Slavery and Civil War Unit Study

This slavery and Civil War unit is rich in living literature. It also offers several fun project ideas so your children can "show what they know" at the end of the unit.

Our history unit about slavery and the Civil War has been completed, and what a wonderfully rich unit it was!

Slavery and Civil War Teaching Resources

You might remember from my post about Planning a Large Unit Study, that I pick and choose the best ideas for our learning styles and learning objectives from many resources.

While this particular study was mostly literature-based, there were some fabulous materials that provided many of my lesson plans. By mostly literature-based, I mean: we chose really good books and learned about the life of slaves and struggles of the Civil War through the living literature (listed below.) Between books, field trips and hands-on projects, I don’t think there’s a much better way to learn history!

This post contains affiliate links.

 The Underground Railroad for Kids: From Slavery to Freedom with 21 Activities (For Kids series) The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series) Civil War Days: Discover the Past with Exciting Projects, Games, Activities, and Recipes

National Geographic Underground Railroad Interactive

Civil War Unit Plan

Civil War Timeline

Civil War Interactives for Kids

Eyewitness to History – Nice for Research

Here’s the order in which we covered the topics…

  • What is slavery?
  • When did slavery begin?  How did it begin in America?
  • What was it like to be a slave in America?
  • Who played major roles in the abolition movement?
  • What were major events of the abolition movement?
  • What was the Underground Railroad an who were some major figures in helping slaves escape to freedom?
  • What was the Civil War?
  • For what reasons did the Civil War take place?
  • What were several major battles and who were several major figures of the war?
  • What was the war like in Kentucky (a divided state)?
  • What is the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • What was life in America like directly after the war?
  • How did life change for former slaves after the war?
  • What struggles did former slaves still face after the war and for many years to come?
  • Where is slavery still taking place in today’s world?

Slavery and Civil War Living Literature

I can’t tell you enough about how we have been blessed by reading these books. They were so fantastic – in information, emotion and ability put us in the midst of the time period. I highly recommend each and every one of them!

I’ve been asked several times how we fit in all the literature we read for our units. It’s really very easy! Many of the chapter books are checked out as books on tape and we listen to them in the car. We usually read one or two other chapter books together over the course of the unit, while some of them are also reserved for individual reading time. Those reserved for individual reading time will have been browsed ahead of time by me. We also still read a lot of picture books. I’m a sucker for picture books and I don’t think you’re ever too old to stop reading them! In all, we read together about 30-45 minutes a day. The kids read on their own 30-45 minutes each day. And we listen to books on tape almost anytime we’re in the car.

The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground RailroadThe Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground RailroadAddy's Boxed Set (American Girl Collection)Addy’s Boxed Set (American Girl Collection)Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Reading Rainbow Books)Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Reading Rainbow Books)Follow the Drinking Gourd (Dragonfly Books)Follow the Drinking Gourd (Dragonfly Books)Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book)Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book)Nettie's Trip South (Aladdin Picture Books)Nettie’s Trip South (Aladdin Picture Books)Pink and SayPink and SayHenry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground RailroadHenry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground RailroadElijah of BuxtonElijah of BuxtonShow WayShow WayThe People Could Fly: American Black FolktalesThe People Could Fly: American Black FolktalesNight Running: How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful DogNight Running: How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful DogNight Boat to FreedomNight Boat to FreedomUnder the Quilt of NightUnder the Quilt of NightA Picture Book of Frederick Douglass (Picture Book Biographies)A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass (Picture Book Biographies)A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman (Picture Book Biography)A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman (Picture Book Biography)Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman (Picture Puffin)Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman (Picture Puffin)Friend on Freedom River (Tales of Young Americans)Friend on Freedom River (Tales of Young Americans)The WagonThe WagonUp the Learning TreeUp the Learning TreeLincoln and His BoysLincoln and His BoysAlec’s Primer (Vermont Folklife Center Children's Book Series)Alec’s Primer (Vermont Folklife Center Children’s Book Series)Cassie's Sweet Berry Pie: A Civil War StoryCassie’s Sweet Berry Pie: A Civil War StoryDadblamed Union Army CowDadblamed Union Army CowAbe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Big Words)Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Big Words)The Gettysburg AddressThe Gettysburg AddressBull RunBull RunSteal Away Home (Aladdin Historical Fiction)Steal Away Home (Aladdin Historical Fiction)Rifles for WatieRifles for WatieAcross Five AprilsAcross Five AprilsShades of GrayShades of GrayForty Acres and Maybe a MuleForty Acres and Maybe a Mule

Project Week

The final week of our study was project week, which means the children were assigned several projects to “show what they learned” and had all week to complete them.  At the end of the week the projects were presented to the entire family.  Project presentations are always a precious time for me! I get to see how much my kiddos soaked in during the study and how creative they can be in completing projects. For those of you wanting to do “school” in ways that better meets the individual needs/gifts/learning styles of your children, projects are a great tool!

