In the spring I mentioned that we would have two family unit studies this summer. One is our Astronomy unit study–which is continuing casually through the whole summer and has been very fun so far! (I’ll have an update on one of our projects soon.) The other topic I chose this year is Pirates. I had no idea they would overlap so much, but space pirates is totally a thing so it’s worked out great!
The history of Pirates is an interesting topic because it can involve a lot of hazy ethical issues, which we normally stay away from with the kiddos. Pirates are bad guys. They steal and break the law and sink ships and even kill people. And it’s popular to glorify them now–which is not normally my perspective when teaching. But as history buffs, we also know that Southern blockade runners in the Civil War were considered pirates by the Union–and we don’t see them the same way as, say, Blackbeard. There’s also a great debate between the definition of “pirate” vs a “privateer.” As one article put it, “one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.” It can be murky waters (hahaha…)
So I was excited to see that Pure Flix has some Pirate resources available that I wouldn’t have to spend so much time previewing carefully first.
Pure Flix goal is to provide a “mix of family-friendly & wholesome entertainment includes movies for all ages, kid’s animated titles, documentaries, how-to’s, hobbies, educational, health & fitness, sports, outdoors and travel plus many inspirational and devotional titles” and I know I can trust their content to be clear of excessive profanity or violence, and portray wholesome family relationships. The kiddos will enjoy watching The Adventures of Mickey Matson, Buccaneers: Blackbeard, and Famous Explorers on their tablets without me hovering over them to keep an eye on things so much.
The other interesting thing I found when putting these resources together was that I, personally, tend to see pirates as mostly fictional. We tend to think of Captain Hook and Peter Pan and Jake and the Neverland Pirates as cute, clip art, characters. Even Blackbeard seemed more legend to me than a real man. But he was a real man, the lifestyle was a real lifestyle, and bringing in that actual history element became so important to me as I gathered materials. My interest doubled when I dived into the history and found out so much of it was local to us!
So this is definitely a topic of interest, but also discernment in how you share it. Here are the resources I dug up and will be using…
Topics You Could Dive Into
It turns out Pirates as a topic or theme can be pretty wide-ranging. So you could skim the surface (which is mostly what we’re doing since it’s completely new to us!) or dive in at any point. We’ll be diving in a little extra on the topic of Blackbeard because he was a local guy. Some ideas:
- Naval history (or pirate history specifically)
- Shipbuilding and design
- Geography (both sea travel and port city development)
- Culture, clothing, food, history of physical decorations like jewelry and tattoos
- Mapping and navigation
- Underwater archaeology and artifact recovery
- Maritime laws and codes of conduct
- History and use of naval flags and symbols
- Women’s role in maritime and pirate history
- Sea Legends and superstitions
- Music, song, sea chants
- Or you could zero in on any particular pirate individual, including Blackbeard, Jean Laffite, Captain Kidd, Henry Morgan…
Fiction Books for Read-Aloud
The start of our pirate study is actually a narrative non-fiction by Sterling Point, The Barbary Pirates by C. S. Forester. I love these books because they are written in a story-telling format and are easy to read and absorb, but are factual. This book will also help set the historical context for our study. We’ll also read Sterling Point’s John Paul Jones, the Pirate Patriot by Armstrong Sperry. He was considered a pirate by one side and a hero by the other, which will be a great way to explore the ethical issues I was mentioning earlier.
I also snagged a couple easy, illustrated readers for my kiddos to encourage those reluctant readers. We’re enjoying the Pirate School series, Scurvy Dogs, Pirates! from Graphic Library, and Pirates Illustrated History from Warrior Graphic. Comic book format really engages my Speedracer!
Other good fiction we found:
- Caribbean Chronicles Pirate Fiction by Eddie Jones (we were able to special request book 1 and 2 from our library)
- Peter and the Starcatchers series (a Peter Pan remake from Dave Barry–we’ve read two and LOVE them!)
- The Treasure of Jean Lafitte by John Gillgreen
- Kidnapped by Pirates by Evelyn Hilton (based on a true story of the author’s family)
- The Pirate Queen by HN Klett (new fantasy adventure that looks very promising, that we have ordered from our library)
- Pirates Passage by William Gilkerson
- Talwan’s Vengence (Turn the Tides series) by Christy Newman (billed as Christian adventure with “no foul language, sex, or gore”, I’m having a hard time finding these but they look very good!)
- Jewel of Peru by Sharon Skretting (this one was FREE w/Prime when I made the list!)
- The Richard Bolitho series by Alexander Kent (we found a lot of these at the library book sale, they’re the right time period in naval history, but they are the British view rather than the pirate view.)
- Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson (and if the original seems a little tough, here’s to easier intro versions…Treasure Island, Stepping Stones or Treasure Island, Classic Starts.)
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (here’s Peter Pan, Stepping Stones or Peter Pan, Classic Starts.)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (or here’s 20,000 Leagues, Stepping Stones or 20,000 Leagues, Classic Starts.)
A couple non-fiction books to put on the coffee table for random perusing…
- DK Eyewitness, Pirate
- The Best Book of Pirates, Barnaby Howard
- DK Readers, Pirates, Raiders of the High Seas
- Who Was Blackbeard? by James Buckley
- Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America by Susan Rubin
- Blackbeard, the Life and Legacy of History’s Most Famous Pirate by Charles River Editors
- Pirates, the Golden Age from Begining to End by Henry Freedman
- The World Atlas of Pirates by Angus Kostam
- The Illustrated Pirate Diaries of Captain Morgan by
Family Movie Night
Family movie night is our favorite, of course! For our pirate time, the first thing I did was raid our own DVD cabinet and ask around from friends to see what I could find. Pirates of the Caribbean was a given, but I found quite a bit more that fit in as well.
