Have a globe handy so that you can show the children the relative locations of Europe, North America, and India. Read or paraphrase the following story to them. Let them see (encyclopedia) pictures of 15th-century sailing ships.
"Over 500 years ago, most people didn't know about North America, the place where we live today. There were no cars or airplanes then and not many safe ships. Most people were afraid to travel very far from their homes because they thought dragons or sea monsters would get them!
"Some people in those days thought the world was flat. They thought if you sailed out to sea you would finally just fall off the edge of the world. There was a man, though, who thought he could sail a ship from his home in Europe until he got to India on the other side of the world! His name was Christopher Columbus.
"He tried to get money for a trip to show that you could sail around the world to India and come back to Europe, bringing wonderful spices and Indian things with you. The Queen of Spain believed in him and gave him the money and ships to make the trip.
"Columbus and his men set sail on Friday, August 3, 1492 from Palos, Spain. Columbus had a big ship, the Santa Maria (the St. Mary) and two smaller ships, the Pinta and the Nina. They stopped for fresh water at the Canary Islands. Then they sailed southwest. Twenty-one days later the sailors on Columbus' ships were beginning to feel afraid. They wanted Columbus to turn the ships around and go back home to Spain. Just then they saw a flock of birds! Can you guess what that meant? Well, Columbus sailed in the direction that the birds had come from and at two o'clock on the morning of October 12, they saw land! It was the island we now call San Salvador, but Columbus thought it was the Indies, so the new world was called 'the Indies' and the people Columbus found living there he called 'Indians.' (Look on your globe. How much farther off were the real Indies?)
"Columbus stayed and looked around the islands. He got a lot of things together to take as presents back to Spain. (He got parrots, seashells, unusual plants and some Indian people!) On March 15, 1493 he returned to Spain. Cannons boomed, people cheered, and all the church bells rang to welcome Columbus home again!
"There was a big parade to the palace and Columbus gave the Queen gold and masks and pearls and parrots! Columbus was a hero, because he believed he could do something new and he DID it! He was one of the first men from the Old World to discover the land you and I live in today!"
Let children see pictures of early sailing ships and then ask them to use crayons or felt-tip pens to draw pictures of make-believe sea monsters attacking early sailing vessels, or have them draw how the edge of a flat earth might look. If they like the more historic approach, they could draw Columbus sighting the flock of birds or Columbus giving the Queen gifts from the New World.
Excerpted from The Early Childhood Almanac.
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