Searching for an educational resource on African-American spirituals

No luck in finding Finn McCool today, but we are hoping he’ll materialize to sun himself at some point. Many thanks to everyone who expressed concern. Elise is still very sad her lizard ran away and it’s heartbreaking.

My mother was asking me last night about the homeschooling curriculum that we will be using for 4th grade. I explained that since we are going to be studying American history for the first time, I am trying to bring American history into the other subjects as well.

I picked novels that involve American history in some way, including The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, Prairie School, The Courage of Sarah Noble, The Terrible Wave, and Blue Willow. (Before anyone suggests Laura Ingalls Wilder, we are already big Little House fans.)

For art and music, I have found some books and resources on American folk art and folk music. I bought American Folk Art for Kids With 21 Activities. I have collected books on American artists like Grandma Moses and the Hudson River School. For folk music, I have Wee Sing America and Wee Sing Fun ‘n’ Folk. I think I am close to having enough folk songs to introduce a new one every day, and to stack them close the era during which they were composed (Revolutionary War, Civil War, Great Depression, etc.).

My mother thought that was a brilliant idea, and asked if any of the resources I found included African-American spirituals. It occurred to me that was a big part of American music history that was overlooked in these books and we obviously need to do an entire unit on it.

So now I am on a quest to find a good kids’ resource that goes through African-American spirituals. I am especially looking for any resource that involves decoding spirituals that were used by slaves to communicate details about the Underground Railroad. If anyone out there knows of any good resources – they don’t have to be specifically directed at children, but they do need to be relatively accessible – on this topic, I would be most grateful for suggestions.

I did find this PBS unit on Hidden Messages in Spirituals. The site even includes a worksheet for decoding the lyrics of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” But I think it would be cool to find something that goes beyond that one song because it’s such an important topic.

I have also amassed a lot of resources for teaching about a variety of Native American cultures. It’s impossible to be exhaustive on this topic, but a combination of History Pockets and the If You Lived When… series are a good foundation for more detailed study in later years.

I found More Than Moccasins: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Traditional North American Indian Life, which will supply a lot of arts and crafts projects. I have a whole bunch of books on Native American history and legends, but that’s worthy of an entire post in itself at some point.

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