Also known as the Age of Discovery, the Age of Exploration is the period of time, mostly from the 1400s to the 1600s, when the nations of Europe explored the world. In fact, Portuguese explorer, Infante Dom Henrique, or “Henry the Navigator” gets credit for opening the door to the Age of Exploration. He explored the west coast of Africa. Then, other European nations like Britain, France, Italy, and Spain joined Portugal to explore as much of the world as possible. As a result, the explorers who led these expeditions laid the groundwork for the world as we know it today.
Ages Of Exploration Resources
You may want to give your child an overview of the Age of Exploration using the general websites and other games and activities, or you can create an entire unit study of the Age of Exploration and divide instruction into lessons on the explorers of different nationalities. Below you will find resources for that.
On the other hand, you may want to dive deeply into learning about one or two explorers, using the various sites listed to discuss how different sources represent historical figures. Again, below we have resources for that as well!
We strive to educate about cultures and history in the most respectful, honest, and age-appropriate ways possible. However, you should review all resources before sharing them with your homeschoolers as they may present information that counters your family’s worldviews or traditional thinking about history.
*Although most of the resources listed here are free, those marked with a $ have a cost or require a fee/subscription in order to access the full range of materials.
Age of Exploration
Initially, here are some resources to get a general overview of the Age of Exploration:
- (The Mariners’ Museum and Park) Age of Discovery
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Explorers
- (Land of the Brave) Explorers of America
- (Academic Kids) Age of Exploration
- (Mr. Donn) Explorers for Kids & Teachers
- Explorers Who Got Lost $
Captain James Cook
This British explorer was also a navigator, cartographer (map maker), and captain in the British Royal Navy. He was also known for being the first European to set foot on the Hawaiian Islands and the eastern coast of Australia.
- (DK Findout) Captain Cook
- (TeacherVision) Captain James Cook
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Captain James Cook Biography
- (Ducksters) Captain James Cook | Explorers for Kids
Can you guess who discovered the Hudson River, Hudson Strait, and Hudson Bay in Canada? Of course, it was Henry Hudson! Did you know he also discovered Manhattan Island in 1609 while employed by the Dutch West India Company? Learn more about him below.
Sir Francis Drake
Known as one of the greatest English sea captains of all time, Sir Francis Drake and his crew were the first Englishmen to circumnavigate the globe. In addition, they claimed part of California (what Drake called “Nova Albion”) for Queen Elizabeth along the way.
- (Best of Legends) Sir Francis Drake
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Sir Francis Drake Biography
- (Ducksters) Sir Francis Drake | Explorers for Kids
- (Land of the Brave) Sir Francis Drake Facts
Sir Walter Raleigh and his half-brother, English explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert, sailed to America, where Sir Walter Raleigh backed the famous Roanoke Island colony in Virginia. He is also known for introducing the English to potatoes and tobacco.
Jacques Cartier explored Canada three times, from Nova Scotia to the Cape Fear River. From his ship, the Grande Hermine, he discovered the Saint Lawrence River, which eventually became a major French route to Canada.
This French explorer led an expedition down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. His travels claimed the region around the Mississippi as “Louisiana” for King Louis XIV of France.
Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City and discovered Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York. As a result, he is known as the “Father of Canada.”
How did America get its name? Why from Amerigo Vespucci, of course! He discovered Rio de Janeiro and Rio de la Plata, what he called the “New World” of South America, and believed that he had discovered a new continent. As a result, America was named after him in 1507.
Sailing for Spain in 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered North America while searching for a new trade route to the Indies. Or did he? In fact, there are lots of controversies for you to “explore” in these resources.
- (DK Findout) Christopher Columbus
- (Ducksters) Christopher Columbus | Explorers for Kids
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Christopher Columbus Biography
- (Land of the Brave) Christopher Columbus Facts
- (History.com) Why Columbus Day Courts Controversy
- Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus: What Your History Books Got Wrong $
- You Wouldn’t Want to Sail with Christopher Columbus! Uncharted Waters You’d Rather Not Cross $
Giovanni da Verrazzano
He led the first French expedition to explore the eastern coast between Newfoundland and the Carolinas, including Narragansett Bay and New York Harbor. Because he was the first European to sail into New York Harbor, the Verrazzano Bridge was named after him.
Check out this 8th-grader’s social studies project on Giovanni De Verrazzano:
After crossing the North Atlantic, explorer John Cabot reached America just north of Nova Scotia. Then he claimed Canada for King Henry VII.
