Before I dove into the history of America with my homeschooling son, we did a general overview of the geography of the country. Although my son loves maps and would have had a great time pouring over maps of the states, I thought it would be more helpful to begin looking at the landforms of our nation. After all, long before there were states there was the land. This land is the basis for all American history.
US Landmarks from a Folk Tale Perspective
I thought it would be fun to learn about the landmarks in a silly way first because I tend to remember things when there is a story surrounding them. So first we read about Paul Bunyan and labeled a map with the landmarks he and Babe created!
Steven Kellogg’s Paul Bunyan is a great picture book option for initial familiarization with the folktale. Kellogg’s illustrations are rich in detail and his retelling of the Paul Bunyan folktale adds some fun Midwestern stories (that’s where I live). I really liked the way the landmarks were brought to life, both in the illustrations and in the story.
Then I stumbled upon Audrey Wood’s The Bunyans (illustrated by David Shannon), an extension of the folktale for a new generation. Paul Bunyan has married a giantess, and they and their two children are now creating even more havoc around the United States, from Big Sur in California to Niagara Falls in New York. I loved how the author brought humor into a traditional folktale with the kid’s mischief, and Shannon’s illustrations were richly detailed and wonderfully realistic (well, other than the giant people) as they brought the landscapes to life.
After we read the folkloric stories about American geography and talked about truth and fiction, we read some nonfiction books about landmarks. The Wonders of America Ready-to-Read 1 Series was easy enough to allow my son to feel “smart” by reading them himself. And yet, despite the simple reading level, each book provided context for the landmark and various facts that he remembered.
Factually Learning about US Landmarks
My son learned facts such as where the landmarks were located in the United States, how they were created, what people did years ago, and what they do there today. We read the books The Mighty Mississippi, Niagara Falls, The Rocky Mountains, and The Grand Canyon. It is difficult to find nonfiction about geography perfectly geared toward a very young reader, but these books are just right for their audience.
I’m sure there are lots more great picture books about landforms. This seemed like a nice start for my kindergartner! You might also like the Line upon Line Learning unit I created to go along with the folktales.