I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
This is part 1 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Explorers. Walk the route of Marco Polo (through the house) and collect the items he came across while in Asia. Make Viking bread, Viking helmets, shields, and swords and "sail" to Vineland (America) as Leif Erikson and his crew. And more! My lessons are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op group. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 0-11. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, camp, after school program, or co-op!
Introduction & Continents
1) Introduction: Pray & discuss Matthew 6:33.
2) Review continents and oceans and sing continent song (sung to tune of "Love & Marriage" 2x). I used the world map from the book It's a Big Big World by Brierly and pointed at each of the continents and oceans as we sang the song.
North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa
Don't Forget Antarctica
Or way down under in Australia
Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Indian, Arctic, Southern Oceans
North Pole, South Pole, Equator
I know all about maps and globes.
3) Discuss Leif Erikson and Vikings showing pictures from books.
4) Make Viking Bread. Group children into groups of 3-5. Each group will make 1 loaf.
Recipe for 1 loaf (so we will need to triple everything):
4 c. flour (can sub part whole wheat, oat, barley or rye flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk (or use 1 1/2 c. milk mixed with 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar)
Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly stir in buttermilk. Mixture will become difficult to stir. Knead until mixture becomes stiff. Form into a circle on a greased cookie sheet. Slash a 1/2-inch deep "X" into the top of the dough with a small, sharp knife. Bake at 425 degrees F for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden.
TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: 1 large mixing bowl, 1 mixing spoon, 1 liquid measuring cup, 1 set of measuring spoons, 1 cup measuring cup, 1 baking sheet, 1 bag flour (at least 8 cups), 3 tsp. baking soda
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 1 large mixing bowl, 1 mixing spoon, 1 liquid measuring cup, 1 set of measuring spoons, 1 cup measuring cup, 1 baking sheet, 6 cups whole wheat flour, 3 tsp. salt
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 1 large mixing bowl, 1 mixing spoon, 1 liquid measuring cup, 1 set of measuring spoons, 1 cup measuring cup, 4 1/2 cups buttermilk
5) Using a book, look at & discuss pictures of a Viking ship. Now we need Vikings!
6) Make Viking sword: tape handle to sword piece of cardboard sword. Wrap sword with aluminum foil and tape it. Have your child write their name on the sword. Allow children to name their swords as was the Viking custom. Go around the room and have everyone say what they named their sword.
TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 piece of cardboard cut into 17x2inch rectangle with one end cut to a point for the sword, 2 pieces of cardboard cut into 6x2 inch rectangles for the sword handle, clear packing tape, scissors, aluminum foil, marker
7) Make Viking shield: use pizza box -size circle from cardboard. Cover with gold foil/wrapping paper and tape to backside. Punch a hole through the middle. Put a quarter inch round head screw with a washer through the hole. On the back side attach a piece of sturdy fabric that has been looped together to make a handle to the screw. (Punch holes through fabric ahead of time). Add another washer and then a nut. This completes the handle. Cover a smaller circle of cardboard (or a CD) with gold foil/wrapping paper. Glue this in the middle of the front of the shield to cover the screw head.
(*Note: To make less durable shields, simply use yellow cardstock paper cut in a large circle. Either paste a second smaller circle in the center on the front or draw a smaller circle on the front of the shield. Then staple a strip of paper on the back fora handle.*)
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 pizza-box size circles from cardboard (we got ours from a tractor store dumpster) with 2 holes punched through middle for handle
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 2 quarter inch round screws with washers, 2 pieces of sturdy fabric cut (such as felt) into 1x6.5 inch strips with holes punched through each end
TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 CD-size cardboard pieces (or CD's you no longer want)
TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 2 pieces of aluminum foil or gold wrapping paper (Pre-cut them while we're making bread) to fit both pieces of cardboard, scissors, scotch tape, glue
8) Have children put on their metal (mixing bowl) helmet and hold up their shields and swords. Take a picture in front of the Viking "ship" before heading out on your voyage.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 metal bowl that can be used as a helmet or 1 plastic bowl that has been wrapped in aluminum foil
9) (Record on video): Head to the new world wearing the new Viking gear. Jump in the Viking ship (a large box decorated with a dragon's head and tail or chairs grouped together). Use canoe oars (or plastic baseball bats or sticks) to "row" from Norway to Greenland to Vineland. Jump out of the ship. Eat grapes. Call the land "Vineland." Get back into ship and "row" back to Greenland.
