Katie and I discovered we had pirates and explorers in preschool fairly soon after the school year began. One preschooler wore her pirate gear (headscarf, vest, and eye patch) to school regularly and others spent every morning building ships to sail through the skies, the seas, and space.
Devoting a unit to the study of pirates seemed a natural fit for our varied interests. After all, there are so many facets we could explore: Ships! Treasure! Geography and Maps! Parrots! Trade routes and the state-sponsored disruption thereof!
We spent a great deal of time thinking about what would appeal to them, settling on a topic in which they had already shown interest, playground treasure maps. Mapping our campus and, in the process, learning about how they experience the topography and terrain of Free Union seemed a worthy goal.
We wanted to start small and then zoom out. First, we started making maps of our yards, pretending we had hidden treasure near our houses. Then, we mapped our bedrooms. I asked them to think about where their beds were, the door, their toys, other furniture.
Next, we created a treasure hunt on our playground. Katie and I gave them each a gem and asked them to draw a map of our playground and mark where they hid the gem. They traded maps with a partner and set off to find the gems using the map and minimal (probably) help from their buddy.
For our final project, we asked them to think about the places they loved on campus. We took walks around school and pretended to be intrepid cartographers charting an unknown land. Lastly, they painted the places they love on campus and arranged them on paper to make a map. The final step was to present their work at morning meeting. After some initial reluctance, the preschoolers excitedly pointed out which parts of the map they had made. Our finished map of Free Union Country School is hanging in the preschool hallway above the water fountain. We invite everyone to come and see our pirates’ map of campus. The treasure, I think, can be found all over.