Do you remember when Eli and I took a short detour from our regular Story of the World studies to learn more about Vikings? Well, we detoured again – this time with a mini pirate unit study. Should I have been shocked? I mean, what boy (and even lots of girls) wouldn’t love some extra time to hang out with pirates?
This quick pirate unit study will give you just enough for a detailed deep dive without expecting weeks of your time.
Pirate Unit Study
One of the best things about homeschooling is the freedom to linger over a topic when it lights a spark of curiosity. I’ve always been happy to oblige my children with learning detours, but it’s especially true with this third and final child of mine. Not only do we have a little more time to linger because it’s just the two of us, but I realize now more than ever that it’s in the lingering that so much real knowledge is often learned.
But…why linger over the “golden age” of pirates – as mean and stingy as they were? Oh, there are wonderful lessons to be learned when studying pirates! Of course, pirates are a part of history and learning about them helps children grasp a broader understanding of the dangers of exploration and settling of the Americas. You can also discuss the motivations for choosing piracy as a career option – and you might be surprised at the reasonings. Lots of world geography can be covered, too. And, not to miss, are character discussions concerning everything from proper respect for people and their properties to decent etiquette.
Get a downloadable copy of the pirate unit study below!
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If you’ve been around here long, you know that books are an important fixture in our homeschool. Informational books, picture books, and chapter books tend to pile up no matter what we’re studying. We don’t always read every single book from the pile, but you might be surprised at how many we do make it through. These pirate books were in our pile this time around.
Pirates: Robbers of the High Seas by Gail Gibbons
The Best Books of Pirates by Barnaby Howard
A Year on a Pirate Ship by Elizabeth Havercroft
DK Eyewonder: Pirates by Deborah Lock
DK Eyewitness: Pirates by Richard Platt
Navigators: Pirates by Peter Chrisp
Discovering Pirates by Richard Platt
The American Boy’s Handy Book by Daniel Carter Beard
Lives of Pirates: Swashbucklers, Scoundrels (Neighbors Beware!) by Kathleen Krull
The Pirate’s Handbook: How to Become a Rouge of the High Seas by Margarette Lincoln
Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen
Pirate’s Promise by Clyde Robert Bulla
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates by Caroline Carlson
Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
As with the Viking unit study, we are still using the whiteboard for spelling and vocabulary lessons. Most of the time, the lessons look like this:
- I call out a vocabulary word and Eli attempts to spell it following all the spelling rules we learned through the Logic of English Essentials curriculum.
- I ask him what he thinks the word means. If he doesn’t know, I’ll use it in a sentence. If he still doesn’t know, he has to look it up in a dictionary (or on the internet) and then use it in his own sentence.
When we do project-based and/or research-based learning, I typically come up with a large list of activities and allow him to pick an choose an assigned number. From the list below, he had to choose 10 items. Ten may seem like a lot, but some of the lesson options are really pretty easy.
Whenever I put a list like this in front of Eli, he is expected to choose a wide variety of activities – a mix of easier vs. harder tasks, writing vs. non-writing assignments, and research vs. creative types of activities. At this point, he’s usually good about “mixing it up” on his own.
If your child is new to project-based, research-based learning, you’ll want to guide choices until he gets the hang of it. You will present a group of three activities that are similar in goals and ask your child to choose one of the three. Then you’ll group another set of three together and ask him to choose another one. Continue in this manner until you’re happy with the workload.
You can choose to assign all the activities at once and set a time frame for completion – a few days or more depending on the complexity of assignments. Or, if your children need more guidance, you can ask them to finish one assignment before moving on to the next.
On to the pirate unit study activity list!
Detailed instructions for many of these hands-on activities can be found in The Pirate’s Handbook: How to Become a Rouge of the High Seas by Margarette Lincoln.
– Research what type of clothing pirates wore. Using materials from around the house, make your own pirate costume. (Art, Life Skills, History, Critical Thinking, Social Studies)
-Choose one of these famous pirates or another pirate of your choice. Write a creative report and present it orally. (Language Arts, History)
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Henry Morgan
– Pirates who faced hard times often had to eat things most people would consider strange. Research what some of these things were and make a list. Would you eat them? (History, Language Arts, Life Skills, Social Studies)
– Find out what salmagundi is and make it for our family. (History, Life Skills)
– A common pirate’s food was a ship’s biscuit. Find a recipe and make a batch for our family. Be prepared to discuss why these biscuits were so common. (Math, Life Skills, Critical Thinking, Social Studies)
– Pirates often suffered from scurvy. Learn about scurvy and prepare visuals to use as you give an oral presentation. (Science, Health)
– While at sea, pirates enjoyed singing songs as entertainment. With supervision, listen to some pirate songs on YouTube. Write your own pirate song to sing for the family. (Language Arts, Music, Social Studies)
– Label the continents on a blank map of the world. The famous pirate Blackbeard is thought to have had 14 wives! If he had the same number of wives on each continent, how many would he have in total? (Geography, Math)
– Although pirates hated discipline, they had sets of rules called a code of conduct, or a pirate code. Discuss with a parent what rules you think would be important to have on a ship. With supervision, research some of the pirates’ codes of conduct. Now, think about codes of conduct that might be important for your home and write a list of 10 – they can be serious or funny. (Language Arts, Critical Thinking, Character, Social Studies)
– What happened to pirates who broke the code? Research the answer and prepare a chart of potential disciplinary actions. (History, Language Arts, Art)
– The book Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is thought to be based on a true story and gives a detailed account of what it was like to be stranded on a deserted island. Write your own story about being stranded on a desert island. How did you get there? Who are you with? What are the conditions like? What are your adventures/challenges/triumphs? (Language Arts)
– Pirates helped spread knowledge of the world by sketching maps of coast lines. Take a walk around your neighborhood or a local park and map it out as accurately as you can. (Geography)
– The islands of Madagascar, New Providence, and Bias Bay were all used as hideaways for pirates, otherwise known as pirate bases. Color and label these places on a world map. (Geography)
– There are legends that pirates hid their treasures for safe keeping. While there are only a few accounts that this really happened, “X marks the spot” treasure maps are popular lore. Hide a “treasure” somewhere in the house or in the yard then make a treasure map for your siblings to use to find the treasure. (Geography, Art)
– Learn about different types of pirate ships. Write an essay about which kind you would choose and why. (History, Science, Critical Thinking, Language Arts)
– Using colored pencils, draw a picture of a schooner. (Art)
– Ships float because of something called “buoyancy.” Research to prepare a demonstrate and explanation of buoyancy. (Science)
– Fill the bathtub with water and test the buoyancy of different objects (soap, marble, ball, penny, matchbox car, etc.). Make a chart of what floats and what sinks. Do your results coincide with what you learned about buoyancy? (Science)
– Using your chart from the previous activity, make a bar graph of how many objects floated and how many sank. (Math)
– Knot-tying skills are a must for any sailor- including pirates. Using a piece of rope or clothes line, learn how to tie a roof knot, a bowline, and another knot of your choice. (Life Skills)
– Research the symbols used on pirate flags and their meanings. Make your own pirate flag out of fabric, felt, or cardstock and explain the meaning(s) to your family. (Art, History)
– With supervision, view images of pirate’s swords. Make your own similar sword using cardboard and aluminum foil. (History, Art)
– Pirates who were caught and convicted often suffered terrible punishments. Find out what some of these punishments were and list them in your history notebook. (History)
– Use “A Ballad for Captain Kidd” as copywork. Listen to the song several times and lead a family sing-along. (History, Language Arts, Music)
– Pirates had their own language. Look up the meanings of these terms and note them in your history notebook: (Language Arts, History, Social Studies)
To go on the account
Avast ye landlubbers
Swinging the lead
Walking the Plank
To be keelhauled
Take a caulk
Shiver me timbers
Tipping the black spot
An extra note for parents: Many libraries offer Mango Languages for free. Find out if yours does, and consider taking their free Pirate course. (Language Arts, Social Studies)
Printable Pirate Unit Study
For your convenience, I’ve created a quick-reference to all the books, vocabulary, and activity ideas from this post! Grab the 6-page printable pirate unit study by entering your email address below.
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