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: grapes, a large box, canoe oars and/or plastic baseball bats
More Good Children's Books on Leif Erikson & The Vikings
Also look for the picture book Leif Eriksson (On My Own Biography) by Shannon Knudsen and the longer picture book Brendan the Navigator by Jean Fritz, which is about Brendan, who is mentioned in some of the books on Leif Erikson.
A good chapter book (ideal for children with a 5th-9th grade reading level) is The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow (Living History Library) by Allen French. It is a Christian book about the times and life of Vikings. We do not recommend Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla, and it includes a murder that greatly disturbed my children.
Books that we enjoyed simply for their photographs include American Archaeology Uncovers the Vikings by Lois Miner Huey, Vikings by Peter Chrisp, and Viking Longships by Andrea Hopkins. .
10) Discuss Marco Polo. Show pictures from book. Find Venice & China on globe.
11) Walk "silk route" through house & collect items as we go. I placed various items from Marco Polo's journey around our house and we pretended to follow his journey as we walked through the rooms in our house. As we walked we collected items -- some of which we later pasted to our map. The items we collected are in ALL CAPS. I used info I got from Marco Polo by Zachary Kent.
a) We went to Acre and called out, "Will 100 Christians come with us to tell Cathay about Jesus?" We talked about how only two came but even they returned home because they were scared. That is so sad!!! What an opportunity they had to spread God's word, and they ran in fear. God protects us and is always in charge. He can fight the battle. This reminds me a lot of the Israelites being too scared to take the Promised Land.
b) Lesser Armenia/Turcomania (Turkey) - beautiful oriental carpets (YARN)
c) Pretend to ride on horseback. Stop and look at the top of Mount Ararat and see Noah's Ark (Noah's Ark toy on our mantle)
d) Rudbar Plain - Date trees (DRIED DATES), strange-looking oxen (zebu), and large 350 lb. sheep with 30 pound tails. Its tail weighs more than my son!
e) Desert Kuhbanan - refill water (DRINK A CUP OF WATER)
f) Mountaisn of Taican - (SALT)
g) Badakhshan - pretend to ride horses - Rubies and sapphires (RED CRAFT JEWELS)
--- Marco Polo sick for 1 year so they stay there
h) Oxus River to Pamirs - rams with 4 1/2 foot long curled horns. Shepherds carve horns into bowls or pile up to make fences
i) Khotan - in China at last! - (JADE)
j) TaklaMakan Desert - Gobi Desert for 30 days - Count to 30 (Count to 30 in Chinese if you can -- or at least count to 10 in Chinese.)
k) Kanchow - shaggy yaks - used wool for weaving (WOOL). Mongols & yurts. (Could let them taste a prepared Mongolian food item like boortsog or airag.)
l) *Been on this journey for 3 years. Kublai Khan has heard of their arrival in China/Cathay and sends horsemen to welcome them. Travel next 40 days in luxury.
m) Kublai Khan likes to go hunting with a cheetah on his saddle. The cheetah jumps off and grabs up the prey. Khan thinks Marco is very wise and inquisitive so sends him to other parts of Cathay to see what life is like there.
n) Khanbalik - (SILK), large striped lions (really tigers - STUFFED TIGER), paper money
o) Tibet - people very poor. Use salt rather than money. Scare away lions, bears, etc. at night by burning bamboo. When each section burns, it lets out a loud bang which scares away the animals.
