Our Interactive Topographical Map

I’m afraid I may have given you the impression last time that I would never, no never, make another diorama. And in truth, what you see before you today can’t be rightfully termed a diorama. For lack of a better name, let’s call it an interactive topographical map, shall we?  Although constructing it feels perilously similar to making a you-know-what!

Now, I honestly don’t believe that school needs to be a circus every day, that everyone needs to be happy every moment of lesson time, or that learning even needs to be fun. But, imagine my horror when my darling dearlings intimated that history wasn’t exactly a joy eternal or a thrill to their souls. My daughters – not crazy about history? Gasp!

Sometimes a simple shift is enough to produce dramatic results. Our options aren’t always relegated to upending everything or simply staying the course. I truly believe in the fabulous books I’d painstakingly chosen for our American history study, and I wasn’t about to chuck them for something else. But maybe the girls needed some hands-on way to play the history we were reading. Maybe we needed to bring Leif and Columbus and Squanto and the whole cast of characters tangibly into our schoolroom where they could become friends rather than abstract ideas.

Of course, Amazon is the natural first stop any time despair threatens. One enormous map purchase later, I already felt worlds better. Warning: if glitter, glue, felt, and construction paper give you hives, read no further! But I confess, we’ve been having a blast. I overheard this conversation the other day:

Half Pint: “It’s almost time for yucky history.”

Flutterbudget: “History’s not yucky anymore.”

Well, there you have it. Want a more detailed overview of our project? Since we were reading about pueblos when the light dawned, that’s where we started. Luckily, with all the sickness in our house at the start of the school year, I had amassed a ridiculous amount of tea. Turns out tea boxes make perfect pueblos. They’re just the right size for peg people, you can stack them as high as you like, and the hinged door provides easy access. I hot glued fabric in desert-ish colors to the boxes. We used markers and acrylic paint to color our peg people, then I made a bunch of teeny-tiny braids out of yarn which I affixed to their heads with more hot glue.

The girls molded clay around sections of egg carton to form ovens for the peg people’s bread baking endeavors. But my true pride and joy are the darling corn cobs made of Perler beads and pipe cleaners. (This idea is all over Pinterest; I simply simplified).

The girls were especially anxious to move on to the Plains Indians so they could set their herd of horses free. Our teepees – crafted from foam sheets, dowel pieces and, alas, more hot glue – admittedly are nothing to brag about, but check out how nicely party toothpicks transform into flaming logs!

By this time, Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky were impatient to set sail. And this is when the “interactive” part of the map truly shone. Forgive my gross rendering of Greenland in felt, but how wonderful for the girls to actually sail their (tiny orange juice carton) Viking ships across the ocean and arrive, much battered by storms, in sunny Vinland. (Insider tip: I used these hook fasteners to hang the Viking shields on their ships. That way Eric and Leif can easily remove them at the first sign of trouble and hang them up again when peace is restored).

Sensing the Pilgrims’ imminent arrival, we hastened to supply our woodland Indians with wigwams and (authentically pink and purple) birch bark canoes. Plus I splurged on some pretty trees and deer. Last but not least, we strategically placed an authentic piece of New England stone (gathered in our travels last summer) for the Plymouth Rock landing.

My courage nearly failed when the girls demanded we make the main character of their very favorite Pilgrim book – not the Pilgrims of course, but Pounce the cat. Guess these cats caught a few too many mice on the Mayflower!

What I love most about this project is how we could just go on and on with it, limited only by our imaginations. You’d better believe I’m dreaming up a covered wagon so we can re-enact the Ingalls’ trip west. Salt dough Rocky Mountains are most likely in our future. And don’t get me started on Lewis and Clark!

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