Bartholomew Dias was the first European to sail around the southernmost tip of Africa. Why was this important? His exploration later allowed for the establishment of a trade route from Europe to Asia.
Although he died before the voyage’s completion, Ferdinand Magellan is known as the one who led the first trip around the world. Additionally, his crew reached the Pacific Ocean through what is now known as the Straits of Magellan.
- (DK Findout) Ferdinand Magellan
- (Ducksters) Ferdinand Magellan | Explorers for Kids
- (TeacherVision) Ferdinand Magellan
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Ferdinand Magellan Biography
- (Land of the Brave) Ferdinand Magellan Facts
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed on behalf of the Spanish Empire. In fact, he is best known for his exploration of the west coast of North America, specifically as the first European to explore California.
- (National Park Service) Cabrillo National Monument | California
- (Land of the Brave) Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo Facts
Vasco da Gama
This Portuguese explorer was the first European to discover an ocean trading route to India, therefore allowing Portugal to establish a colonial empire in Africa and Asia.
Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador whose expeditions led to the conquest of Peru. Of course, like many explorers, he sought fortune and adventure in the New World.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado? What a name! He is known for his exploration of New Mexico and the southwestern US. He is also credited with discovering Kansas’s Grand Canyon and Great Plains.
Hernán Cortéz (Cortés)
This Spanish conquistador’s expedition into Mexico led to the fall of the Aztec Empire. It also brought a large part of Mexico under the rule of Spain.
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Hernán Cortéz Biography
- (Ducksters) Hernán Cortéz | Explorers for Kids
- (Land of the Brave) Hernán Cortéz Facts
For Hernando de Soto, the southeastern US was his playground. In fact, he explored from Tampa Bay to South Carolina, including a trip across the Mississippi River.
Who was the first European to reach Florida? That would be Juan Ponce de Lèon! He also founded the first European settlement in Puerto Rico.
- (Ducksters) Juan Ponce de Lèon | Explorers for Kids
- (Land of the Brave) Juan Ponce de Lèon Facts
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Ponce de Leon Biography
Balboa is known as being the first European to travel from the New World to the Pacific Ocean.
- (Mr. Nussbaum) Vasco Nunez de Balboa Biography
- (Kiddle) Vasco Nunez de Balboa Facts for Kids
- (Land of the Brave) Vasco de Balboa Facts
Age of Exploration for Kids Lesson Plans & Activities
Do you want to plan a more structured lesson or unit on the Age of Exploration for kids? Try these resources below to help:
- Explorers | Teacher Planet Find a New World Explorers Unit, as well as, lesson plans, coloring pages, clipart, printables, activities, worksheets, and other resources.
- Explorer’s Quiz | DK Findout Are you ready to test your knowledge of the explorers? Try this fun 10-question quiz!
- Explorers Theme and Activities | Educatall Get your young child interested in the idea of exploring with these early science activities, crafts, games, and more!
- Famous Explorers Lesson Plans & Activities | TeacherVision Find lesson plans, activities, and printables for use in teaching your child about explorers.
- Impact of the Early Explorers | Better Lesson Share this lesson about early explorers to the Americas with your fifth-grade student.
- Milk Carton Spanish Galleon | DLTK Imagine the ships the Spanish used to come and explore America. You can make one with milk cartons, paper, and a few other supplies.
- Presentations in PowerPoint Format about Explorers | Mr. Donn Discover free PowerPoints about the explorers, including John Cabot, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and more.
- Thematic Units – Explorers | The Teacher’s Corner Find lesson plans by grade level including An Adventure to the New World, during which middle school students create an “Explorer’s Notebook,” and others, as well as resources for explorer reports, interviews, and projects.
- World Explorers | PBS Learning Media Focus on the explorers from Europe or expand your coverage of explorers all the way to the moon! This site has lesson plans, videos, and Google Earth Voyager Stories.
Age of Exploration for Kids Games
Finish your Age of Exploration unit or lesson but you want more? Expand your learning with some additional fun exploration games:
- Christopher Columbus Walk the Plank Game The goal of this game is to have your teacher fall in and have to swim. Each correct answer you give about Columbus gets her a few steps closer to the end of the plank.
- Explorers Word Search Enjoy this online word search to review the names of famous explorers.
- Explorers for Kids – Free Interactive Games and Activities If you enjoyed the games above, check out this comprehensive list of interactive games about explorers and exploring from Mr. Donn.