The period of westward expansion is an important part of American history. Most public schools complete a unit study of westward expansion with students during elementary school. The students study the California gold rush, the Oregon Trail, and other aspects of Pioneer life. As homeschoolers, we have the flexibility to delve deeper into the subject of westward expansion, allowing for a broader understanding of this time period in our nation’s history. If you would like to complete a homeschool unit study of westward expansion and teach your homeschool student about the California gold rush, the Oregon Trail, Pioneer life, as well as the Lewis and Clark expedition, and other aspects of westward expansion, follow the guidelines below.
Start at the library – Your public library will surely have several appropriate books that you can use as the core of your homeschool unit study of westward expansion. In addition to many books written specifically about the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, and the California gold rush, the Dear America series is an amazing tool for teaching children about westward expansion. The Dear America series, including the My America books, help children to really visualize different periods of American history because the stories include child characters.
Be sure to utilize the Internet – There are many educational websites focused on the subjects of westward expansion, including many that are specifically designed around the topics of the California gold rush, the Oregon Trail, and Lewis and Clark. Besides being a great source of information, these sites also include assignment ideas, as well as free printable worksheets and coloring pages. Be sure to check out a trial version of the computer game, The Oregon Trail, which allows players to plan for a wagon trip across the plains. Or better yet, order a full version copy!
Watch a video – There have been a few really excellent television programs made about different aspects of westward expansion, including the California gold rush, the Oregon Trail, and the Donner Party. Check your local PBS listings to see if any of these programs will be airing soon, or consider ordering copies of the programs. You can also likely find a few videos about westward expansion for free checkout at your local library.
Visit a piece of the Oregon Trail – Or the California Trail, or the Mormon Trail, or whatever trail happens to be near your region of the country. If you live West of the Mississippi River, or will be visiting, there are numerous places where wheel ruts can still be seen carved into the Earth. Many museums around the country include wonderful exhibits designed to teach about this period of history. Consider visiting significant places associated with the Oregon Trail or the California gold rush, such as Independence, Missouri; Three Island Crossing State Park in Idaho; Oregon City, Oregon; or Nevada City, California, just to name a few.