What Was Pioneer Life Really Like?

Resources for Teaching kids about pioneer life.

What was it REALLY like to be a pioneer? Teaching kids about pioneer life.

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I find that most children are intrigued by pioneer life. It sounds like a big adventure – traveling across the country into the unknown in a covered wagon. Pioneer life is also intriguing because – even though it didn’t happen THAT long ago – pioneer life was enormously different from our life today.

What was it really like to be a pioneer? Resources for teaching children about the American pioneers

Resources for Teaching Kids About Pioneer Life

All four of my grandparents are children or grandchildren of pioneers, so in our home we have plenty of primary source material to draw on. Pioneer life was HARD! Here are a few things that I think it is important to remember about pioneers.

People Became Pioneers Because They Felt They Had To

Life is much more pleasant in houses with neighbors nearby! Most pioneers became pioneers because, for whatever reason, life where they were living wasn’t working. Some were physically driven from their homes, where others simply saw no way of improving their lives by staying where they were. Pioneers were desperate enough for a change that they were willing to leave nearly everything behind forever – including family and friends.

Pioneers Were Willing to Take Risks

Life doesn’t get much riskier than loading up a few possessions in a wagon or handcart and pulling those belongings to a place you  and, most likely, your entire circle of family and friends, have never seen before. It was an adventure, absolutely, but an adventure that typically cost the life of at least one family member along the way.

Teaching kids about pioneer life

Pioneers Were Resilient

The pioneers who survived were remarkably resilient. They survived physical hardship, illness, and the death of loved ones. Somehow, they found the ability to continue on their journeys and to build a life in their new homes.

Pioneers Were Not All Good

Like all groups of people, pioneers were not perfect. They could be very callous and even violent towards Native Americans whose lands they were invading. There are even records of pioneers dressing up as Native Americans in order to commit crimes that they would then blame on the local tribe. Some pioneers would take advantage of other pioneers through theft. Sometimes pioneers would refuse to stop and help other pioneers.

These negative stories are tempered by tales of friendly relationships between pioneers and Native Americans. There are also stories of pioneers risking life and limb to help one another. It is important to remember both the uplifting and sad stories.

Using Laura Ingalls Wilder to Introduce Children to Pioneers

Laura Ingalls Wilder has become something of a symbol for pioneer history. Her Little House on the Prairie series provides a gentle introduction to pioneer life. Her autobiography, Pioneer Girl, offers a more realistic view for teens. Here are some more great resources for learning about Laura Ingalls Wilder:

Teaching kids about pioneers and the Laura Ingalls Wilder doll

This Laura Ingalls Wilder doll that we were sent to review is a wonderful way to start kids talking about this part of United States history. Available at both Target and The Queen’s Treasures, this doll is beautifully made. My girls fell in love with her at once. She comes dressed in a nightgown and cap (no shoes) with a blanket, pillow and doll. Her box cleverly transforms into a bed.

More Resources for Learning About Pioneers

I found some great free lesson plans about the pioneers that you can use with your kids:

More Books About Pioneers

There are books for children about pioneers besides the Little House series! Here are a few:

How do you teach your kids about pioneer life? Do you have any favorite books or activities to share? Comment below, share a link on my Facebook page, or tag me on Instagram!

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.

7 thoughts on “What Was Pioneer Life Really Like?”

  1. Elisa | blissful E

    My kids love the Little House series. I so appreciate you bringing balance to this topic, and for providing all these resource links!

  2. My daughter really enjoyed Little House books when she was younger. I always found it interesting how women in these books seemed to have little say in whether they are going to go somewhere or stay put. I am glad things changed since :)

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