Can you believe it’s been five years since I wrote my first Little House on the Prairie post? I read it and am taken back to the simpler days of only having my first two kids to homeschool where we practiced a more relaxed homeschool approach. Now my oldest will be entering high school next year and the next is fully immersed in the world of junior high. How time flies. I’ve added four more kids to the mix of homeschooling with one more still to fit in the next couple of years. Gone are the relaxed, take-your-time days of yore. Now we are fully immersed in a heavy classical school load for the older two and, while the younger ones still have fun and are covering a lot of the same material as the first two, my schedule is much more structured with this next group of younger kids as I have to make sure there is enough mommy teacher time to go around to meet all the needs. Hence the sound of crickets on this here blog!
We are on round two of our history cycle wrapping up modern history this year. We began the year just post Civil War and started right in on Pioneers and the Homestead Act with my younger children. This, of course, is a perfect time to introduce another generation to my love of all things Little House of the Prairie! Oh how I wish I had more time to spend and camp out here. Even though I only had a week to fill, I made the best of it with my very kinetic learners with two great hands-on projects I wanted to share with you all.
Sometimes with homeschooling I get caught up in the wants that cost money. I would’ve loved to have had a big set of Lincoln Logs for my preschooler through fourth grader to play with. This would’ve been great to keep little hands busy while mommy was reading our literature Little House on the Prairie or our living history book selections. This was not in our budget this year. Instead, I decided to concentrate on using what I already had that also keeps little hands busy. Play dough. I decided the best way to help my hands-on learners remember what the Homestead Act meant was to immerse them in the world of sod house making. They absolutely loved this and all decided, at least the first week of school, that history was definitely their favorite subject. Score for mom! We used this play dough recipe that I had used before for a Valentine’s Day party because it smells like heavenly chocolate.
And don’t let the blog pictures deceive you. My first batch turned out horrible. I thought I could get buy without the cream of tartar and it was a disaster. So while my kids were busily, and happily, playing in the sticky muddy mess on the table, it wasn’t the right consistency to make our sod bricks out of and mommy had to do a quick run to the store in order to redo the recipe the right way. But it turned out all right in the end and they were very happy with their sod houses. Note to moms: try to gently encourage your students to stack the bricks in the staggered pattern that real builders use. Otherwise, when this project dries it will fall apart! My kids had to learn this the hard way. As their houses dried they looked great but immediately collapsed in a heap of dried sod bricks when they did not heed my warning.
We also played this fun game online that shows if you have what it takes to make it on the prairie and build a sod house properly. Both my third and fourth grader failed their first two attempts but finally got it right on attempt number three!
Our next project this week was to build this cute little pioneer peg family to live in their built sod houses. My children love to play what they learn. When we studied cowboys they played cowboys. When we studied Indians they played Indians. When we studied women’s suffrage they played making signs and voting. I love watching them play what they learn. It makes my house always chaotic and a bit on the messier side – an uphill battle I struggle with already just having seven kids living here with me all day long – but the extra effort at cleaning is worth it when I hear them ask if we can study something again because they want to play it again.
Now the crafty, OCD mommy part of me had to forcibly take a back seat on the peg project people. I modeled the project for them. I made wonderful suggestions to them. I used scrap material and yarn I already had on hand and only had to buy the peg clothespins – $2 for a bag at Michaels. But my children are nothing if not consistent and hard-headed. They had there own way of doing their dolls and mommy had to let that be okay. They had a lot of fun with this project. And, if they had listened to me with their sod houses, the houses would’ve been built high enough to use and play with the peg people. We will probably revisit making these dolls again this winter while reading “The Long Winter” for literature. Maybe I’ll teach them how to make some snow candy like Laura and Mary did if we get a dumping of good sticky snow. While this experiment didn’t quite turn out how I wanted it to with my oldest kids, it was still very yummy!
For more fun activities to pair with your Little House on the Prairie study or any history study pertaining to the early pioneers, check out my previous Little House on the Prairie Unit Study. Also, if you wanted to expand on the activities that I listed here today, you could also try your hand at these. I wanted to get to all of them but a week is such a short time and flies by too fast.
- Make your own butter!
- What’s For Lunch pdf – lessons on what homesteaders ate, including color pages and mason jar butter recipe for above activity
- Exploring Sod Houses Lesson Plan
- Short Video on History of Sod Houses
- Make Maple Snow Candy
- Build a Marshmallow & Graham Cracker Covered Wagon
- Covered Wagon Color Page
- Westward Expansion Unit – page 1 is a Homestead Act notebook page (tracing and illustrating)
- Wild West Mega Pack for Tots
We also read a great new book that I’m adding to our list of Pioneer book must-haves. Dandelions by Eve Bunting is a picture story about two girls who move with their parents out to the prairie. I choose this particular book for several reasons. First, it was set in Nebraska – where we live. I love making history personal. It seems to stick more. Second, they build a sod house and talk about the Homestead Act, which went well with our project and notebooking for the week. Third, dandelions are my favorite under-appreciated flower! So many uses and benefits – I have a whole Pinterest Board dedicated to them – and such a bright yellow sign of hope in the spring when the winter blues have seem to permanently set in. In fact, this is kind of the point of the story. Many pioneer wives of that time, while hard and persevering women, experienced depression. While they did set out to try their hand at a new life, they also left everything behind. Being in this harsh new world without shade and trees and the beauty of flowers, without the comfort of their extended family or even neighbors and community, without their furniture (not much could fit on the wagon ride out) and heirlooms, even without wood to build a comfortable house, living in this world of dirt and nothingness must have been so hard for so many women. This story touches on that very hardship and the young girl ends up saving and planting some dandelions on her sod roof for her mother. It is a beautiful story that touches on that hope that so many prairie wives needed. I just loved it.
Books I would add to my first list for this time period:
- Dandelions by Eve Bunting
- Pioneer Girl by Andrea Warren (a true memoir about a Nebraska Homesteader)
- Pioneer Girl: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson (picture book biography)
- Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner
- Prairie Willow by Maxine Trotter
- Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner (and I Can Read! Level 3 book)
- You Wouldn’t Want to be an American Pioneer!
- A Pioneer ABC! by Mary Alice Downie (for the littles with beautiful illustrations)
Another thing I’m excited to do this winter with the kids is work through watching the first season of Little House on the Prairie. They really don’t make shows like this anymore and I mourn the loss of wholesome family values that this show teaches. This will make a perfect wintertime activity to binge on in evenings of our cozy house with the outside world shut out to us. But we will kick it off with this documentary The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I may be a bit of a nerd but I’m so excited about watching this. You must visit the blog Little House of the Prairie and watch the trailer. It looks just divine! While your at their site stay and look around a while. It is chock full of wonderful activities to pair with a Little House study!
They are also offering a one time savings to you homeschool moms in order to add it to your living history library as well. Just click on their Amazon link to buy the documentary and put in the coupon code (LHSCHOOL) to receive an additional 20% off!