Benjamin Banneker Activities for Kids

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

This lesson provides activities that introduce Benjamin Banneker to elementary students. Students can create marshmallow constellations, survey a location, participate in an almanac scavenger hunt, and experiment with time-keeping instruments.

Renaissance Man

What do astronomy, clocks, surveying, and almanacs all have in common? Benjamin Banneker, of course! Not only was Banneker an accomplished astronomer, surveyor, clockmaker, and author of almanacs, he was also an abolitionist. Born into a free African American family in 1731, Banneker advocated for the end of slavery when he famously corresponded with Thomas Jefferson—he included those letters in his almanac.

Let's take a look at hands-on activities that can help students connect with the life and achievements of Benjamin Banneker. These activities are designed for students in grades K-5.

Marshmallow Constellations

Materials

  • Pictures of stars
  • Drawings of constellations
  • Mini-marshmallows
  • Toothpicks (with flat ends for safety)

Teacher Instructions

  1. Show the students different pictures of stars in the sky. Ask them to identify any shapes they can see that are created by the stars in the picture.
  2. Inform the students that Benjamin Banneker studied astronomy and frequently looked at the stars and other planets.
  3. Define constellations as collections of stars that appear to make a picture. Show the children different drawings of famous constellations.
  4. Provide the students with mini-marshmallows and toothpicks.
  5. Have the students look at the drawings of the constellations and use their toothpicks and marshmallows to recreate them. They should use the marshmallows as the stars and the toothpicks as the imaginary lines that connect the stars to make the shapes we see in the sky.
  6. For older students- Have the students work in groups to research information about one or more of the constellations they created. This could include learning about the individual stars in the constellation, how it got its name, who discovered it, etc. Then, have the groups create a song to display their knowledge and present it to the class.

Discussion Questions

  • What was your favorite constellation? Why?
  • Why do you think people started identifying and naming constellations?

Surveying Project

Materials

  • Clipboards
  • Blank paper
  • Pencils
  • Crayons and/or colored pencils
  • Meter/yard sticks (older kids activity)

Teacher Instructions

  1. Discuss the responsibilities of a surveyor and inform the students that Benjamin Banneker helped survey the land for our nation's capital.
  2. Inform the students that they will be surveying a particular area in/around the school.
  3. Provide each student with a clipboard, blank paper, pencils, and crayons and/or color pencils.
  4. Take the students to the area they will be surveying. For this project, consider using a larger space such as the playground, another outdoor area, or a large room, such as the gym or cafeteria.
  5. For younger students- Have the students draw a picture to represent the area they are looking at. As surveyors, the students should include as much detail as possible about the area they are observing. Encourage them to include items such as trees, fences, playground equipment, tables, posters, etc.
  6. For older students- Have the students work in partners to draw a map of the area they are looking at. As surveyors, have the students use their yard/meter stick to measure the lengths of objects in the area or to measure the actual border of the area itself. Have the students include these measurements on their map.
  7. When the drawings/maps are finished, have the students share them with the class.

Discuss

  • Why do you think that everyone's drawings looked a little bit different?
  • Why do you think it was important for people like Benjamin Banneker to survey the land that is now Washington, D.C. before they started constructing the buildings and roads of the city?

Almanac Scavenger Hunt

Materials

  • Kids' almanacs

Teacher Instructions

  • Divide the students into pairs and provide each pair with a kids' almanac.
  • Discuss what information is usually included in the reference book. Inform the students that Benjamin Banneker was the author of an almanac.
  • Have the pairs complete a scavenger hunt using their almanacs. Name items they could find in the book, such as:
    • Pictures of a certain topic (person, place, animal, etc.)
    • Maps
    • Certain words
    • Numbers
    • Years
  • When the students find the item, they should raise their hand and share what they found.
  • For older students- Make the information that they have to find more specific. Award points for the first pair to find each item and keep score throughout the game. The pair with the most points at the end wins.

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