Homeschool Chinese: Integrating History – The Transcontinental Railroad
In our home, we enjoy learning about history. It is as much a part of our homeschool curriculum as our language studies. The kids beg me to read to them stories from our history books and we frequently seek out opportunities to learn more about our past – traveling, visiting museums, talking with older people about their own experiences, and reading historical fiction.
Some time ago, we visited the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Now you may be wondering how this has anything to do with Mandarin. I feel very strongly that global awareness and empathy are important. I also want my kids to be knowledgeable of the culture and history of the languages they speak.
The Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States between 1863 and 1869 that connected the Atlantic (Union Pacific track) and Pacific coasts (Central Pacific) of the United States by rail for the first time. While the majority of the Union Pacific track was built by Irish laborers, Central Pacific’s grade was constructed primarily by many thousands of emigrant workers from China. At the time, many were independent gold miners or working in service industries such as laundries and kitchens. Many more emigrated from China specifically to work on the railroad.
After exploring the exhibits at the railroad museum, I realized that an opportunity had presented itself. Jiejie has always been fascinated with trains – hence our reason for visiting the museum in the first place – but then, what young boy isn’t? Meili was also captivated by the stories of the men (and women) who made it possible. I thereby put together a mini-unit that highlighted the impact of the Chinese immigrants and provided us with a greater historical perspective of how Chinatown came to be what it is today.
A few of the books we read as a part of this unit include:
- Pie-Biter / Comepasteles by Ruthanne Lum McCunn
- Coolies by Yin
- Brothers by Yin
- Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep
The kids have enjoyed reading the stories and through literature, have connected with an earlier time in our nation’s history as well as the struggles of immigration, and the culture of China.