were window openings, but no glass. There was no way for the Pilgrims to make glass, so they filled their windows with sheets of oiled paper!
Oiled Paper Windows: 1 sheet of computer paper, 2 old socks, a small cup of vegetable oil, and a tray if you'd like to contain the mess.
I explained to the children that the Pilgrims gathered their oil from rendering the fat of animals they hunted. In comparison, we used a different kind of oil - vegetable oil from the store.
I stuffed one old sock way down inside the toe of the other, and used this as a blotting tool to soak up some oil and rub the paper. As I rubbed in a circular motion, adding a bit more oil, the paper became suddenly clear enough to show the design engraved on the tray, but retained it's strength as if it were dry! The kids thought this was pretty cool, and everyone took turns "painting" with the oil.
When held up to a window, you can see how the oiled paper is clear enough to let in sunlight, but not clear like glass. You can't see through it at all.
We discussed how a paper window doesn't keep the heat inside very well, so the Pilgrims built heavy shutters to close up tight when the sun went down.
Finally, I printed out fold-and-cut patterns for log cabins onto cardstock. The kids colored them in, remembering to do a yellow or green thatched roof. I helped cut out each house, fold it into cube shapes, and tape it all together. We added these to our imaginative play area.
Day 6: The Wampanog Tribe. We haven't gotten this far, yet, but soon we'll discuss the Native Americans who came to the aid of the Pilgrims and showed them how to plant crops in the New World. We'll make paper dolls of Wampanog adults and children to add to our play area, and I've built a "bark" wigwam out of fringed brown construction paper attached to a cylindrical breadcrumbs canister.
It came out looking more like an Iroquois longhouse... but I don't think they'll be fact-checking my artistic efforts.
We'll look through books about Native Americans and discuss how they dressed, what they ate, their daily lives, and what tools and weapons they used. We'll discuss the language barrier and how Squanto was able to overcome it after learning English.
We'll look at a list of place names and words with Native American origins, and discuss how we use these words now because the Native Americans and Plymouth Colonists have passed them down through the years to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all the way to us! (This conversation will sow the seeds for a genealogy unit which we'll be doing after the holidays.)
The paper patterns for this lesson came from the book Pilgrims: complete theme unit developed in cooperation with Pilgrim Hall Museum, by Susan Moger (Scholastic). It can be ordered directly from Scholastic, here.
Thank you for reading!