Featured Book Friday(ish): Little House on the Prairie

(oops! I didn’t get the post done on Friday, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)

Grades 1-4 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This beloved classic memoir, first published in 1935, is so well written that it is still a childhood favorite today. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s explicit descriptions help the reader see pioneer life through the eyes of a child. Based on her experiences as a child in the 1870s, Little House on the Prairie takes the reader on her  journey to the west as they pack the covered wagon, say goodbye to friends and family that they may never see again, encounter  life-threatening situations in their covered wagon, cook on the prairie, build a new home from scratch, and leave that new home behind once again.

I remember this book as an old favorite from my childhood, but when I reread it recently as an adult and teacher, I appreciated just how impressive the writing is and how detailed her descriptions of prairie life are. The writing is clear and simple, so there is no need to “translate” it for children today. It is truly a timeless adventure.

~Book review written by Emily Stout

Curriculum Connections: -Literacy & Social Studies Connections: This book is absolutely perfect for taking your students on a pioneer adventure! Using drama is a powerful way to let kids “experience” history. You can make history come alive in your classroom by traveling back to the 1800s with your students and becoming pioneers. Here is how to set the stage . . .

We begin by learning about the differences between life in the 1800s compared to life today. I found a reproduction of the book The School of Good Manners by Nathaniel Patten that was first published in 1787 (Click on the book cover for information on buying the book). This authentic little treasure was one of the first known publications that acted as a guide for the conduct of children. Written in language of the time, this little paperback recreation outlines the expectations for children at home, school, in public meeting houses, etc. For example, here are just a few rules on children’s conduct at the table (which we use with our Little House on the Prairie unit outlined later in this post):

  • Come not to the table without having your hands and face washed, and your head combed.
  • Find no fault with any thing that is given thee.
  • Spit not, cough not, nor blow thy nose at table; if it may be avoided.
  • Throw not any thing under the table.
  • Drink not, nor speak with any thing in thy mouth.
  • Pick not thy teeth at the table, unless holding up thy napkin before thy mouth with thine other hand.

The kids get a kick out of trying to follow all the rules of the 1800s! I recently found a great free resource for a Long Ago and Today Social Studies unit from Mrs. Patterson’s Patch. She has 3 parts to this unit: school, transportation, and home, and they’re are all free! I can’t wait to use them with my Little House on the Prairie unit this year! (click here)

Art Connections: We have to have the proper attire to live in the 18oos when we travel back in time, so we learn about how people dressed in that time period and how different it was for men and women. I use the American Family Paper Dolls by Tom Tierney to show students what the clothing of the time period looked like. The clothing in this book is very detailed, so the kids can really see h0w people dressed. There is also a detailed description about the clothing written in the book. Unfortunately these paper dolls and clothing are EXTREMELY time consuming and labor-intensive to cut out. You have to cut on the lines exactly for the clothes to fit. This is a good project for parent helpers to do at home, but it will definitely take some time. I recommend laminating them before cutting because trying to re-cut the clothes and people would be impossible! I have also let students create their own paper doll to represent themselves and the clothing they would wear in this time period by using the paper doll  ellison die-cut (it has bodies, hair for boys and girls, clothing, shoes, etc.). The die-cut clothing is not pioneer clothing, but I let the students use the basic outline to make their own pioneer clothing with construction paper and scrapbook paper scraps. We glue these pioneer paper dolls in the journals we’ll be writing (see Writing Connections), and label the type of clothing that had to be worn. (This is a great place to introduce the non-fiction text feature: labels.)

We are also ‘in character’ when I read aloud a chapter from Little House on the Prairie, so the girls make bonnets to wear and the boys make hats. I found a great resource for activities that go with all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books (click here). There I found directions for making hats for the boys (click here) and bonnets for the girls (click here). I had the kids make these in the classroom, but this year I think I will have the art teacher help me out. They do require some time to make, but they are perfect! We wear these hats and bonnets to ‘travel back in time’ every time I read a chapter from Little House on the Prairie. When it is read aloud time, the kids put on their hat or bonnet and line up outside the classroom door–girls on one side, boys on the other, just as they would in a one room school house. I ring a cowbell to let the students know that it is time for school (in our one-room school house) to begin. Ladies always get to go in the door first. They remove their bonnets by pushing them off their heads, curtsying, and saying, “Good morning, ma’am” as they walk in the door. Then the boys follow removing their hats, bowing, and giving me the same greeting. The students sit in rows on the carpet with girls on one side and boys on the other while they listen to a new chapter in Little House on the Prairie. We also use the rules from The School of Good Manners during this time. Some of their favorite rules to follow are: stand before speaking, stand and bow if an adult enters the room, and sit quietly facing forward without looking an adult in the eye (yes–it’s true! They LOVED sitting quietly! That makes the whole unit worth trying, doesn’t it?!)

