If you were taking a long voyage to a new land, what family treasure would you bring with you? Use this question to get students thinking about American immigrant's trip to Ellis Island.
As you continue to discuss the trips these families made to America and the reasons they left their homelands, be sure to add that the families were limited on what they could bring with them on their journey to the new land. Often, they had to choose one special family treasure to bring with them, while other things were left behind. This could have been a quilt, a special dish, or even a candlestick holder. Ask your students to choose which special family treasure they would bring with them on their journey to America. They should discuss this with their family, as they may not know about items their family treasures. Explain that gaming systems where not around in those days, and they could not bring a live animal along. The boat was crowded and there was barely enough food for human passengers. The students should draw a picture of their item and write a paragraph explaining what the item is and why it is important to their family. This page should be saved for their immigration scrapbook.
A great book about a family's special treasure that traveled to America is:
"Annushka's Voyage" by Edith Tarbescu and Lydia Dabcovich
Preparing to Leave for America
You will need to do some things in advance to prepare the class for their own journey to America.
- Give each student an immigrant name. You can choose something that matches their regular name, or something that has origins with the country they are researching.
- Make passports for each child. If you have a digital camera available, take pictures of each student for their passport. If you have small copies of their school pictures available, those can be used as well. In the passport, list their immigrant name, their country of origin, their age, and have them sign it.
Share with the class that, like in Annushka's Voyage, children often made this arduous trip alone. If a parent had to go ahead to secure work, the children were often sent for later, once enough money had been earned to pay for their voyage. Ask the students how they would feel if they had to take on such a trip without their parents or another adult. What would worry them the most? What challenges do they think they would face in this situation?
The goal here is to get the children to understand the sacrifices that these families made just to have the opportunity to live here in America. Hopefully, this will instill a new sense of pride in their country.
Immigration Unit for Grades 2-4
This immigration unit will teach students why immigrants came to America and will take a very close look at the hardships they faced during their journey across the vast ocean.
- Immigration Unit: Part I
- Family Treasures and the Trip to Ellis Island: Part 2 in an Immigration Unit
- Immigration Unit Part III: Entering Ellis Island