Today’s date on the calendar reads “Columbus Day.” For some, that means nothing more than a sale at the department store. For others, it means a parade and a speech.  However, as more issues surrounding Columbus’ actions rise, enthusiasm for the explorer wanes. No matter what your point of view, the story offers an opportunity to open dialogue with your children. Rather than let the day slip by with vague reference to “in 1492 …” and the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, take a few minutes to dig deeper into the questions raised by this historical event.

Here are a few jumping off points that can start your conversation.

  • There’s no denying that Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World turned history in a new direction. What do you think would have happened if he had never stepped foot in the Americas? How would things be different now?
  • For centuries, European countries send out explorers to “colonize” land for their kingdom. These men would land in an unknown land, plant their country’s flag, and claim it for their own. Generally, people already lived there. Those indigenous people could either enter a war against the explorer’s country or capitulate to its rule. Look at this from both points of view, the European countries and those they came to rule.
  • Columbus wanted to go on his voyage for a long time but needed money from investors for boats and supplies. He searched for several years and asked everyone he could get to listen. This showed a lot of tenacity. Do you follow up on your goals so thoroughly? Would you have given him money?
  • When Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand finally agreed to back Columbus, they didn’t actually expect to see him again. The sea voyage would be very long, difficult, and dangerous. The explorer left without knowing what he would find or how long it would take him. Is this brave or stupid? Would you take that kind of risk?
  • The King and Queen had told Columbus he could be governor over all of the land he discovered. It has been reported that he didn’t rule well and used his authority to advance his own interests rather than the good of everyone. Far away from anyone who could stop him, do you think the power went to his head? As governor, did he have the right to do that? What would you have done if you were one of the people who had traveled with him and you saw him acting this way?

Whether you see Christopher Columbus as a hero, a villain, or something in between, his story points to deeper themes that remain important to our current history. You can help your kids learn from the past and inform their futures.

Looking to have more conversations with your kids? Check out these articles on communication with your kids and teens.