Columbus Day Curriculum Sails Rough Seas Of Controversy

How should your children celebrate Columbus Day this year? Staying the course with traditional lessons, tossing it all overboard for the new knowledge, or perhaps setting sail for a new, more enlightened direction.

It is my hope to provide a wide range of learning materials that will enrich your children's lessons and sharpen their questioning skills. So let's begin:

  • Was Columbus a simple cartographer or a slave trader?
  • Was he the first to discover America?
  • Why are his actions celebrated on October 12?
  • If it's wrong to celebrate this holiday, what should take its place? 

Out of respect for historical truth, I've included many links at the end of this page that will allow you to choose sources that best fit your homeschooling needs. 

Christopher Columbus , who sought a new route to India, captained a total of four voyages to the Caribbean.

Although he believed he had arrived in India, hence, the natives being called Indians,  he never achieved that goal.

His voyages, however, paved the way for other nations to explore, settle, and yes, exploit the people and lands of the Americas. 

Columbus Takes It On The Chin

Upon reading his voyage logs, one can learn that he was complimentary of the natives and forbid his crew from unfair bartering with them. He wrote:

"I saw in this manner sixteen balls of cotton thread which weighed above twenty-five pounds, given for three Portuguese ceutis. This traffic I forbade, and suffered no one to take their cotton from them ..."

                                                                                           -   Columbus' log entry from October 13, 1492

His first voyage, however, seems to have been the least damaging to the native inhabitants. Unfortunately, once he noticed the gold they were wearing, he became obsessed with it. 

Revisionist History, Deconstructionism, and Truth

Revisionist history is so called because history books are rewritten as a result of newly discovered or reevaluated sources. The information usually contradicts traditional history books. This is where Columbus lands today.

A popular Boston University history professor Howard Zinn wrote A People's History of the United States, the revisionist history book from where Columbus is viewed in a less than honorable light.

It too, however, is biased. One statement that  Zinn makes is that Columbus exaggerated to Queen Isabella about the gold he found in Hispaniola (referring to it as "dust").

Hispaniola is the island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic today. But do we really believe that natives wore "dust" around their necks? 

In fact there is a great deal of gold in Haiti, but neither the natives nor the Spaniards were capable of extracting it.

The bits that the natives were wearing probably misled Columbus. Unfortunately, he resorted in cutting off natives' hands when he thought they were holding out on him, but he certainly wasn't the first explorer to exaggerate the wealth of distant lands.

As a result of this revised history, more and more Latin and South American countries have renamed this holiday to one that shows respect for the indigenous people.

As a homeschooler, when controversy over a formerly celebrated hero comes into question, we practice our Socratic thinking skills and make our own decisions about what we should think about persons in history. 

A deconstructionist's view of Columbus Day history means that historians evaluate  the minute aspects of an event. 

Gold coins

Photo courtesy of

The purpose is to find greater or more complete "truth" by interpreting details or evaluating what isn't written or included in a text. This movement became popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but has lost much of its validity today.

Parents can teach critical thinking skills  by noting how history evolves like Columbus Day when new information surfaces or when political views change. 

In fact opportunities for real learning like this -- not just textbook pablum or watered down dribble-- abound. This has always been what I've wanted my sons to learn. 

Columbus Day History - Why All The Credit? 

There were other explorers who "discovered" America long before Columbus arrived. That's proven. So why does Columbus get the credit? Good question.

Leif Erickson sailed to North America and landed at Newfoundland. Marco Polo possibly explored Seattle, but what impact did these and other explorers leave on the newly "discovered" continent? 

On Columbus' second voyage, he returned with tobacco, horses, pigs, cows, and sugar cane. Sugar cane was a labor-intensive crop, (Hence, the onset of slavery.) but it changed the history of the world. 

While Columbus unintentionally brought smallpox to the Americas, syphillis was introduced to Europe through the Spaniards interaction with the indigenous population. This is known as the Columbian Exchange. And let's not forget Montezuma's Revenge. You can read more about the spread of diseases as part of a science lesson. 

Columbus Day Curriculum - Literature, Writing, and Art

Depending on the ages of your children, read a story about Columbus or one of his voyage logs and have them ask additional questions to explore the story more fully. For example, they may ask or elaborate,

  • Why did the natives meet the ships with goods to trade? 
  • What grew on the island that they made cotton thread? 
  • Where did the natives get the gold, "which they wore in their noses"?
  • If there is gold on the island still today, from where did the gold come that they were wearing?
  • Why did the second ship sail away? 
  • Did Columbus focus on the gold because the other ship's captain was trying to get it?
  • Don't you think that Queen Isabella knew that Columbus would commit violence against the indigenous people? 
  • Why did she give him guns and weapons? 
  • Why do nations condone violence against others? 

There are also some Columbus Day coloring pages that will further enrich your children's learning experience. 

Washington Irving, who is known as the father of American literature, wrote a three-volume book, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. I'm impressed with the footnoting and documentation of this work.

I suspect if someone took the time to read this well documented book that she would discover that along with smallpox, Columbus also brought sugar cane to the island of Hispaniola.

Another interesting story may be The Gold Bug. Can the quest for gold drive a person mad? Didn't "The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe write about exactly such a phenomena? 

There's adventure, pirates, and digging for buried treasure in this intriguing tale.

Be sure to read the short story before watching the video. Nothing beats a Poe short story. 

All of these can provide excellent

writing opportunitiesfor this Columbus Day event, as well as a topic for a research paper. One  research project could be about the history of gold and why it retains its value today. 

