Thursday, October 04, 2012

Homeschooling from the Heart with Help from Lewis and Clark

Cover of "Lewis and Clark: A Prairie Dog ...
Cover via Amazon
Where history and geography are concerned, I'm finding that both Jonah and myself learn better when we have some context. While on our RV trip to South Dakota last month, we ended up visiting many of the places along the route of Lewis and Clark on their journey up the Missouri River with the Corps of Discovery. The more I saw of the area where they traveled and the more interpretive signs I read, the more interested I became in their story and the more I realized how amazing their journey really was. Of course, when I learned something new I would relate it to the kids.

We like to purchase kids books as souvenirs on our trips. It's educational and helps to remind the kids of their experiences. Well, on this trip we purchased Lewis and Clark: A Prairie Dog for the President while at the visitor center in the Badlands National Park. This book was very appropriate, since we had just stayed at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, seen many other places of significance for Lewis and Clark, and observed several prairie dog towns while in the Badlands National Park.

The book is factual, well written, and, I, for one, found it most interesting and yes, informative. While I had a vague notion of who Lewis and Clark were, I really knew little about the details of their journey or how truly significant it was. I did not realize the scientific endeavors of their journey other than they were the first non-Native Americans to see huge herds of Bison. So this adorable little book, which is based on actual events, describes how Lewis and Clark were instructed by Thomas Jefferson to collect plant and animal specimens along their journey. They discovered prairie dogs on their trip and decided to send a live specimen back to the President. They had nearly all their companions try to flush out or dig up a prairie dog. Finally they succeeded by flooded on out of it's burrow with buckets of water. What a great story and it's true!

When we returned home from vacation as I attempted to get us into a homeschool routine, I started using our experiences as a guide and got a couple of Lewis and Clark books from the library. I also looked online for crafts and ideas for how to reinforce and add to what we learned on our trip. Here are a couple of resources I found on-line (there are many more): 
As I was reading a couple of these, I realized we could go on our own journey and re-create, if you will, Lewis and Clark's journey. So we packed up a couple of backpacks and set off to the greenway near our house (which happens to go along a river!).


As you can see, we have a gun to fight off the grizzly bears; the expedition encounter several once they reached present day Wyoming. The pink, poodle purse is the stand in for the big, black Newfoundland dog that Meriwether Lewis brought along on the journey - he threatened to burn down an indian village because they stole his dog - he got it back! (The natives considered cooked dog a delicacy). We brought cameras to take pictures of wildlife (because modern exploration requires it), but we also brought along pencil and paper to draw pictures of the plants and animals we saw along the way.  These included a dead vole, a dead frog, several birds, and a 5 foot long black snake that was very much alive (I had the heeby geebies the whole rest of the walk after that.)  At one point we saw a big black beetle and we stopped so Jonah could draw a picture of it.

We finally found a good spot to make camp.....


....and have a snack before continue on the the playground.

When we got home, we watched a 41-minute National Geographic documentary called Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West (2002) while we ate lunch. It was the perfect documentary for my kids, because it wasn't too long and was a reenactment of their journey (and not just images with a narrator). Not only that, but Jonah recognized the boats they were using in the documentary as the very boats we saw at the Lewis and Clark State Park in Iowa.

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As we were watching the documentary Jonah says, "That's what those benches were for!  Not for sitting but to stand on and push the boat with poles." While the members of the Corps of Discovery probably did sit there, Jonah learned one of the ways their boats were propelled forward against the fierce current of the Missouri River.

Since that documentary, we have also been watching the Ken Burn's documentary, Lewis and Clark: The Journey (1997) but, in piecemeal, as it is 120 minutes long. (Both documentaries are currently available to watch on-line via Netflix). While this film is more for my benefit, the kids stick around and watch it with me for the most part. It has many more details in it, of course. The funny thing is I tried to watch this a year ago and couldn't get through the first 15 minutes - I just didn't find it interesting. Now I'm thoroughly enjoying it. This is quite a lesson for me as a "teacher" and exemplifies the fact that we learn better and more easily when something has triggered our interest and captured our imaginations and travel can be a catalyst in this process. As a result, these last couple of weeks of homeschooling have been great! Fun for me and for my kids. This, I can do!
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