Contextualizing Learning through California History

A Window into the California Out of the Box California History Curriculum

california history curriculum
  • Are you overwhelmed about how you will teach your young student(s) California state studies?
  • Do you not know where to start?
  • Are you from another state, or country, with no knowledge of the history of the Golden State?
  • Are you looking for a holistic study that goes beyond the just the missions, considering plants and animals too?
  • Does everything about California feel overwhelming to you?

We have found that many families feel this same sense of drudgery and indebtedness to put together a study of California history for their children. We have created a resource with someone like you in mind! Using five historical fiction books, plus supplemental California short stories, you and your student(s) can study Golden State history with fun and ease!

Can you give me an example of a lesson from California Out of the Box?

The study of the Golden State begins with reading the Island of the Blue Dolphins, written by Scott O’Dell. In this story, learners will hear the historical fiction tale of the Lone Woman – Karana – who survived on one of the California Channel Islands, San Nicolas Island, for eighteen years, alone! She was a member of the Nicoleno tribe of Native Americans and the rest of the members of her tribe had either been killed, or taken off the island during sea otter fur-trapping expeditions. (Yes, those cute little sea otters.) By the early 1800s, both her tribe, and most of the sea otters were headed to extinction.

In one of the projects while reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, students will create a home model structure using materials that can be found in the coast and islands habitat in California: Materials such as rocks, sticks, shells, reeds, grasses, and other structural materials can be used. What is the point of such a project? To allow students to get into the character’s shoes, creating a structure using only what the land provides. Isn’t this one of the gifts in learning about Native peoples? The ways Native Peoples utilized resources from the natural world to meet their needs, without waste, is truly admirable.

Below are a few pictures of student work from our online classes last year. Students really enjoyed this project!

The beauty of this curriculum is students can enter into another character’s life and think about what they would do, in that same situation. And, isn’t that a good thing? By considering other people’s points of view, we can better understand the world. Only then, can we begin to develop empathy for others.

Here are a few more resources where families can learn more about the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.

  • National Park Service: Island of the Blue Dolphins story
  • Alone on the Island of the Blue Dolpins; an excellent documentary movie
  • Smithsonian Magazine article

As students continue reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, they will complete other projects like: exploring leaf shapes by building a plant collection, studying about cute sea otters, and considering what their “secret” tribal name would be (like Karana).

As we have attended conferences and met other families, many have wistfully remembered reading this amazing book in elementary school. Moms are very excited to have their own children partake of that same magical experience. Our curriculum is there to help families desiring that same encounter — exploring and becoming aware of the natural world around us. The popularity of foraging, whittling, and bow and arrow making classes highlight the desire of many to reconnect with the earth. We think that is an essential aspect of studying California. We hope you will join the journey!


There are several ways to embark on this adventure!

We sell the curriculum, plus complete California Out of the Box literature boxes on our website. In addition, we also offer weekly live online history classes geared for grades 4-5, hosted through our website. Here is the link to our current class, taught by Ms. Tracy. She teaches an excellent class; she’s highly organized, creative, sensitive, and great at making students tuning in from all over California feel comfortable.

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