New World Explorers
for Kids and Teachers
New World Explorers for KidsClick on the links for more about each explorer
Leif Eriksson: One famous Norse (Viking) explorer was Leif Eriksson. You might call Leif a teen idol. He was tall and blonde and young and brave. He loved adventuring. Lief and a small band of men sailed across the sea and landed in North America 500 years BEFORE Columbus. The Vikings established a settlement on the coast of North America. But the Viking settlers missed their homeland, and returned home. Learn more about the Vikings.
Christopher Columbus: Columbus was an Italian explorer. He is credited with discovering America, even though Lief Erickson discovered it about 500 years earlier, and Native Americans found it much earlier than that. The round trip, including his adventures in the New World, took Columbus eight months. He was well paid for his trip. Columbus was highly respected and, thanks to his adventures, he was also quite wealthy. He was happily married. He had a couple of kids. He was incredibly stubborn. To the day he died, he never once admitted that he had found a New World. He insisted that he had, in fact, discovered the back door to China.
Amerigo Vespucius: Vespucius was an Italian explorer. He sailed thousands of miles along the Atlantic shore of the New World. It was a map maker in Germany who named the New World after Amerigo (Americus) Vespucius. He named it America. The name quickly caught on and spread through Europe. Most historians today agree that Vespucci had nothing to do with the New World being named America in the 1500s. Still, for many years, some people accused Vespucius of trying to steal this discovery from Columbus. When the topic came up in his hearing, Columbus took every opportunity to point out that he did not find a New World; he found a back door to China. (So stubborn!) Columbus did not mind at all that the New World was named after his good friend, and fellow explorer, Amerigo (Americus) Vespucius.
John Cabot: Cabot was an Italian explorer. His family moved to England when he was a kid. In 1497, five (5) years after Columbus, Cabot sailed away from England, looking for a back door to China, just as Columbus had done. He landed in the New World. He claimed land in what would become Canada for England, because England paid for the cost of trip. But, like Columbus, Cabot thought he had successfully discovered a back door to China. He was not as stubborn as Columbus. He soon realized his mistake, and enjoyed many adventures exploring the New World, and much fame at home.
Francisco Pizarro and the Incas: Pizarro was a Spanish explorer. Pizarro and his band of 167 soldiers arrived in the Inca capital city, high in the Andes Mountains of South America, looking for riches. Pizarro knew they were in trouble the minute he entered the city. There was gold everywhere. There were people everywhere. There were temples and beautiful art. This was a civilization, and an organized one. Although their welcome was warm, they were worried they would be killed. It was a very real worry. Pizarro and his men planned all night how to escape. They knew they had very little chance of success. They got lucky! Read the story of Francisco Pizarro and the Incas to find out how.
Hernan Cortes & the Aztecs: Cortes was a Spanish explorer. In the 1500s, when the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, entered Aztec territory (Mexico) with a small band of his men, the Aztecs misunderstood why they were there. The Aztecs thought these men had been sent by their god, Quetzalcoatl. But the Spanish were looking for people to convert to the Catholic religion, as well as gold to capture. The Aztecs soon became suspicious. Cortes and his men were lucky to leave unharmed.
Vasco Balboa - Balboa was a Spanish explorer, a swordplay teacher, a pig farmer, husband of an Indian princess, and the first to see the eastern shore of Pacific Ocean. He named it Mar del Sur. Later on, Magellan renamed it Mar Pacifica, because when Magellan first saw the Pacific Ocean, the Ocean was especially calm that day. And Magellan's name stuck.
Sir Walter Raleigh: Raleigh made several trips to the New World. He was a soldier, an explorer, a writer, and a favorite with the Queen of England. In 1587, Raleigh sent English colonists to establish a Roanoke Island Colony in the New World. When that didn't work, he claimed land near Roanoke Island, and called it Virginia.
Jacque Cartier: This French explorer made three trips to the New World, looking for a back door to China. He gave the country of Canada its name. Cartier misunderstood the Iroquois word for village - kanata - and thought it meant the region.
Samuel de Champlain: This French explorer discovered Lake Champlain in what is now Canada, and founded the city of Quebec. The people in Quebec today still speak both French and English.
Henry Hudson: Hudson was hired to find a route to China and India. Instead, like Columbus and Cabot, he ran into the New World instead, and explored the Hudson River.
Hernando De Soto, a Spanish explorer, explored the southeastern part of the New World. He discovered the Mississippi River.
Father Jacques Marquette: Marquette was a French missionary. He explored the Great Lakes Region of North America. Marquette did a lot of exploration with his good friend and fellow explorer, Louis Joliet, a Canadian. They also explored quite a ways down the Mississippi.
Rene Robert de La Salle, a French explorer, also explored the Mississippi. He was the first to navigate all the way down to the mouth of the river. He claimed all the land he discovered for France. Later, after the Revolutionary War, the new government of the United States purchase that land from France. We refer to this as the Louisiana Purchase.
Juan Ponce de Leon led the first Spanish exploration to Florida. He was searching for the legendary fountain of youth. Ponce de Leon sailed with Columbus the second time Columbus came to America.
Lesson Plans & Activities by individual explorer including:
Samuel de Champlain
Hernan Cortes & the Aztecs
Hernando De Soto
Rene Robert de La Salle
Lewis and Clark
Pizarro & the Incas
Juan Ponce de Leon
Units, Overviews, and more!