A Living Curriculum: The Hudson River as Historical Resource

by Sanda Cohen, Phyllis Grossman and Jackie Riley
Fifth-­Grade Teachers

Winter 2010

Anyone familiar with the Hudson River’s history knows that it served as a vital highway into the continent for merchants and military in the early days of our nation.  And, having the Hudson River within a few miles of our campus offers our students an incredible opportunity to interact with and experience a landmark that played a significant role in the development of our country. 
Beyond reading about the river, we try to have our fifth graders experience it.  On trips to Stony Point Battle Ground and the United States Military Academy at West Point, they were asked to walk along the water’s edge imagining the area free of buildings, bridges and roads, while discussing the imposing beauty of the river valley Henry Hudson and his men would have observed, 400 years ago. Our visit to these sites also provided us with an understanding of the river’s military importance during the revolutionary war as these locations played strategic roles in hindering the British from transporting vital supplies between their Manhattan base and their forts upriver.   Seeing the Hudson River Chain and the open views of the river for cannon fire helped the students see the strategy used by the Continental Army to prevent British boats from passing.  
On other trips, to Greenbrook Nature Sanctuary and on a sailing trip up river on the Hudson River Sloop, Clearwater, our fifth graders explored first-hand the various habitats and societies connected to the river. They also learned about the environmental importance of the river, the role it plays in our lives today, and gained appreciation for the people who have dedicated their lives to keeping it clean.  
In our study of the Hudson River, we feel that it is vital that we establish a sense of continuum; to experience and to understand this significant region as it exists over time.  This can not be done with just text books or the internet.  That’s why at Elisabeth Morrow, whenever possible, we make strides to bring our students on-site, to the scenes where history happened, to the locations that hold meaning for our society. In this way, our students move beyond the classroom and the places we visit, like the Hudson River, become essential resources within a living curriculum. ­­