California Gold Rush History for Kids

Great information on California Gold Rush history for kids, including photos from Roaring Camp, a living history site and Gold Rush book recommendations. Learn more California facts for kids.

Learning about the California gold rush

I was lucky enough to drive my fourth grade daughter Emma to Roaring Camp to learn about the California gold rush! This living history site operates mainly as a school field trip site. You have to get together a group of at least 25 people if you want to see the demos outside of school so it was a privilege for me to come along as a driver and chaperone!

You can’t run a California gold rush history for kids unit without some gold mining, and that was all six kids from my van’s favorite part of the trip.

Emma says about the trip: I especially liked the story of Charley Parkhurst, gold panning, and learning about spinning and weaving. Charley Parkhurst is a particularly fascinating historical figure from this time who will get a dedicated blog post next week.

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Teaching Kids California Gold Rush History

Dutch ovens were a wonderful way to make nourishing meals during the California gold rush.

The kids already knew a lot about the California Gold Rush from their year of studying California history in school, so a lot of demos focused on how people lived at the time. The kids raved over these dutch oven baked beans in the car on the way home! I was amazed at how quickly the demonstrator was able to light a fire using a tinder box.

California gold rush history for kids: Lodge living Native Americans would trade with trappers who then sold wares to gold prospectors during the California gold rush.

This man taught the kids about lodge living, as well as the different furs and their uses. I had no idea that felt hats like the one this man is wearing were made using beaver skins. Can you believe that over thirty fourth graders fit easily into this teepee? Traditional teepees were made using animal hides, but it was not unusual for Native Americans to trade for canvas since it was a robust and more lightweight building material.

History for kids: the California gold rush

Mountain med lived in tents, which I suspect were quite a bit less comfortable than teepees. They would trade with the Native Americans for furs, which they would then sell to gold miners.

California gold rush history - blacksmiths played an important role

The railroad didn’t reach California until after the gold rush, so people were traveling by horse and wagon or by boat. This meant that blacksmiths were very important! I had never seen a crank handle forge like this one before. The blacksmith who ran this demo really kept the kids’ attention!

Learning about the California gold rush: panning for gold

Each of the kids found some real gold in their pan! Can you spot Emma’s tiny nugget in this little (about one inch tall) vial?

Books for Kids about the California Gold Rush

Here are some books to extend you California Gold Rush history for kids lesson!

What Was the Gold Rush? is part of a non-fiction series for kids that is always engagingly illustrated and thoughtfully researched. This book is no exception.

We liked the straightforward facts paired with period photos in The California Gold Rush.

While the California Gold Rush is probably the best well-known, Alaska had its own gold rush from 1879-1898. Life was hard for everyone, including children, and this is reflected in Children of the Gold Rush. This book tells true stories of children who lived during the Alaska Gold Rush, complete with photographs.

Did you learn about the California – or Alaska – Gold Rush in school or college? Do you have a California Gold Rush history for kids resource to share? Please let me know!

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MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

9 thoughts on “California Gold Rush History for Kids”

  1. Elisa | blissful E

    We did a little history research yesterday at our local library and figured out that our house was built in 1897, around the time of the gold rush in Western Australia. One of our good friends here works as a geologist for a gold mining company – natural resources are still a very important part of the local economy. How exciting that Emma found her own gold!

  2. Is Charley the one that was the stagecoach driver? We read a book about Rough Tough Charley in our California studies last week.

    Oh, and I have a really fun Gold Rush game that I was probably going to write about in a few weeks.

  3. Our kids also went on the Gold Rush field trip – all the way up to the Sierras. It was a rainy day, but they had a blast. It’s neat that our schools are able to afford these special experiences for kiddos!

  4. What a fun field trip! I honestly don’t know a whole lot about the California Gold Rush. This place looks like a fascinating place for kids to learn about it!

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