p) Karajang - use seashells rather than money (SEASHELLS), sees snakes with fierce jaws and feet (really crocodiles - TOY CROCODILE)
q) Been in Cathay 17 years & want to go home. Princess Cocachin's husband dies and she needs someone to take her to her new husband. Khan reluctantly agrees to let the Polos take her. They now go by ship.
r) Champa (Vietnam) - many elephants (STUFFED ELEPHANT)
s) Java - (BLACK PEPPER, NUTMEG, & CLOVES)
Sumatra - Huge nuts with liquid inside (COCONUT), men with tails & dog faces (really monkeys - STUFFED MONKEY), & unicorns the size of elephants (really rhinoceroses)
t) Ceylon (Sri Lanka) - Ruby, sapphire, topaz, amethyst (THOSE STONES - SOME REAL & SOME NOT)
u) India near Ceylon - Pearls (PEARL NECKLACE & CRAFT PEARL BEADS), black lions (really panthers), and lots of parrots (COLORFUL FEATHERS)
v) Drop off princess. Return to Venice. Family doesn't recognize until they show off their jewels. Marco goes to war & is captured & put in jail. Tells his stories & one man writes them down. Many people think he's making it all up but some people think it might be true. 200 years later Columbus reads his book. He thinks Marco Polo was telling the truth and he is inquisitive enough to try to find out the truth.
TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD:1 small strip of yarn, 1 piece of dried date, 1 cup for water, 1 tiny seashell, coconut (can be shredded)
TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 piece of salt (sea salt or other larger pieces), 1 red craft jewel, 1 piece of wool (or cotton ball thread), 1 peppercorn, 1 whole clove, ground nutmeg, toy Noah's ark (or picture of it) (only 1 Noah's ark for the entire group is needed)
TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: jade, stuffed tiger, stuffed/toy crocodile, stuffed elephant, stuffed monkey, pearl necklace, 1 craft pearl bead PER CHILD, 1 colorful feather PER CHILD, & real or fake ruby, sapphire, topaz, amethyst (optional)
12) Trace route on The Marco Polo Route Map and paste what Marco Polo saw. We will paste on the items we collected on our walk. Glue construction paper to the back of the Marco Polo map.
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: Glue, 1 piece of construction paper, 1 copy of above map
13) Mention that other people wanted those same items and how they will try to find how to get there.
More of Our Favorite Marco Polo Books - These 4 books were the favorites of my boys, ages 4 & 7.
Also look for "Marco Polo for Kids: His Marvelous Journey to China, 21 Activities" by Janis Herbert, "Animals Marco Polo Saw" by Sandra Markle, "The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History" by John S. Major, "Adventures of Marco Polo" by Russell Freedman, and "The Silk Road: 20 Projects Explore the World's Most Famous Trade Route (Build It Yourself series)" by Kathryn Ceceri.
14) Sing The Viking Song by Kyle Hall.
The Viking Song by Kyle Hall
(to the tune of "A Pirate's Life for Me")
CHORUS:Yo - ho, yo - ho, a Viking's life for me!
1. We live in Scandinavia
And sail o'er many seas;
We raid and trade in many lands
And sometimes settle in these!
CHORUS: Yo - ho, yo - ho, a Viking's life for me!
2. We sail in ships with dragon heads;
Longhouses are our homes;
We make good armor and jewelry
And use futhark to write poems!
CHORUS: Yo - ho, yo - ho, a Viking's life for me!
3. Erik the Red found Greenland
And named it to deceive;
Leif, his son, found America
Around 1,000 A.D.!
CHORUS: Yo - ho, yo - ho, a Viking's life for me!
Yo - ho, yo - ho, a Viking's life for me!
Yo - ho, yo - ho, a Viking's life for me!
Snack & Review
15) Divide up Viking Bread for children. Let them taste some and drink some water. Divide up the remaining Viking Bread and let everyone take it home to try with their families.
TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: Sandwich baggies and small disposable cups for water
16) 5 Minute Review of what we learned.
Material List for the Lesson
*Everyone needs to bring per child:
-a metal bowl for your child to temporarily use as a helmet. (OR You can cover a plastic bowl in aluminum foil if you don't have a metal bowl.)
-a cardboard sword: 1 piece of cardboard cut into an approximately 17x2inch rectangle with one end cut to a point for the sword and 2 pieces of cardboard cut into approximately 6x2 inch rectangles for the sword handle. Staple or tape the 2 shorter pieces across the longer piece.
-scotch tape (1 roll per family)
-Elmer's or tacky glue (not a glue stick)
-a piece of cardboard cut into a circle that is about the size of a pizza box. Using a nail, screwdriver, or other sharp item, punch 2 holes about 3 inches apart in the middle of the circle.
-a CD you no longer want or a piece of cardboard cut into a circle that is about the size of a CD
-a canoe oar, plastic baseball bat, or stick (which will be used as an oar for our "Viking" ship)
-1 printed copy of this map: http://mappery.com/marco-polos-route-map
-the words to the Viking song (printed or on your phone - but able to be used by your child)
*Items to be assigned to individuals to bring for the group:
-world map (I used the world map from the book It's a Big Big World by Brierly.)
-1 set of these per 4-5 children: 1 large mixing bowl, 1 mixing spoon, 1 liquid measuring cup, 1 set of measuring spoons, 1 cup measuring cup, 1 baking sheet plus 5 cups of flour per 4-5 children - preferably whole wheat flour (Don't pre-measure the amount.), 1 tsp. baking soda per 4-5 children (Don't pre-measure the amount.), 1 tsp. salt per 4-5 children (Don't pre-measure the amount.), 1 1/2 cups buttermilk per 4-5 children (Don't pre-measure the amount.)
-pictures of a Viking ship (from a book or from the Internet)
-2 quarter inch round screws with washers per child, 1 piece of sturdy fabric (craft felt, old jeans, etc.) cut into a 1x6.5 inch strip per child. Use a sharp nail or other sharp item to punch a hole about three quarters of an inch from each end, 1 box of aluminum foil per 10 children
-1 small bunch of grapes (about 10 grapes) per child
-a very large box (optional) to use as a Viking ship or you can set up chairs in a rectangle to be your Viking ship
-pictures of Marco Polo's journey (We used pictures from a book)
-1 small strip of yarn per child, 1 piece of dried dates per child, 1 cup (for water) per child, 1 tiny seashell per child, 1 piece of coconut (can be shredded) per child, 1 piece of salt (sea salt or other larger pieces) per child, 1 red craft jewel per child, 1 piece of wool (or cotton balls) per child, 1 peppercorn per child
-1 whole clove per child, ground nutmeg, toy Noah's ark (or a picture of it), jade (optional), stuffed/toy tiger (or a picture of one if no one has one), stuffed/toy crocodile (or a picture of one if no one has one), stuffed/toy elephant (or a picture of one if no one has one), stuffed/toy monkey (or a picture of one if no one has one)
-pearl necklace, 1 craft pearl bead per child, 1 colored craft feather per child, real or fake ruby, sapphire, topaz, & amethyst (optional), 1 piece of construction paper per child
-1 sandwich bag per child
Our Favorite Books Giving Overviews of Explorers
Other great books include The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World (Timelines of American History) by Marc Aronson, The Great Atlas of Discovery by Neil Grant, and Explorers Who Got Lost by Diane Sansevere-Dreher. I do not recommend Around the World in a Hundred Years: From Henry the Navigator to Magellan by Jean Fritz. While I enjoy many of her other books, in that particular book she is quite derogatory toward Christians.
- Marco Polo and Leif Erikson Lesson - This is part 1 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Explorers. Walk the route of Marco Polo (through the house) and collect the items he came across while in Asia. Make Viking bread, Viking helmets, shields, and swords and “sail” to Vineland (America) as a Viking, and more!
