Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Living Books: Marco Polo and Co-op

Isn't it fantastic when everything we teach, everything we're involved in as a family, weaves together in a learning tapestry? We try to weave together what we can, but it isn't always possible. Monday it was.

Knowing I would be teaching Marco Polo in our co-op (and I knew next to nothing about him, yikes!) I decided we needed to find a family read-aloud, a book we could all enjoy, a book to get our feet wet, a book to give me some threads on which to weave a lesson (which I would have to teach other people's children!).

Looking on our family home library shelves, I found the perfect read, from one of our favorite series, The Story of Marco Polo by Olive Price. Read the first paragraph, we were immediately swept away to the canals of Venice.

"'Today's the day!' cried Marco Polo, a dark-eyed boy nine years old. 

Marco pulled aside the yellow silk draperies which hung at a casement window, and looked down on a wide canal. there were few streets in Venice. Almost every passage through the city was a winding waterway. 

Marco's home was in a fine part of the town. It was large and filled with beautiful things. Marco lived there with his mother and his faithful servants. "

"The day soon came when the great voyage began. Marco Polo set sail from Cathay with two thousand men. He was given a fleet of Chinese ships, each with a crew of three hundred. The ships had splendid sails and were even more seaworthy than any he had seen as a boy in Venice.

The fleet sailed south on the China Sea. It put into ports where Marco saw many new things. He recorded the descriptions of foreign streets and strange people in his notebook. He made drawings of place he had never seen before and charted the roads to them accurately."

We loved the book! In some areas it set ground work. In other areas it filled in gaps with information we hadn't known. It certainly invited us along on Marco Polo's adventure, allowing us to understand the serious crisis Marco met along his journey. I never really appreciated the extent to which navigators risked to give us the geography and understanding we have today. 

Forward a few weeks, it came time for me to teach! 

I set up the room with the major landmarks: mountains, Gobi desert, Kashgar (the trading area), and Shangdu (where the Great Khan resided). Blue painter's tape on tile marked the Silk Road. I gave each child a map of Marco's travels and chose three children to be Marco, his father, and his uncle. Each dressed up with sheets of fabric and straddled a stick horse (pretend camel). As I told a synopsis of Marco's venture to the Great Khan, the children moved along "Asia". After I told the story, the three children sat down with the group and I explained "trading along the Silk Road". Each child had a travel pouch and items Marco found or encountered along the journey: silk, coal, jewels, pearls, spices, furs, and paper money. For thirty minutes, children traded along the Silk Road. At the end of the day, they understood a bit more about Marco Polo and his travel across Asia and then along the Spice Route to the south.

Other living books about Marco Polo
  • Adventures and Discoveries of Marco Polo by Richard Walsh (Landmark)
  • Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman
  • Marco Polo: A Journey through China by Fiona MacDonald, David Salariya and Mark Bergin
  • The Travels of Marco Polo- Volume 1 (other volumes available) by Rustichello of Pisa and Marco Polo and Henry Yule (Kindle version of Polo's manuscript, primary source for high schoolers)

NOTE: In almost every book I've read, there is content which could be considered controversial. This book, The Story of Marco Polo, is no different. I must note, having read the book and penning a post, there is mention of cannibals in Sumatra. As with any book, the parent must decide how and when to handle content with their family. 

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