Cindy West's project-based learning resources

The Project Choices

Last Friday, I handed each of the kiddos a project list that looked something like this:

  • Choose one famous slave. Learn all you can about that slave and be prepared to tell us about the slave in first person. Don’t forget to create an authentic costume.
  • Choose one Civil War battle. Create a model of the battle front and tell everything you can about the battle as you reenact it with the model.
  • Choose one famous Civil War figure. Prepare a file folder biography about that person. Be sure to include pictures or illustrations when applicable.
  • Either read or recite the Gettysburg Address.

Work Through the Week

On Monday morning, we headed to the library so the kids could find books to help them learn more about their chosen topics. The rest of the week was spent on math and completing projects.

A Peek Into Project Night

Mahayla portrayed Harriet Tubman and Caleb became Henry “Box” Brown.

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Mahayla set up this model of the Battle of Perryville – a battle that took place not to far from us in Kentucky.

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Caleb chose the Battle of Bull Run. They both gave very detailed information and maps of their battles. They even found photographs of the battle sites to share.

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Caleb’s Civil War figure was Robert E. Lee. He was very impressed with himself for finding pictures of all of Lee’s family, his home, his college and more. We looked at pictures for quite some time!

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Mahayla’s Civil War figure was Ulysses S. Grant. You can see the file folder template we used below. It came from Easy File Folder Reports. We love that book!

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Caleb practiced and practiced reading the Gettysburg Address throughout the week. He didn’t miss a word on project night!

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Mahayla created little copies of the Gettysburg Address for each of us so we could follow along with her. Eli enjoyed his upside-down!

Slavery and Civil War Unit Study: living literature lists, hands-on projects, perfect for the homeschool

Field Trips

And that brings us to the end of another history unit!  I mentioned that we took several field trips during our study.  There are two, especially, that you might be interested in learning more about:

The Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH

National Underground Railroad Museum in Maysville, KY

Enjoy your children and enjoy your homeschooling!

Other posts you might enjoy:

 Homeschool Unit Studies Living Literature Booklists Nature Study IS Science

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21 Comments

  1. Thanks for this. We are right in the middle of slavery and the Civil War and you gave me so many ideas. Definitely will visit Maysville museum. Had no idea it was there. Also visiting Rankin House in Ripley, Oh. Lucky it is so close.

  2. The Parker House is also in Ripley, right on the river. We visited both houses two weeks ago, and Dewey, the guide, was a wonderful storyteller. I would recommend stopping there when you visit the Rankin House. We also want to go to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati, but haven’t made it there yet.

  3. Ooh, I didn’t know about the Parker House, Celia! I will take your recommendation and ask specifically for Dewey. 🙂 Miss you girls!

  4. Stephanie G. says:

    Would you mind sharing what you used to create the clothes for the Harriet Tubman outfit?

  5. Stephanie, my daughter created her costume from things found around the house. She is wearing one of her daddy’s button-down shirts and one of my aprons. I think the long skirt underneath was something from the dress-up bin. (I used to buy things at Goodwill that seemed fun for dress-up.) The costume was nothing fancy for sure! 🙂

  6. amyboonecarroll says:

    This is fabulous!! Thank you for sharing. We are preparing for a Civil War Unit and I found some great ideas here.

  7. Have fun with your study, Amy!

  8. This looks amazing… I’m currently working on some reading plans for slavery… thanks for your incredible resources.

  9. If I have impressed you, I have done well. LOL You know your stuff and I am always so impressed by what you come up with for your children!

  10. Ruth Allen says:

    I was curious if the order the books are listed in is the order you read them in?? Also- what other units did you use for history this same school year? Thanks so much!!

  11. Ruth, the books are not listed in the order we read them. We read about slavery first, then moved into Civil War books. Most of the books in the top half of the list are about slavery, while most in the bottom half are about the Civil War. Don’t feel like you need to read all of them!

    I believe the Slavery and Civil War study was one of our last studies that year. We began with units about Native Americans, Colonial Life, the American Revolution, and Westward Expansion. Our year ended with a study of our home state of Kentucky since so much of the history we had learned over the year could be revisited. You can find links to each of the units I mentioned on this page.

  12. Ruth Allen says:

    Thanks so much for getting back to me, Cindy! I know it’s been a while since you posted this. I appreciate you sharing the book list!!

  13. How long did your unit last? My daughter wants to build a unit on the Great Depression and I struggling a bit with the duration.

  14. Karen, this particular unit study was one of our longest at 10 weeks. More typically, they last between 3-6 weeks, depending on the topic and how much material we’d like to include. The Great Depression could be covered in as few as 2-3 weeks if you just plan to hit the highlights. However, it could last upwards of 6-10 weeks if you really dig deep into pre-, during-, and post-depression and include lots of activities and reading.

    Have you seen this little series on how I plan unit studies? https://ourjourneywestward.com/how-to-plan-a-unit-study/ Near the bottom of the post, you can find links to how I plan shorter vs. longer units. 🙂

  15. We did a few units like this last year. This was so helpful. How long do you spend on a subject? What does it look like before project week?

  16. Thanks for all the great book recommendations! FYI, two of your links posted near the top are not working – the Nat Geo Underground Railroad and Civil War for Kids. Looks like Nat Geo revamped their website for covid schoolers and killed all the links that existed before that. I’m going to keep poking around hoping to find it – sounds neat!

  17. I fixed the links, Marie. Thanks for letting me know!

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