- The Buccaneer with Yul Brenner (One of my favorite classic actors–who doesn’t love The King and I? The story hits both the historic nature of pirating and that ethics question head-on, while also being fun and family-friendly! Pss..don’t pay more than $8, watch for a sale!)
- Pirates of the Golden Age Movie Collection (4 in 1 set and an old Maureen O’Hara movie–win!)
- Treasure Island (of course we love the original Disney version, but this one with Charlton Heston is also good!)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- Blackbeard’s Ghost (a cute Disney comedy after those longer Disney classics.)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (be discerning, these get darker and creepier for younger viewers as the series goes long, we’re only watching the first 3 right now, and only watched #1 for several years.)
- Cutthroat Island with Gena Davis (if you can find it, this was a FUN pirate adventure with a female lead, FREE on Prime!)
- Master and Commander with Russell Crowe (this one’s not pirates, exactly, but does a great job giving an overall feel for life on a ship.)
- Horatio Hornblower series by A&E (while the original movie with Gregory Peck was good, this series is excellent at following the book series!)
- A couple of fun animated movies for younger viewers (and our kiddos still like them as well!) would be Sinbad, Legend of the Seven Seas; Treasure Planet (that space-pirate mix again!); Pirates, Band of Misfits; and Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy.
Food and Snack Fun
For family movie night, I also found a lot of fun and simple pirate-themed snack and food ideas to try out. You can see a lot of them on my Pinterest Board Pirates and Treasures.
Pirate Ship Apple and Cheese Snacks from Electic Momsense.
Treasure Map Pizza from Betty Crocker
Fish and Chips from The Shopping Mama
Scurvy Dogs from the Pink Teaspoon
Documentaries and Multi-Media Options
This includes documentaries, video shorts, youtube sources, local newspaper articles and more to use as non-fiction filler. Most of these are FREE.
- Pirate Series: The Sordid History of Hampton Roads (a local newspaper series, FREE)
- Real Pirates (FREE w/Prime, 2.5 hours of documentary about the Golden Age of Piracy, good overview)
- 8 Real Life Pirates (quick video and article on the History Channel website, FREE, good intro to the main historical figures)
- Pirate Women (quick video on two of the most famous women pirates)
- The Real Story, season 3, episode 1 (the “real” Pirates of the Caribbean story, FREE w/Prime)
- History Channel Documentary “Pirates of the Caribbean” (the full show, FREE on YouTube)
- History Channel Documentary Pirate Ships (the full 45 minutes, FREE on YouTube)
- Secret of Blackbeard’s Ship (Smithsonian Channel documentary on underwater recovery of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in NC, FREE on YouTube)
- Epic History, Blackbeard in 6 minutes (FREE on YouTube, quick summary of the entire life story of Edward Teach/Blackbeard)
- Pirates in the Atlantic (great, informative website from the Museum of American History)
- National Geographic Pirate page for kids (good information, fairly easy format for kids to explore)
- Smithsonian Magazine, search “pirates” –lots of good, informative articles for older and more advanced readers.
Activities and Crafts
While field trips will be a little hard to come by for us right now other than the Mariner’s Museum (read about our last visit here), I’ve scheduled in time for some fun extra activities around the pirate theme this time. All of them are simple enough to do at home with supplies we usually have on hand and I’ll be sharing some posts specifically about them a little later as I see how they turned out.
- Treasure maps. I printed a couple different treasure map templates for the kiddos to try and make their own. We’ll be gluing the templates onto some packing paper I have to give them a crinkled, aged, feel and they’ll decorate how they want to.
- Costume Scavenger Hunt. I’m planning a little scavenger hunt/activity afternoon where they’ll follow a pirate map to different stations with simple costume crafts like these simple eye patches, pirate swords, and shirts. They might also make their own treasure chests to fill will gold (chocolate coins!).
- We’re going to make a cardboard pirate ship (wish us luck!) and design our own pirate flags.
- And we’re going to make floating pirate ships from wine corks (although we’re planning ours to be bigger since we’re not having a party and it’s just us using the supplies).
- I also found quite a few word searches, mazes, and crossword puzzles which might help with any rainy days we run into, or as busy-work activities while we’re reading aloud together.
Family Game Time
The other thing we’ll be doing as the summer goes along (and we’ve already been enjoying together!) is playing family games together. Turns out there are some great options to go with our pirate theme, including our current favorite Catan Junior. We prefer the junior edition because it’s most comfortable for Speedracer, but we play so often I can see us moving up to the regular edition soon, and they even make an Explorers and Pirates extension pack!
Other pirate games I found that are whole-family-friendly:
- Loot, the Plundering Pirate Card Game (under $10!)
- Skull King, the Game of Scheming and Skulking
- Pirates Cove (outstanding reviews, but watch for a sale, 40% off is common)
- Black Fleet (fun, reasonable price, and says for ages 14+, but with a little help, the whole family can play it.)
- Dead Men Tell No Tales (I love these cooperative play games–the family is actually working together, not playing against each other! Fine for all ages with a little reading help for younger ones.)
- Merchants and Marauders (Kind of a mix between Risk and Catan.)
Remember to Keep it Simple and Fun!
Book + Movie + Field trip (on the same topic) = Unit Study!
You can take any piece or two of these lists and turn it into a fun unit study for the whole family. Watch a movie together, read a book together, and do a craft together. We’ll spread these resources and activities out over the next 2-3 months so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. In addition, the games, activities, and fiction help make the topic come alive for the kiddos so make sure to mix them in well!
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