When KONOS first entered the homeschooling market 14 years ago, teaching in units was a fresh new concept. Subjects had become so isolated by the traditional public school method that few educators considered it possible for history to ever sneak out of the history classroom and fraternize with English and art in a unit.
Years have passed and times have changed. Units are everywhere, but what makes a unit worth the time and energy it takes to do one?
For those new to the unit studies methodology, the holiday season is the perfect setting for trying a unit, because holidays naturally come in units. Each holiday has history, arts and crafts, cooking, and music. You can easily weave English assignments into them, too. The key, however, is to include activities that are memorable and communicate the heart of the holiday.
The first thing I do when I create a unit is ask myself, "What do I want my children to walk away with, when they have finished this unit?" For Thanksgiving, the answer is gratitude... gratitude for the life they have, gratitude for their daily blessings, gratitude for what the Pilgrims and other settlers gave them. Children do not usually appreciate what they take for granted, so we remove some of the "take for granted" in their lives.
First we try to make the Pilgrims' hardships real to the students by eating what the Pilgrims ate coming over on the Mayflower for three straight days. That was hard cheese, beer (non-alcoholic,) hard tack (dried biscuits,) and an occasional bowl of oatmeal without any salt, sugar, or cinnamon added.
Next, we limit their belongings. Each Pilgrim family had only a chest in which to pack all of their belongings for life in the New World. Before their voyage begins, we have our children pack a suitcase with what items they need for the New World. A tremendous amount of thinking goes on here as children attempt to think with a Pilgrim mind. A few children bring fishing nets and hooks, seeds to plant, shovels and axes, and extra shoes; however, many pack stuffed animals and tons of clothes. Each packed item is weighed and considered by the group as to how helpful it will be in the New World. Since Pilgrims hardly ever took baths, we do not allow our Pilgrims to bathe or change clothes for the three day journey either. Imagine the benefit of kids, even boys, begging to take a bath and feel clean again! That is certainly new-found gratitude!
When we finally land in America and wash our clothes, we do not use the washing machine. Rather, we "spank" our clothes clean in the bathtub with wooden spoons as the Pilgrims did and hang them out to dry on the bushes. Our Pilgrims build a stock out of a cardboard box, dramatize a Pilgrim church service complete with marching to church, with men sitting segregated from women on benches with no backs, and even being rapped on the head for talking or sleeping with a bone on the end of a stick. After our church service is over, we, like the Pilgrims, eat a cold lunch, made the day before because it was unlawful to cook and visit the sick on the Sabbath.
Our Thanksgiving dinner is not the usual turkey and dressing, because the Pilgrims had no eggs, milk, butter, wheat flour, or spices. Here the light goes on in the student's head, that "Spices might have been a good thing to pack!" Our feast consists of a goose, pumpkins sweetened with honey, squash with onions, beans, salad greens and leeks, and many experimental concoctions made from cornmeal, the Pilgrim staple. We have been known to add true authenticity to the meal by serving eel and clams when they are available in the grocery store. Our after-dinner activities include a tug-of-war, pitching the bar, dancing a jiggle, and a pillow pushing contest just like the first Thanksgiving.
With experiences like these, children have no trouble writing a paper about Pilgrims. A multitude of literature and resources are literally devoured, because it is not just school any more; it is understanding the hardships of our forefathers first-hand!
When we sing "Faith of Our Fathers," and "America," read our own "I am grateful for" list at the dinner table, and close the meal with a William Bradford prayer, I am grateful that my children have a full understanding of the sacrifices and hardships our forefathers endured. From the youngest to the oldest, the students' understanding creates a sincere gratitude in them for what they now enjoy as Americans. Hurrah! Mission accomplished!
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