California History Curriculum Snapshot: The Missions


One aspect you will find with California Out of the Box is at each step, learning is anchored in story. As I have gone to homeschool events and conferences, many have asked how I tackle the California missions period.

The missions unit in California Out of the Box begins in the late 1700s with Friar Juan Crespi’s journal account of their overland team traveling north through Los Angeles, observing tar marshes. This image will be familiar to students, as they just learned about the La Brea Tar Pits and Pleistocene animals found in Los Angeles.

As students hear this narrative of the Sacred Expedition team coming up from Loreto, Mexico, they will follow the progress on the map coming from Mexico to San Diego, and then north. They will look at a map of the Americas showing Spain’s dominion, a map of Nueva and Baja California, a Mexico map, and a map showing the 21 California missions, and one zooming in on the bay area, the setting for the historical fiction book Valley of the Moon: The Diary of Maria Rosalia de Milagros. See this blog article for more about this wonderful book. Each historical fiction book in the curriculum grounds mapwork and other activities.

California Habitats

Chaparral Habitat

After following the padres trip through San Diego, students will dig deeper into the place of San Diego through the story “A-Birding on a Bronco” from Stories from Where We Live: California Coast which recounts an end of 19th century author’s adventure on horseback, birdwatching. (See this link for a previous article on this book.) Students will get placed in the San Diego chaparral in this descriptive short story.

Screenshot from Missions Resource Center

As students read Valley of the Moon and hear about the character Maria Rosalia, they will hear more about both her current experience on a rancho and looking back at her time living at a mission. Using Google Images, students will look for pictures of the missions, having a discussion about forms of architecture (adobe walls) and similarities seen at the missions (crosses, mission bells). Then using the Missions Resource Center website, students will explore one mission of their choosing in a 1-3 paragraph written piece; they are encouraged to show pictures as well. No make-a-model-mission project in this curriculum!

One of the aspects I find useful in historical fiction books are the historical notes that authors often provide, which tell a brief story of the broader narrative. The fiction authors used in our curriculum have gone to great lengths to research their book.

Missions and the Californios

Working their way through Valley of the Moon, students will explore the concept of the californios, early Spanish and Mexican immigrants who had strong identity with the land of California, initially through the patronage of Spain and then Mexico.


Additionally, as the missions are a pivotal moment in California history, students will add to their timeline important dates like the first mission, Sacred Expedition, Mexican independence, and missions secularization.

Sutter’s Fort

Continuing on, students will consider Sutter’s Fort, the Bear Flag Revolt, and witness 1850 California statehood. Additionally, they will learn about Dia de los Muertos, Las Posadas, and more! (These important celebrations will be the subject of another article!)

california history curriculum

California Out of the Box covers the missions and ranchos periods and so much more! Students will be able to visualize, smell, interact, and get a bearing in this time period using our interdisciplinary approach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *