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Hoist the sails and set a course for adventure! The Age of Exploration was a time when courageous explorers sailed unknown waters in search of new lands. These brave men (and a few women) risked their lives to map the globe and bring back tales of far-off lands. Join us as we explore the lives and journeys of some of history’s most famous European explorers through fun activities such as our “Famous Explorers” word search!
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Let’s set sail with these famous explorers!
Bartolomeu Dias was a Portuguese explorer who is best known for sailing around the southern tip of Africa, which he did in 1488. Up until that time, most Europeans believed that Africa was surrounded by impassable oceans.
Dias proved them wrong when he successfully navigated his ship around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean beyond. His journey opened up new trade routes between Europe and Asia, and it also paved the way for future explorations of southern Africa.
Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus, was an Italian explorer who is best known for his role in the discovery of the Americas. Around 1499, he set sail from Spain on an expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda. The two men explored the coasts of South America before parting ways (seemingly in present-day Guyana.) Vespucci continued sailing along the coast of South America, making several important discoveries along the way.
He was likely the first European to see the mouth of the Amazon River! He also discovered that the “New World” was not part of Asia as many people believed at the time. In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemuller created a world map that included a large landmass that he labeled “America” in honor of Amerigo Vespucci’s discoveries. And so, America became the name of two continents!
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was a Spanish explorer who is best known for being the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. In 1513, he led an expedition into present-day Panama in search of gold and other riches. After crossing what is now known as the Isthmus of Panama, Balboa and his men reached the Pacific Ocean. They spent several weeks exploring along the coast before returning to their home in Santa María with news of their discovery.
This was a significant achievement because it proved that there was another ocean beyond the Atlantic (which Europeans were already familiar with). It also showed that there was a possible route to Asia via ship—a route that would eventually be used by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s countryman, Ferdinand Magellan.
Ferdinand Magellan was determined to find a westward route to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Sailing from Spain in 1519, he led a fleet of five ships around South America, through the treacherous Strait of Magellan into the Pacific Ocean.
After nearly three years at sea and against incredible odds, Magellan’s lone remaining ship, the Victoria, limped back to Spain in 1522 with somewhere between 18-30 surviving crew members (out of 270)! Magellan himself had been killed in the Philippines.
Magellan’s expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe and proved that the Earth is a sphere. The voyage was not an easy one. Magellan and his crew faced harsh weather, hunger, and disease. They also had to contend with the mutiny of some of their own crew. But in the end, the expedition was a success. It paved the way for future explorations of the world and changed our understanding of the planet forever.
Magellan’s ship, the Victoria, was the first to circumnavigate the globe. The voyage took three years and cost the lives of many of the crew, but it was a historic achievement. Magellan himself did not complete the journey, as he was killed in the Philippines, as mentioned above.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was a Spanish explorer who is best known for leading an expedition in search of the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold” in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. In 1540, Coronado set out from Mexico with a large group of men (and a few horses) in tow. He crossed through present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma before reaching his destination in modern-day Kansas.
He never found any cities made entirely out of gold, or any wealth. Coronado returned to Mexico City in disgrace. Not only had he been unsuccessful in finding great treasure, but the expedition had bankrupted him. His march through the Southwest represents a particularly unpleasant chapter of European exploration, as his forces showed utmost cruelty to the native peoples that they met on their travel.
“Discover” the hidden words in this “Famous Explorers” word search!
Our “Famous Explorers” word search features vocabulary terms from the Age of Exploration. In addition, we have included charming coloring images around the edges!
P.S. For extra fun and learning, play this while the kids search for the words in this puzzle and color the pictures! (Plus, see our booklist below for more famous explorer books!)
Don’t let these printables “sail” off into the sunset: download them today!
The Age of Exploration was a fascinating time in history! These explorers followed the brave examples of other adventuring pioneers from centuries past–such as Marco Polo–and set sail for new lands, making many important discoveries along the way.
So grab your coloring pencils (or honey sticks!) and print out our “Famous Explorers” word search and coloring pages on my FAVORITE paper ever, then sit back and enjoy learning about some famous European explorers!
Age of Exploration Booklist
What Was the Age of Exploration?
The “Who Was”/”What Was” book series is often a great way to learn about some of the most important figures in history! These books provide readers with a wealth of information about the people who have made a significant impact on our world. (Please note: I can’t and don’t give a blanket endorsement of the whole series.)
**Ebook version here!
The Renaissance Explorers with History Projects for Kids
This book outlines life in the Renaissance period, tells the stories of five explorers, and features fun STEAM activities to go along with the book!
Audio CD Set Vol 2: The Middle Ages, Story of the World
We have been listening to this during handwriting time, and we are loving it! Often handwriting will be finished and I will pull out a sketchpad and art supplies to keep us at the table longer, so we can finish another chapter.
**I can’t believe that I am JUST now listening to this after homeschooling for so many years! I started to listen to SOTW years ago but had found the beloved narrator’s voice a little….let’s say, “theatrical” for my taste. But we dusted ye olde stories off and tried again this year and we are hooked!
Don’t miss out on our “Famous Explorers” cursive handwriting pages!
Special bonus! Download all pages in one PDF activity book!
Please note before downloading these free printable “Famous Explorers” activities:
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