Writing Connections: We make our own classroom book interactively called My School of Good Manners. We use this book to record what we learn about classroom behavior in the 1800s in our own words. We add to this  book throughout the unit as we learn new rules, and we refer back to it whenever necessary. After taking a Kagan class this summer, this year I will use the ‘Team Stand and Share’ structure (see directions below) to brainstorm what we will add to our book.

The students are each responsible for keeping a journal of our “travels” throughout this unit as well. Because things were very gender specific in the 1800s, we keep that theme going by giving the boys one journal and the girls a different journal. (The gender difference is something that the students really notice, and after this unit, they usually appreciate the equality of our time!) After read aloud, the students write in their journals about our adventure on the prairie that day (which is whatever happened in the chapter we read in Little House on the Prairie). In the first chapter of the book, Laura talks about saying goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The students write in their journals as if they are writing a letter to their cousin that they left behind when they began their westward journey. They must use correct letter format as they explain to their cousin what happened to them on the prairie in a letter. At the end of the unit, the students can look back at their journal to remind themselves of life on the prairie, and it’s a great way to introduce writing summaries!

We also do special activities that accompany each chapter in the book. For example, the book talks in great detail about how the Ingalls family cooks and what they eat when they are on the prairie. It mentions making butter, which we do in our classroom with heavy whipping cream and a glass jar with a screw on lid. It also mentions that they ate corn bread and molasses. I have the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook (although the directions on the back of the package of cornmeal works fine too!), and I made cornbread for my students using real ground cornmeal. Using the table manners from  The School of Good Manners (and there are a lot!), the students eat the cornbread, molasses, and the butter that we made in class for an 1800s style snack! This is a great interactive experience that helps the kids relive history. One of the rules (as listed above) is, “Find no fault with any thing that is given thee.” I LOVE watching them try not to make faces as they taste the molasses!

Cross Curricular Connections: This is the perfect unit to collaborate with specials teachers. You can ask the PE teacher to teach your students games that were popular in the 1800s. They can compare them with the games that children play today. We used the book Games from Long Ago by Bobbie Kalman to plan which games they would play. We picked some games that were similar to games that kids play today and some that were very different.

In Little House on the Prairie, Pa loves to play his fiddle and sing. They mention many songs by name in the book, so talk to your music teacher about sharing those songs and some ‘fiddlin’ with your students.

You can ask the art teacher to help you with the art projects listed above. One year, the art teacher also had my students make marbles out of clay, which is what most kids did at the time. Glass marbles were much too expensive for a child’s game, so they played marbles with homemade clay marbles. The kids learned that if the marbles weren’t very round, they didn’t do very well in a game of marbles!

During this unit of study, we go on a field trip to the Littleton Historic Museum. It is a working farm that has several acres with 2 original homesteads–one from the late 1800s and one from the early 1900s. The difference between these houses in just 30-40 years is incredible! There is also a one room school house and a blacksmith shop. There are volunteers who work the farm in clothing of the time period doing daily chores to give students an authentic experience. As the students walk around the farm, the chaperons have a list of old sayings and how they originated from the book Settler Sayings by Bobbie Kalman. As they discuss these saying with the kids, they look for examples around the farm. For example, the saying, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” used to have a literal meaning. The mattresses from long ago were made with straw and prairie grass (just like Little House on the Prairie) and there were often bed bugs in the straw or grass that did bite in the night! At the museum, the students would look for the bed in the 1800s homestead to see the mattress that was made of straw.

I am currently working on a Little House on the Prairie unit to sell at the Teacher Stuff store. It will include the journal covers (pictured above),  how to incorporate the journals and special activities (like the activities listed above) into each chapter. Check back to see when this unit will be for sale! Creating a literature study through drama with Little House on the Prairie makes history come alive in a lesson, and experience, your students won’t forget. And it’s not just fun! Both Little House on the Prairie and The School of Good Manners are written firsthand accounts of history. In this unit students compare and contrast various aspects of life in the 1800s to life today. They describe the history and interaction of various people and cultures that migrated to communities, and how events and decisions shaped the the identity of communities today. They get to identify historical artifacts, generate questions about their functions, and they identify history as the story of the past preserved in various sources. When children get to interact with history through drama and literature, true learning happens.

3 thoughts on “Featured Book Friday(ish): Little House on the Prairie

  1. Love the Littleton Historical Museum!! My grandparents actually got married in the little yellow house (early 1900’s) before it was moved to its current location. The house was on Littleton Blvd and belonged to Judge Bemis. I think they were married in 1940. Not sure of the exact date, but we visited this museum frequently since I grew up in Littleton.

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