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Modern Day Pilgrims

By: Second Grade Teachers Jennifer Boyd and Melissa Kriegshauser

November 11, 2014

In conjunction with our study of North America and the reading of our first two literature books this year, we took a journey that eventually had us focusing on one word, “pilgrim.” We asked, “What is a pilgrim? What was it really like for the early pilgrims who came to this country, and what about modern day pilgrims to our country?”

First, we found ourselves talking about how different the continents looked millions of years ago and how people traveled across land bridges that once connected continents. This proved to be a perfect lead into the study of the ancient Mississippian Indians of Cahokia and their way of life. We learned about the ancient “City of the Sun” and its extraordinary flat top mounds. We discussed Native American tribes and customs and the students chose Indian names and made Indian gorgets and masks. We took a field trip adventure to the Cahokia Mounds, climbed Monks Mound, explored the Interpretive Center, and saw a film about “The City of the Sun.”

This unit of study brought us to another group of people who settled in North America, the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock. Most of the children pictured pilgrims as people dressed in black and white clothing sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast with the Indians, but our discussions began to focus more on why the pilgrims came to the New World. This was the perfect time to begin reading Molly’s Pilgrim, by Barbara Cohen and Daniel Mark Duffy. Molly’s Pilgrim is the story about a young, immigrant girl from Russia and how she and her classmates learn what it means to be a modern day pilgrim. 

We also read excerpts from the book, Eating the Plates, by Lucille Recht Penner, which paints a more realistic picture of why the pilgrims came to America and the hardships they endured for the sake of religious freedom. We looked at and discussed the extraordinary photos in Russell Freeman’s book, Immigrant Kids. The photos document the difficulties endured by the immigrants who came to New York City after World War I, but they also show the strength of spirit of the thousands of people who came here seeking a better life. The Matchbox Diary and At Ellis Island – A History in Many Voices also added to our discussions of immigrants.

Through all of our discussions, the children have discovered that many of them and their parents and grandparents are modern day pilgrims. We concluded our reading of Molly’s Pilgrim with a writing assignment. With the help of parents and relatives, the children worked on an ancestor project which is displayed on the second grade bulletin board. They have shared stories about their parents, grandparents and other relatives who came to America seeking a better life. They have realized that many people have sacrificed to become citizens of our country and that it is important to support modern day pilgrims within our own community.

Early next month, we plan to have a feast and dress as early settlers and/or Native Americans to celebrate all the pilgrims who have come to our country, past and present.

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