It’s Tuesday morning and I am teaching history to six 3rd and 4th graders in our homeschool co-op. We have been studying history chronologically, starting with the nomads back in kindergarten through all the ancient civilizations. We’ve studied about peoples all over the world and we’ve covered enough history now to land in the early 1600s.
Today, to review the chapters that the kids studied at home, I mapped out the journey that the English colonists took to the new world. The five months of their journey are numbered on construction paper, taped across the carpet. As the kids answer questions, they advance to the next square.
If you remember history, you might know that about half of the settlers that left England never made it to Virginia. To make that point, I ask for three volunteers to step out of the game, to represent the settlers who died on the way to America. I ask the remaining children how they smell. I ask them to open their mouths and show me their teeth.
The kids giggle, but I remind them of the hardships the settlers faced.
By the time the Susan Constant, the Discovery, and the Godspeed landed in what would later be named Jamestown, the people were smelly: they hadn’t bathed at all during the months of their journey; many had lost their teeth: a result of scurvy and other illness after poor nutrition for months. Though they felt relief to step on dry land again, many carried the sorrow of the loss of friends and family along the way.
In the early months and years of the colony, the hardships continued with low food supply, attacks from Indians, and disease. Within a year, two thirds of the settlers died. Three years later, after the deaths of many more settlers, Jamestown was almost completely abandoned.
Farther north, Samuel de Chaplain and fellow Frenchmen struggled to establish a French colony in Canada. During the first winter in his initial settlement on Saint Croix Island, barely half of the 79 colonists survived the harsh conditions. Later, when he and about 30 others settled on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, only 8 people lived to see the spring flowers bloom.
Early settlers in North America persevered. Chaplain’s settlement on the St. Lawrence River is now Quebec, where the people speak the language of their founding father.
As I wrapped up the lesson with the kids in our co-op, we read these words from 1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen E. Lange:
Most of all, Jamestown is a story about not giving up — about persevering. The settlers could have quit. But instead they stayed on through sickness, hunger, war, and death…Jamestown is a story of what can happen if people keep trying. From Jamestown, a colony that nearly failed, grew a great nation.
It is difficult for the kids — difficult for me— to understand how the early settlers continued in the face of such challenging circumstances. Yet this is what I want them to take away from our morning lesson: our legacy in America is a legacy of perseverance, pushing through even through the most deprived and desolate times.
This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.