California History Field Trip: Native Americans and Exploring


My  sister-in-law is homeschooling her 4th and 2nd grader.  She is not a fan of California history (crazy!), so I offered to try and put together some field trips for the kids.  We live in the general LA/San Gabriel Valley area, so you won’t be finding us taking any Sacramento trips. I love my niece and nephew, but I’m definitely not taking them that far. 🙂

For our first trip, we focused on the Native American group in the area (Tongva) and exploration by the Spanish, by means of the LA River and Arroyo Seco. This lesson plan can also be used for any area, you’d just have to find the locations, but the basic premise would fit in easily.

One of my goals in doing this is to try and get my mind away from how to educate the masses and how to guide learning for a few kids.  It was challenging to come up with something, but then also make sure I wasn’t pushing them to do things that would take away from the experience. I felt like I needed a purpose while we were doing this, so I came up with a pretend mission from the Spanish king.

Walking Arroyo Seco


Explorer Pack (Large envelope)

  • “journal” for each child – four thin papers folded in half with a construction paper cover (on last page title it map)
  • pack of colored pencils
  • pencil to write with
  • whiteboard pen

Clipboard for the car:

  • Traveling Time Worksheet (see below for information)
  • Native American info
  • Native American villages map

In my envelope:

  • Letter from the King – handed out right when started (see below for information)
  • Extra activities: coloring page and word search (I just used a word search maker, like this one, and used these words:

Other items I had:

  • Laminated pages of LA River birds and plants from Sepulveda Basin Wildlife (lots of science lessons on this page as well.) Here’s the PDF,  pages 50-59 (although I didn’t print the charts they had, just had the kids check off what they saw). PDF of LA River Lesson Plans
  • Laminated timeline from LA History Archive (just the first page)
  • A trash bag for picking up trash
  • Bread for the birds
  • Brown bag for “samples”
  • Food to eat along the way: Through exploration there was an exchange of goods — popcorn (brought to Europe), dried apricot (brought by the Spanish), and chocolate (brought to Europe).
  • Native American music


Took us 4 hours and 45 minutes, but I was rushing them sometimes.  I had to stay on schedule so I could get my daughter back for her nap.  So, could easily have spent more time.

8:00 Picked up (at the beginning and end of each drive, had them write down when we left so we could see how long it took us.  Then at the park we calculated how long it would’ve taken us on a horse. Horses travel 20-30 miles a day is a good journey.)

8:30-9:30 Heritage Park  (alternative: LA Arboretum)

This is a free park.  LA Arboretum is free on the third Tuesday of the month.

Saw village hut–drew a quick sketch and described it (explore the rancho, pueblo house and gardens, etc.)

Outside Tongva Hut

9:30-10:45 Glendale Riverwalk

Described the wildlife and plants (choose one animal and one plant to do a quick sketch and describe)…if interested they could tally marks on laminated bird, plant and animal laminated pages (they weren’t really…but we were able to find  some of the birds which was great).

Fed birds bread (basically was just a game to see how far they could throw it, since the River is far down — had some good talks about why they cemented it in, but also how sad that it’s so urban.)

 Glendale Narrows

10:45-11:45 Arroyo Seco

North of the golf course, walk along river there…paused to draw a map of the “river” they see — there was no water. It was early Fall, but also a good chance to bring up the drought.

On the way, pointed out the concrete channel, noticed the difference between the two sections of the river. Handed out bags before going into the brush for them to collect samples.

And while driving to Hahamongna Park, looked out at the dam above Arroyo Seco – looked out over the watershed (quick description in notebook – imagine an American Indian village there!) (if time, get out of car)

Exploring Arroyo Seco

“This feels like we’re really explorers!”

12:00-12:45 Hahamongna park

Explore (look at the watershed again) and add another quick description of an unpopulated area, picnic with the king.  Tell king what they think about the area and share items collected.

Meeting the King

Information on Early Californians

  • American Indians have been living in the area for over 8,000 years.
  • Tongva people also called Gabrielenos
  • Came 3500 years ago.
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Exploration by the Spanish was mid 1500’s.  It wasn’t until after Mission San Gabriel was built in 1771 that natives were exposed to the Spanish.  They converted to Christianity (some willingly, but many forced).  Before this, they were polytheistic.  The main god was Chinigchinix.
  • Currently there are about 1700 people who identify themselves as members of the Tongva or Gabrielino tribe.

The Hahamogna

The Hahamog’na, are a tribe of the  Tongva People of California.

Hahamog’na was the name of the tribe’s chief.  The tribe’s name and the place in which they live also take his name. Hahamog’na was met by Gaspar de Portolà of the overland Mexican Expedition in 1770. When he converted to Christianity, Hahamog-na was given the name “Pascual” and his tribe became known as the Pascualite Indians.  This name preceded the naming of Rancho San Pascual, part of present day Pasadena, San Marino, and South Pasadena,.

If you want to read more go to Wikipedia (I know, I know! But it’s for a fourth grade field trip.  I just needed a little background info to get through the day.  Don’t shoot me! 😉 )

Other Local Villages

Azusa: Azuscsagna

San Dimas and Glendora: Momwahomomutngna

Sylmar: Muhunga 

San Marino: Sheshiikuanungna

Sherman Oaks and Encino: Siutcanga

La Crescenta: Wikangna


Traveling Time Worksheet

(I can’t figure out how to download docs here.  So for now, you’ll have to cut and paste. Sorry!)

Home to Heritage Park

Distance: 18 miles

Departure time: ___________    Arrival Time: _____________   Total Time: ____________

Heritage Park to Glendale Narrows

Distance: 24 miles

Departure time: ___________    Arrival Time: _____________   Total Time: ____________

Glendale Narrows to Arroyo Seco

Distance: 10 miles

Departure time: ___________    Arrival Time: _____________   Total Time: ____________

Arroyo to Hahamongna

Distance: 3 miles

Departure time: ___________    Arrival Time: _____________   Total Time: ____________


Total Miles Traveled: ________________

Total Time Traveled: _________________

If we had traveled by horse:

A good day: Horse travel ____________ miles a day  

How long would it have taken us, if we were on horseback—just the traveling part!


(Could do if we had walked too!)


Letter from the King

2nd grader – print

4th grader – cursive

Used old looking paper.

Mission From King

Today’s date, 1544

By royal decree, we command you to explore this new area for us and report back.

Your  mission:

  1. map the area
  2. sketch plants and animals
  3. describe native people
  4. collect samples

 King Charles V


Additional Resources

LA History Archive Timeline

Arroyo Seco Foundation

Chumash Indian Museum

Haramonkngna American Indian Cultural Center

Historical Fiction List: California History

Historical Fiction: California History






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