Marco Polo: The Beginnings of a Great Explorer

It seems Marco Polo will be taking us longer than first thought (ahem, how very unusual for us!).  His travels are a much larger, not to mention interesting, subject than I first thought.  Fortunately, the freedom of home-school allows us to chop and change as often as we like, so I’m just going with it!

My goals for this week were very simple.

  • I wanted the children to have an appreciation of where Marco came from and what it was in his childhood that may have almost predisposed him to become an explorer (His father was an explorer; he lived in Venice, a city with waterways instead of roads, which was a bustling  trading place  in the Mediterranean;  he also worked in a mercantile shop for a while) .  This is an important facet of learning history – what can we learn about ourselves in the process? We had a chat about how where we are born, and to whom we are born has a bearing on who we become as we grow up.
Picture of the Polo's leaving Venice, showing the waterways which characterise Venice
Picture of the Polo’s leaving Venice, showing the waterways which characterise Venice

I had a stack of explorer books I let the children loose on and they read up a bit about him in general.  I had spent the week reading the introduction, prologue and chapter one of The Travel’s of Marco Polo’s written by Polo’s prison cell mate, Rusticello.  I’m finding the language of the book quite hard to read fluently, however it will be worth persevering with because the vocabulary is so rich and beautiful.  Already C10, who picks up and uses new vocab as naturally as she gets dressed each morning, is using all sorts of words from the book.  As Rusticello would have written his notes by hand using a quill, onto parchment paper, out came our quill and parchment.  I had the children hand-write some copy work, with their quills, introducing the tale of Marco Polo’s travels:

L10 and C10's copy work
L10 and C10’s copy work done with a quill onto parchment

L10 was terribly tearful after spilling the ink onto T11’s carefully written notes.  T11 was very gracious afterwards, although quite understandably upset, and forgave L10 who was crying inconsolably and offering to rewrite the whole thing for him.  I suggested we kept it as it was, as I was sure this would have happened in those times too.  Also it would give them something to look back fondly on as they grew up:

Poor T11's work!
Poor T11’s work!
  • My second goal was for the children to have a clear oversight of exactly where Marco Polo travelled, the route he took, and the cultures, terrains and people he met.  The first chapter of his memoirs gives a brief synopsis of Marco’s whole journey.  We had seen a map of Marco Polo’s travels which came with the lap book we were doing, but we were less than impressed as we struggled to understand it.  The reading made it so much clearer to us.  I managed to find a really lovely map which I photocopied for the children to stick in their note pages:
We also did a lap book piece about Marco's childhood (on the right in the picture)
We also did a lap book piece about Marco’s childhood (on the right in the picture)

I also had the children do this interactive route on the computer.  They had to answer questions regarding the next place Polo travelled to.  It was well worth doing (I even did it!).  However, both maps were modern-day maps showing the path of a 12th century explorer.  This brought me to my third goal for the week.

  • My final goal was that the children understood that explorers in those days often did not go into lands already charted.  I asked the children to research what the world looked like to Marco Polo in the 13th Century.  We found some peculiar looking maps on the internet, which together we managed to decipher.  I had the children make their own olde-worlde maps and draw the world as Marco Polo would have known it.  They dyed some card in tea to age it, drew the map, coloured it using watercolour pencils and drew all sorts of whimsical creatures: serpents and dragons, which some maps contained in those days warning sailors of dangerous places and the beasts encountered there.  I also had them label it with the old names for the countries:
The children working on their map
The children working on their maps

After they had finished their maps I burnt the edges to age them even more and stuck them on a black piece of card:

C10's map.
C10’s map.

We’ve had a lot of fun so far!

    Highhill Homeschool


  1. we are learning this right now as well if you use videos check out You tube for National Geographic on Marco Polo…we watched it this morning and it was pretty good:)

  2. You have inspired me to do Marco Polo with my g’kids next school year. I see we could have fun with it for months and months. Must get started on organizing – will probably take me until next fall to accumulate all the things I need for a span of grade 1 through grade 10. Thanks for the inspiration once again.
    Myra from Canada

  3. What lovely lessons. What beautiful work and beautiful memories. I am amazed at how beautiful your children’s quill pen handwriting is! All Quentin and James could do what a lot of blots when they used them! I think you were right to keep T 11’s work as it was. It showed such good character that he graciously forgave L 10.

  4. The dynamics of the children working together is priceless to capture, re the ink spillage. I like the ideas of recording in quill pen, and making the old map. I think I shall have to borrow these fantastic ideas! 🙂

  5. This looks fascinating. I’ve pinned this for future reference. The spilled ink will mean that they will never forget the inconvenience of quill pens and doubtless learned more important lessons.

    1. So true Sarah. At this age it is the character lessons which over ride all others, I think, and hopefully as parents we see some fruit in all the previous years training those lil’ personalities to focus away from themselves (something I’m still learning!)

  6. Love your creative copywork and your map looks amazing! What a fun idea! We studied Marco Polo last year and had so much FUN learning about him =)

    Beth (TGIF)

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