Saturday, April 14, 2012

The California gold rush

This semester we have been learning about the California gold rush as our unit study. You know, one of the reasons I love homeschooling is that I get to learn things I didn't know along with my children. (And I would be lying if said my own desire to learn about something didn't play into my choice of what unit studies we do. Of course, if a child has a strong desire to study something, that trumps my choice.) I have really enjoyed learning about the gold rush and realize I didn't know that much about it when we began. It helps that I've found some good books to go along with it.

It also helps that it lends itself rather nicely to some good hands-on learning. As we read more and more about it, I come up with a bigger list of these types of projects than I had when I did my initial planning last summer. So, some things I will be adding in as the weather warms up and we have less desire to be indoors and others I will make a note of in case we do this again.

Take last Thursday night, for instance. I had planned to serve food that the 49er's might have eaten as a part of our dinner. But as I prepared dinner, I was suddenly finding myself thinking up ways to make it even more interesting. (This is a sure sign that I'm recovering from my adoption-induced insanity... the ability to think creatively again is returning.) Were I to do it again, not only would I serve the appropriate food, but I would make it a bigger experience.

Want to hear my ideas? First of all, we would have to wait for warmer weather so we could do it all outside. And we would cook the food over the fire pit in the backyard because the 49er's lived in tents for the most part. Flannel shirts and some sort of hat would be a must as would metal bowls (retrieved from the camping supplies) for eating out of. But first we would pan for gold. (We will do this, but I wasn't prepared to do it Thursday night.) Because without gold dust, my children would have nothing to pay for their food with. And it turns out food was really, really expensive. When I read about how much certain foods cost in the gold rush areas, it sounds expensive in current dollars much less 1849 dollars. Then we could all sit on the ground with our pans of food and have the whole experience. (Happily minus the hours of backbreaking labor in the hot sun while standing knee deep in frigid water. I'm willing to use my imagination for that.)

My only regret with the way we do school is that we tend to only do a topic once. (There is so much to learn about and discover, I just can't bring myself to repeat... at least with the same group of children.) But I do write it down. Perhaps we'll come back to this topic with the little girls when they are older. Should I write it all out for you? Would this be helpful to anyone? Maybe I will anyway because then I will know where to find it if I want it again. I just get so excited about what we've done and what we've learned that I really want to share it with people.

Because learning is fun. And watching your children learn and discover things is even more fun. And there are a lot of books involved. What's not to love?

(And on the topic of student ideas for unit studies, we have been having A LOT of questions about electricity around here and I'm thinking it will be our big summer project. Does anyone have any books they love that deal with electricity? I would be looking for either fiction, non-fiction, picture books, older child books... I'll look at it all. I probably have some of the basics: Magic Schoolbus, the Janice VanCleeve's books, etc. Thanks!)


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth. Here's an idea:

The boy who harnessed the wind : creating currents of electricity and hope, by Kamkwamba, William.

True story of a boy in Malawi who read about windmills and then built his own. The adult book has a LOT about Malawi mythology to plow through first, but the whole bk is fascinating. There's a children's picture bk about him, but I've read that it leaves out way too much. I really enjoyed the book, and your kids would, too!
Aunt Ginny

thecurryseven said...

Aunt Ginny,

That's it... exactly what I was hoping for! I've actually heard of him, now that you mention it. There was an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry(?... or the Field, can't remember) that had a display about him and I was intrigued. I didn't realize there was a book written about him. Thank you!


thecurryseven said...

And since J. spent time in Malawi, we could even use it as an excuse to get out all his slides and look at them. Hmmm... I can see this might open up all sorts of possibilities.


Dave Rader said...

Panning for gold sorts material on density. So, the experience could include a section on density. You could sort for other fun items beside gold,too. The dinner could include "found" items in addition to the purchased items.

sandwichinwi said...

TOPS Electricity was really fun. 3rd grade and up maybe.

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