During our Italy unit my kids requested a pirate unit. And because I want them to pursue their interests and enjoy working and learning I quickly agreed...even though my husband and I were a little unsure about teaching our kids about pirates. Pirates are the bad guys! And then when I was at the library I found something. All the geography books were shelved intermingled with the pirate books! This was definitely librarian error, because pirate books are labeled j910.45 and geography/map books are j910, but I was super glad for their disregard of the Dewey decimal system!
Ideas for a Pirate and Map Unit
Read "A Pirates Life for Me!" and "Maps & Globes." This is a great place to start because they are both basic overviews of pirates and maps. Then let the kids make their own pirate map. Buddy used the library books as references for what to put on his map. The Bear wanted to draw a map of how to get to the park. We also discussed why people started making maps and what they are used for.
Other piratey activities to do through out your unit. You can do these in any order you want. And they can be tweaked to accommodate older or younger kids depending on their interest and ability.
Pirate weapons: pistol, dagger, cutlass, cannon, swivel gun, fire pot, grappling hook, and long-handled axe. (Big Book of Pirates is a good one for this.)
Navigation on the sea: Use chapter 3 in "Geography for Every Kid" to learn how to find latitude using the North Star. Learn about other tools navigators used to find their locations like the cross-staff, astrolabe and compass. Practice using a compass as you go on a walk around the block. Locate the North Star and see if you can find your latitude using the instructions starting on page 26 in "Geograpy for Every Kid." We were lucky enough to get to see the blood moon at the beginning of our unit, so it was an extra fun way to start our evening of star gazing!
Geography: locate where famous pirates are from (and where they plundered) on a map of the world. You may want to do this all at once by googling locations like the Caribbean, Spain, Bias Bay, Madagascar, North Carolina with the word "pirate." Or identify pirate locations over the week as you read about each pirate in "Lives of the Pirates." "Best Book of Pirates" also discusses piracy in different areas of the wold, including the African coasts, the Caribbean and the Orient. Discuss and identify in "Geography A to Z" different kinds of land formations to include on a pirate map. Make another map (I'm assuming you did my first day's activity), but this time add lots of detail and make sure you include a key and compass rose.
Honor: Many pirates, like Black Bart, had very strict rules. Learn about the pirate code of conduct in "The Pirate's Handbook" page 10-11. Then create your own rules for good behavior and fair play. You could also talk about consequences to your actions after reading about what pirates did to each other and what happened when they were caught by Naval officers in "Big Book of Pirates" page 45 and in "See-Through Pirates" pages 18-19 (think: hanging, flogging, being stuck in a barrel with cockroaches and rats, marooning, leg irons, and keel-hauling).
Flags: identify all the different pirate flags that pirates sailed. Yes, it wasn't JUST the Jolly Roger. Check out "Best Book of Pirates" page 8-9 and "Pirate's Handbook" page 18. Make your own pirate flag, make sure you think about what the images and colors should represent.
Types of Pirates: What is the difference between pirates, corsairs, buccaneers and privateers? Read about them in "Best Book of Pirates" page 4-5. Find where these different types of pirates were typically found on your world map.
Buried Treasure Activity: Hide a special treat (or some fun pirate book covered in foil...so it looks like treasure) somewhere in your house. Make a map of your house with your kids and then mark your "buried treasure" with an X. You could even mark the path you want your kids to travel and delineate the way they need to travel with special markings. Like 'walk' would be marked with a line; 'run' would be marked with a dashed line; 'bunny hop' would be marked with zigzags and 'crawl on your belly' would be marked with S.
More Ideas for Bigger Kids: watch "Peter Pan" or "Pirates of the Caribbean" (depending on the age of your kids). Get a biography on your favorite pirate. Go Geocaching! Learn more about Queen Elizabeth I and her role in privateering. Learn more about female pirates. Discuss different motivations for people becoming pirates (many of these are mentioned through out the reading you've done). Create your own pirate name. Write a journal entry from a pirate's perspective or a merchant crew-man's perspective. Draw or paint a picture of what your pirate ship, costume or pirate hang-out would look like. Bake some biscuits and discuss food preservation, scurvy, and other food-related pirate topics.