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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

California Missions Unit Study

California Unit Study with Art, Geography and History woven together

California Missions FREE Unit Study for Home school

From their humble, thatch-roofed beginnings to the stately adobes we see today, the missions represent a dynamic chapter of California's past. The California Mission study is generally geared for fourth graders. However in our home school all the children do history lessons as a group. We created this unit study to focus on the missionary efforts of the Spanish in California. 

Mission Settlement (1769-1833)

The missions of California were established as part of Spain's need to control their growing land holdings in the New World. The Spanish believed that their colonies needed a literate population base that they could not supply. The government worked with the Catholic Church to form a network of missions to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and to make them tax paying citizens. The natives were taught the Spanish language and vocational skills with the Christian teachings. Unfortunately in addition to bringing new skills, plants and seeds to the area; the soldiers and missionaries brought new diseases to the native people that resulted in a huge death toll and eventually an almost complete annihilation of their way of life and family groups. This, of course, wasn't the intention however it was the sad reality.


Here are the resources that we used. These were books that were purchased used and are a part of our home school library. The Internet resources were discovered by the teacher and students during the lessons.



California Mission Links

Virtual Tours
360 Tour of the Missions

360 Tour of Carmel 

California Missions Foundation
Foundation for the preservation and restoration of the California missions. If you would like to make a donation towards the "Save the Missions Campaign," this is the place to do it.
Architecture of the California Missions
Wikipedia article that discusses construction methods and architectural style.
California Missions
A very brief introductory history of all 21 missions. Also has a 60 second video but access is slow.
The California Mission Site
Contains both a short and an in-depth history for each mission. Site also has authentic mission music and links to other mission history sites. Also has links to more general Spanish colonial history. Historical photographs are temporarily unavailable.

Virtual Tour of the Mission
Mr. Missions has visited every mission and compiled a large number of photographs. Photographs are organized by mission. Also has useful travel tips for visiting the missions.

California Missions Resource Center
A very well put together, professionally designed site about the missions. Highly recommended are the Mission Visual Journeys and the Mission Timeline. Ask the Experts is also a great section to help you in your research. The site also has a very extensive links page.


Mission Coloring Page from Raising Our - I like this simple image that provides a nice example of perspective for older students to create their chalk pastel mission seen in our ART section

Here is a coloring page the compliments our reading of the Song of the Swallows 
(scroll to the bottom)

Background Commentary on the Padres and Native populations
Fr Junipero Serra was born 300 years ago. (2013)
"Junípero Serra was a remarkable man who had a talent for dramatizing the California missionary effort and, at the same time, emphasizing Spain's responsibility to continue the evangelization of this last frontier. He was a forceful and articulate advocate. In the final analysis, though, Serra's own piety and religious commitment inspired even his critics, and enabled him to ask so much of others." - California Mission Foundation

Biography Resources
California Mission Foundation

We are learning to read primary source documents to better understand the heart and mind of the people of this time period. Here is a great resource of Father Junipero Serra primary source documents from the San Francisco Museum.

Background Commentary on the Padres and Native populations

When founding a mission, the priests  gained the natives’ confidence with  gifts of food, cloth and other items. We discovered that Father Serra spent 9 years living with the Native group (  ) to learn their language.
The Indians were also attracted by the pageantry of the Mass—held out of doors until a chapel could be built. Indians who chose to become part of the mission were taught Catholic catechism, farming and
other skills (weaving, tanning, carpentry, etc.). They built and decorated the mission church and other buildings. Many became highly skilled artists, musicians or singers.
Sometimes the soldiers mistreated the Indians, but the friars dealt with such behavior harshly, and Spanish law set forth penalties for infringing on the rights of the natives.
Father Serra was a particularly vocal defender of the Indians, and traveled on foot to Mexico City several times (in spite of his painful, chronically-infected leg) to complain about abuses by soldiers and government officials. He returned from one trip with a bill of rights for the Indians.
According to the California Missions’ original charter, they were eventually to have become self-sufficient Christian Indian towns, with ownership of the land and business enterprises reverting to the Indians. However, Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810. The missions were secularized in 1834, and the Spanish priests were deported. Most of the missions fell into decay. The mission Indians, badly treated by Mexican colonists, dispersed.
The United States took control of California after the Mexican-American war.
Unfortunately, the Americans treated the natives even worse. The new California legislature passed laws permitting forced indenture of natives and denying them citizenship. These laws were finally
overturned in 1867, four years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. (A portion of the text/information is from Mission Unit Study free download found here)

Mission Life

This is an excerpt from our history lessons:

"Native Americans were taught the basics of the Catholic faith. They were baptized and called a neophyte or new believer. The padres decided the neophytes could no longer freely move around the country. They had to work and worship at the mission. The fathers and overseers kept a strict reign over them and actually led them to daily masses and work."