- Christopher Columbus & Prince Henry the Navigator Lesson - This is part 2 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Explorers. Go on a compass treasure hunt, eat sailor food, jump across the parts of a caravel ship, act out Columbus' journey, and more!
- Da Gama, Vespucci, Balboa, & Magellan Lesson - This is part 3 of a 5 part hands-on unit study on Explorers. Make Da Gama Portuguese land markers, Vespucci parrot puppets, and Balboa hiding-in-a-barrel stick puppets. Search for the Pacific Ocean with Balboa (through your house). Eat “sawdust” and “leather” with Magellan and many more activities!
- Ponce de Leon, Aztecs, Cortes, & Conquistadors Lesson This is part 4 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Explorers. Create Montezuma's headdress, act out the meeting between Cortes & Montezuma, go on a conquistador hunt for gold, and more!
- Cabot, Cartier, Drake, Hudson, and Astronomy Lesson - This is part 5 of a 5 part hands-on unit on Explorers. Bake constellation bar cookies, create star finders, act out Cartier's expedition, and more!
- Explorer Unit Presentations and Field Trip Ideas – For the culminating project we following the 5 part hands-on unit on explorers, the children dressed as explorers, made presentations, and shared “authentic” food from their explorer’s country of origin. They also sang the songs from the unit. Also included are the field trips we took during this unit.
Over the years I have posted over 30 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 140 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies .
Need More Activity Ideas for Leif Erikson?
- Viking recipes
- Viking Activities
Child-friendly activities sponsered by BBC related to Vikings - not specifically exploration
- Analyzing the Vineland Map
Analyzing the Vineland Map - Is it real or not? This is a good exercise in taking information and coming up with your own conclusion.
Great Activity Books for Explorers
Also look for "Spanish Explorers and Conquistadors Unit" by Amy Headley if you are in need of some great worksheets to use with your classroom or homeschool.
Need More Activity Ideas for Marco Polo?
- 10 minute on-line video from National Geographic
10 minute on-line video from National Geographic
- Marco Polo worksheets
Worksheets, map work, and activity ideas as you trace Marco Polo's journey
More Great Activity Books for Explorers
YouTube Clips We Found Helpful on the Vikings - * Also look for Histeria's Viking Song*
YouTube Clips We Found Helpful on Marco Polo
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
© 2010 Shannon
Would You Rather Travel with Marco Polo or Leif Erikson? - Or just leave me a note. I love getting feedback from you!
Shannon (author) from Florida on September 02, 2013:
@anonymous: Thank you!
anonymous on September 01, 2013:
it is so fun exploring marco polo with u
Shannon (author) from Florida on October 05, 2012:
@JoyfulPamela2: Thank you!
JoyfulPamela2 from Pennsylvania, USA on October 05, 2012:
It is so much fun to "explore" with you in your lessons! I'm submitting this for the "World Teacher Day" quest.
julieannbrady on March 08, 2012:
You know, I'd want to seriously travel back in time to enjoy both of their travels. Such interesting journeys.
Herman IV on February 26, 2012:
Kids love Vikings! Thanks for a great lens!
Indigo Janson from UK on February 06, 2012:
I think Marco Polo because I'd see some fantastic sights and amazing animals on the Silk Route. Great fun!
KarenCookieJar on October 21, 2011:
I love the name "Leif Erikson" so I choose him.
HeatherTodd1 on May 13, 2011:
eclecticeducati1 on December 30, 2010:
I'm going to have to try some of these activities! Thanks! Great lens. Blessed by a Squid Angel.
Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on December 08, 2010:
This reminds me of the way I used to teach Spanish class to homeschoolers. Hands-on and active. I love the way you travel around the house, Marco Polo style, finding information along the silk route.
Jeanette from Australia on December 06, 2010:
What great ideas. We would have loved these years ago when my children were younger.