Digging For Buried Treasure lesson 

Here's a terrific art lesson. If you homeschool two or more children, have one of the older siblings draw a treasure map of your backyard. Use traditional symbols for maps and place an X for the spot where the treasure is located. This will give your children skills in reading and interpreting maps and following directions. And a bit of fun, to boot on this Columbus Day! 

Critical Thinking Applied - the Demise of Columbus and 
 the Rise of the Indigenous People

It was the report from his first voyage when Columbus saw the "gold, which they wore in their noses," that convinced Queen Isabella that there was great wealth. Queen Isabella provided the 17 ships, 1,500 men, and weapons.

What critical thinking questions could we ask with this information?

  • Doesn't the provision of weapons imply that violent acts will be committed against animals or humans?
  • Wasn't Queen Isabella known as a Christian/Catholic queen? How did she justify the use of violence against other humans for gold? 
  • On Columbus' first voyage, he returned with 25 natives (7 survivors), so it seems that Isabella was condoning slavery as well. Is that true? 
  • What was the world attitude toward slavery during the 15th century? What was the Christian view of slavery?
  • Didn't Isabella also bring peace and prosperity to Spain with her marriage to Ferdinand II of Aragon? 

Map of Columbus' first voyage

  • How should we judge people in history? 
  • Were any of the natives converted to Christianity as a result of these voyages? 

Columbus Day And Dia De La Raza Celebrations Around the World- Geography

In many Latin American and South American countries, this day of celebration has been renamed  Dia de la Raza. 

In Mexico, Columbus Day has been celebrated since 1927, but in the past few years has been the source of protests for the mistreatment of the indigenous people. 

In Argentina the former Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1917 on the second Monday in October. It is presently called "The Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity"

and Chile, the Dia de la Raza is a national holiday celebrated, but in Ecuador, Dia de la Raza is celebrated on October 8th. 

In 2002 Venezuela, now deceased President Hugh Chavez changed the name to Dia de la Resistencia Indigena  in honor of those who were  was captured and killed by these explorers. In 2004 Columbus' statue was toppled and dragged through the streets.

Hispanic Day is celebrated in Spain as a national holiday with the King observing the raising of the flag in Madrid. 

Discovery Day is celebrated in the Bahamas, and Day of the Cultures is celebrated in Puerto Rico. There also is a "Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands Friendship Day" that is celebrated on October 8th, in lieu of the present Columbus Day controversy. 

In the United States, Columbus Day was first celebrated in New York on October 12, 1792, for the 300th anniversary. It was an opportunity to acknowledge "all things Italian."

In 1905, Colorado was the first state to celebrate Columbus Day. Other states soon followed this tradition, and it has been celebrated ever since 1971 on the second Monday in October.  

"At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome;"

Columbus Day Math And Science -Making  Gelato

Making food that requires following recipes usually requires working with fractions, but children rarely recognize making gelato as math work.  Your children also can experiment with ice and salt. Look for the science link below. If you make this in the morning, you can create a lesson for telling time by counting down the three hours of cooling time. 

Gelato imeans frozen in Italian. It is Italian ice cream that contains seven to eight percent milk fat. In the United States, ice cream must contain a minimum of 10 percent fat. 

Enjoy your gelato or as they say in Italy, buon appetito.

Chocolate gelato recipe

Suggestion: This recipe will work well over a two-day period. It can cool in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.


Pour 2 cups milk  and 1 cup heavy cream into a saucepan and warm. Set aside.

Whisk 4 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar  until frothy

Then, slowly pour the yolks and sugar into the warm milk and whisk. When it is added, return the saucepan to the stove and warm on low heat.

(Do not allow it to get too hot or the eggs will clump.) 

Stir slowly 1/4 cup of powdered cocoa into the saucepan and with a wooden spoon until the mixture sticks to the back of the spoon. 

Pour the gelato through a sieve and into a bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator. Allow to cool at least 3 hours. (Look for the science lesson below.) 

Next, pour the gelato mixture into a half gallon freezer/heavy duty plastic bag, remove the air, and seal it. 

Pour about 5 cups of crushed ice and 2 cups of rock salt into the bag. Place the gelato bag inside the gallon bag, remove the air, and seal it. 

Shake the bag for 10 minutes. When one child has shaken the bag, pass it on to the next child until it's been shaken for a full 10 minutes. 

Gelato is an Italian delight and chocolate was discovered in Mexico, making a delicious combination. 


































Photo courtesy of Jodi Sharp Photography

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Columbus Day Lessons 

Patience - waiting for the gelato to cool in the refrigerator

Vocabulary -whisk,  gelato, frothy, clump, stir, sieve


1. You can learn more about how salt makes ice colder and experiment with different amounts of salt for a science experiment. 

2, If you have a thermometer, you can insert it into the gelato, and measure how many degrees the temperature drops each hour while it cools in the refrigerator.


1. Learning to write an instructional or how-to-do-it composition will greatly help a child how to write clearly. She can write how to make gelato or a summary paper on any of the scientific observations involved in making it.

Socratic Thinking Lesson - Let's Play 20 Questions

Socratic thinking involves discovering the truth by asking questions, usually in these six categories:

1. clarification,

2. examining preconceived ideas or assumptions,

3. questioning evidence,

4. examining alternative points of view,

5.determining the consequences of one's position, and

6. questioning the motives of the questioner's questions


To visit other holiday curriculum pages, go here. 

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