What Was Pioneer Life Really Like? Teaching kids about pioneer life.
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.
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.
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:
- A timeline or Laura’s life.
- Little House Paper Dolls
- My Little House Crafts Book
- Notes About Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family, friends, and historic places.
- The Little House Guidebook – includes photos of the different houses and sites from Laura’s life.
- The Little House Cookbook – try some of the foods that are mentioned in the books.
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. Would your children love this doll? I highly recommend entering this giveaway – for the doll AND some amazing accessories.
More Resources for Learning About Pioneers
I found some great free lesson plans about the pioneers that you can use with your kids:
- Covered Wagon Craft
- Headin’ West! The Life of a Pioneer
- Life as a Pioneer
- Pioneer Lesson Plans and Activities
- Scholastic Pioneer Lesson Resources
- The Oregon Trail
More Books About Pioneers
There are books for children about pioneers besides the Little House series! Here are a few:
- Cassie’s Journey: Going West in the 1860s
- First Girl in the West
- Going West! Journey on a Wagon Train to Settle a Frontier Town
- Our Only May Amelia
- Pioneers to the West