Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

Columbus Day

on October 8, 2012

Ah, Columbus Day … the day the postal service, government offices, and banks set aside to honor an explorer who never reached his intended destination, never found the sea route he actually sought, and died never knowing where he actually had been.

Columbus Day has always been a holiday that tormented me. My earliest memories of the day stem from waking up on my own birthday and discovering that there would be no mail — hence, no birthday cards, packages or crisp $5 bills — that day because it just happened to be the second Monday of October. As I got a little older, I puzzled over why America chose to honor Columbus over all other explorers. As I delved into my own family’s native ancestry, my confusion deepened.

As a classroom teacher, I stuck to the basic script of “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and breathed a silent “thank you” to the universe that put me in a classroom in South Korea where I simply had to make sure that my students knew who Christopher Columbus was and didn’t have to answer questions as to his goodness or badness or the rightness/wrongness of his ventures. As a mom, however, I saw no such route of escape. My children are American children, growing up primarily in the United States of America. As such, they need to know who Columbus is, why we observe his birthday, and ultimately, the good, the bad, and the ugly of European discovery and conquest.

For today, I planned to focus on who Columbus was and what he did.

We began by reading The Discovery of the Americas: From Prehistory Through the Age of Columbus by Betsy and Giulio Maestro, a lengthy read for a four-year-old, but one that kept Little Bear spell bound and did a great job of putting Columbus’s “discovery” (or, more precisely, “rediscovery” of the Americas) in historical perspective. We sat down with our globe and traced the route the first settlers would have taken as they crossed Bering land bridge from Asia into North America. We traced land European explorers had previously taken to Asia and traced the route Columbus was attempting to take when he plowed into the Bahamas. Next, we read several illustrated biographies of Columbus, followed by a history of the holiday … at which point Little Bear asked, “But why is his birthday a holiday, Mommy?”

I’ve been asking myself that same question for 30+ years. Today, all I could offer her were some lessons from Columbus’s life.

  • He thought outside the box. When conventional wisdom failed to solve a problem, he looked for creative alternatives.
  • He was persistent. He was so committed to his cause that he sought an audience with royalty in two different countries. He met with rejection several times over, but kept going back.
  • He was courageous. He didn’t let fear keep him from sailing into the unknown.
  • He “failed” to reach Asia, yet history regards his “failure” as one of the greatest success stories of the Age of Discovery. His life teaches us that failing is not necessarily synonymous with failure.

The heavy stuff aside, we pulled out our Kid K’nex and made a couple of sailboats to sail across a play silk ocean. (We’d planned to make the Nina, the Pinta, and the St. Maria, but Baby Bear woke up before the third and final ship made it out of the basket and into the water.)

Sailing, sailing over the ocean blue …

Of course, sea monsters were a fear of any 15th century sailor, so Little Bear and Daddy Bear created a couple of those to pursue our sailboats!

Terrors of the deep

Next, we headed outside to test the power of the wind. We began by putting a plastic cup in a tub of water. We observed it floating slowly, drifting back and forth as the breeze blew the water. Next we added a paper sail. As the wind filled the sail, it propelled our little boat much more rapidly across the water.

Wind power!

Plans to experiment further with our sail came to an abrupt end when an eager pair of hands capsized our boat. The girl quickly discovered that wet copy paper does not make a good sail! After briefly trying to sail our boat with its collapsing wet paper sail, Little Bear decided to instead see how much water she could put in the boat before it sank. This led to yet more hands-on experimentation and discovery as the girls decided to see what else would float or sink.

Sink or float?

Little Bear discovered that leaves, twigs, acorns, and bottle caps floated, while rocks, toy cars, clay, dirt, and children sank. (Yes, Baby Bear tried to get in the tub …)

Of course, no day is complete without free play time, and today the girls begged to play in their favorite tree. How I love those smiling faces!

Bears in a tree …


One Response to “Columbus Day”

  1. Debbie Olson says:

    Love the sweet pix of the girls, Julie!

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