We were amazed that so many of our history books portray the Padres of the Missions as task masters. Even the text above gives us the indication that those who lived in the Missons were prisoners to a faith they may not have even voluntarily chosen. However, here is a story that contradicts that scene from The remarkable story of Fr. Antonio Peyri of San Luis Rey at

"The San Luis Rey's neophytes were so upset at the prospect of losing Fr. Peyri that they vowed to prevent him from leaving. Fr. Peyri had to steal out of the mission secretly in darkness. When the Indians discovered he had gone scores of them rode to San Diego to beg him to return. They arrived on January 17, 1832 just as the Pocahontas, set sail. Many swam towards the ship as Fr. Peyri blessed them from the deck. Read the entire story at: Please Don't Go "

Mission Life Continued...

The daily routine began with sunrise Mass and morning prayers, then instruction of the natives in the teachings of the Catholic faith. Next was breakfast, followed by all able-bodied men and women working at their assigned jobs. Women's jobs were knitting, weaving, dressmaking, embroidering, laundering, and cooking. The stronger girls were grinding flour or carrying adobe bricks to the men building adobe houses. All skills were taught to the men by the missionaries. These tasks included plowing, sewing, irrigating, cultivating, reaping, threshing, and gleaning the crops. Additional skills were shearing sheep, weaving rugs and clothing from wool, tanning leather, making soap, paint, and ropes.

There was a six hour work day, interrupted by lunch at 11:00 a.m. and a two-hour siesta, the evening prayers and the rosary, supper, and social activities. Approximately 90 days per year were designated as religious holidays that were free from manual labor. Indians were considered free laborers and were not paid wages.

Independent Project Ideas for Upper Elementary Students:

Build the Last Mission
Imagine that you were there as the last California Mission was being completed. You have to determine a place to build one more mission. You are given plenty of Internet linked resources on geography and local native groups. Determine where to place this last California Mission. 

Research the Women Pioneers of Alta California 

A picture of the California Mission:

Architecture of the Missions
Chalk Pastels on Black Paper provide a
dramatic illustration of the Missions

The missions were generally designed as a walled city, in the shape of a quadrangle. The church was on one side, and the fort and town on two other sides, with a large open square in the center.
The picture of life in one of these missions during their period of prosperity is unique and attractive. The whole place was a hive of industry: trades plying indoors and outdoors; tillers, herders, vintagers by hundreds, going to and fro; children in schools; women spinning; bands of young men practicing on musical instruments; music, the scores of which, in many instances, they had themselves written out; at evening, all sorts of games of running, leaping, dancing, and ball-throwing, and the picturesque ceremonies of a religion which has always been wise in availing itself of beautiful agencies in color, form, and harmony.

Example of an Deakin artwork
At every mission were walled gardens with waving palms, sparkling fountains, groves of olive trees, broad vineyards, and orchards of all manner of fruits; over all, the sunny, delicious, winter less California sky. *hardly the prison picture described by many of those who write our current history books and openly oppose to the conversion of the local natives to Catholicism. However we can't ignore the Spanish Government's desire to convert the natives to the peasant class of citizens. We also don't want to discount the fact that the Padres and other religious leaders came not to destroy the natives but to bring the message of the 'good news' of Christ. They brought however disease and sickness that resulted in the death of those whom they intended on serving. I can't help but think that those who left their country and suffered hardships for the sake of the 'lost' also suffered intense heartbreak as each of the thousands of native peoples died from sickness. 

Chalk Pastel Mission Drawing
this project is inspired by Deep Space Sparkles Chalk Adobe Project 
Artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Englishman Edwin Deakin (1838-1923), Henry Chapman Ford (1828-1894), and Alexander Harmer (1856-1925), left invaluable likenesses of the Missions, and their artworks serve as important historical records. A small selection of Mission Images can be found at here. Mission Painting by Henry Chapman Ford
painting of the Mission reproductions of Deakin's work that can be zoomed in for better view
Alexander Harmer has a beautiful Mission image filled with people

Please feel free to share free unit study resources you have found on this topic. You are welcome to share your lap books, blogs and Internet quests with students by leaving comments below!
With your help and additional resources we can make this unit study the BEST UNIT STUDY EVER!

*These resources are available for purchase via my Amazon affiliate link. I receive a small compensation for providing this information. I only share those resources that I found helpful.

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