Little House on the Prairie Unit Study

I have been uncharacteristically silent on the internet these past few months. Our homeschooling life, with it’s deep internal momentum, has swept us through the weeks of Spring. Our days have been filled with swimming, dancing, gymnastics, science and history classes, and woven throughout this full schedule have been wonderful playdates and gatherings with Homeschool PDX friends and acquaintances. Our first year of homeschooling has come to a close, yet I feel that our time for at-home learning is beginning afresh with the arrival of Summer. Now that we are home, now that the garden is in bloom, now that classes have ended and our days are ours again, we have found a wonderfully satisfying rhythm.

We are currently in the middle of a Little House on the Prairie unit study. I have been reading the series aloud to my kids for weeks, and we just recently finished Laura Ingalls Wilder’s last book, These Happy Golden Years. Throughout it all, we’ve been sewing, baking, dressing up and role-playing, but we are now “officially” adapting our homeschool studies to incorporate a wider variety of late 1800’s activities. I’ve chosen to spend five weeks on the topic because I also intend to cover Lewis & Clark and the Oregon Trail. Ideally, I would have covered those topics first, but we are working backwards (our next unit study will be on American Indians, so we are definitely not working chronologically!).

Here are a variety of Little House activities we are doing:

  • We’ve been following Ma’s work schedule. On Mondays we wash the clothes by hand in the backyard and hang them out to dry (just two or three items, including some doll clothes);  on Tuesdays we iron; on Wednesdays we mend (which includes any craft or sewing project we want to do – an especially exciting day considering my daughter just learned how to sew on my sewing machine!); on Thursdays we don’t churn butter as Ma would do, but read books about churning butter and other chores that early American pioneer families might have done; on Fridays we clean; on Saturdays we bake (I try to choose something era appropriate – baked beans, cornbread, or some other dutch-oveny type goody); and on Sundays we talk about how some people go to church or read religious books. Here are a few pictures to illustrate our activities and a link to an informative website:                                                                                                             Hand-washed dress hung out to dry.Ironing on Tuesday.
  • Laura is given her own rag-doll, Charlotte, in Little House in the Big Woods, so we made one together using a pattern I bought for a quarter at a neighbors garage sale. My daughter designed the doll’s face and I embroidered it on. (If you ever attempt this project yourself, be prepared to spend a series of evenings sewing on each piece of doll hair individually!). Jeya named her doll RoseAnna:    Doll Pattern

    Roseanna the rag-doll.
    Roseanna the rag-doll.
  • We made the village of De Smet (where the family settles in Little Town on the Prairie) using Lincoln Log sets; plastic covered wagon, American Indian, pioneer, and buffalo figurines; and a large piece of artist’s canvas that I found in the remnants section of a fabric store. We set up the town the way we wanted it – American Indian camp on a hill above the town, a covered wagon train approaching along the river bottoms, Ma and Pa’s cabin on a homestead in the prairie to the North, etc. – and then used fabric markers to fill in the details of the setting. My daughter added cougar tracks and a real cougar to the scene in honor of the families Wisconsin roots. I added a plastic PlayMobil tree for the same reason (and also to honor Laura and Almanzo’s first house on their tree claim years later!):                                                                                                                    IMG_3068IMG_3077IMG_3061IMG_3063IMG_3062IMG_3046
  • I caved in and bought the My Book of Little House Paper Dolls: The Big Woods Collection after a few weeks of reading the stories aloud (it would’ve been wise to get these right of the bat – my daughter just loves them!). The illustrations are beautiful, life-like, and true to Garth William’s style, and we’ve used these in a variety of settings: with the cardboard backdrop that came with the dolls, with my daughter’s Ryan Room dollhouse (see last picture below), as guides for understanding the different fabrics and dress designs of the era (think calico, lawn, basque, etc.), and just for having fun on rainy afternoons, like Mary and Laura did themselves when they were young.                             IMG_3136IMG_3154IMG_3146IMG_3140IMG_3134IMG_3156
  • And speaking of late 1800’s fashion, we’ve been using this coloring book to fill in quiet moments with simple, relaxing art (Ma designs so many dresses for the girls, especially in later books, that it’s been helpful for Jeya to visualize corsets and bustles, etc.):                                                                                                                  IMG_3177IMG_3181 IMG_3182 IMG_3183
  • Using a little loom that I found at the Oregon Historical Society gift shop, my daughter wove a rug for her Little House paper dolls and doll house. This is similar to something that Almanzo’s mom or sisters might have done in Farmer Boy, and she greatly enjoyed learning about warp and weft while watching her weaving grow:                                                                                                  IMG_3033IMG_3040IMG_3172
  • We read many supplemental books – and not just on Thursdays! It seems as if we’ve been reading about the in’s and out’s of covered wagon life for eons now 🙂 Here are many of them (including four movies). Some Lewis and Clark / Sacagawea / Oregon Trail stuff is included here (including an awesome game I scored at the Oregon Home Education Network convention for just three bucks!) because a lot of the Oregon Trail information is relevant to understanding the difficulties that settlers throughout the nineteenth century were faced with:                                                            IMG_3128IMG_3129IMG_3170IMG_3173IMG_3176IMG_3130IMG_3131IMG_3178
  • And before we purchased the paper doll set, my daughter made her own paper dolls, including this one below:                                                                                                         IMG_3045
  • We also were able to visit the historic Champoeg State Park Heritage Area outside of Newberg, OR, and to attend a fur-traders encampment. This was a “living history” event that consisted of actors demonstrating camp-life of mid-nineteenth century pioneers in the Oregon Territory. We learned all about the fur-trade, techniques for harvesting animal pelts, leather sewing skills, campfire cooking, tool making, and more.                                                                    IMG_2767 IMG_2770 IMG_2775IMG_2771

You may well ask what actual schoolwork we’ve done on this topic – considering I’ve pretty much listed a bunch of fun, crafty, and imaginative projects! – but because my children are aged five and two, my focus is on hands-on, experiential education. I did, however, put together relevant vocabulary lists for each week of our unit study based on questions Jeya asked me during our reading. If there was a word she wasn’t sure about, I added it to our list, covering in total about twelve words per week. Examples of the words include: lucid, phantom, trough, bargain, oppressive, becoming, haste and refuge. 

The last thing I should mention – considering I am writing this in Portland, Oregon, primarily for local readers – is that the Oregon Historical Society (which is free to Multnomah County Residents) has a superb exhibit of artifacts from this time period, including a life-size covered wagon. As a California transplant, my personal appreciation of Oregon’s rich history has expanded remarkably over these past few weeks, and I owe a lot to this museum!



  1. I love the use of craft, creativity and “chores” to truly embed what the children are learning. You can watch a movie or read a book, but the information doesn’t seem to resonate as deeply as when you incorporate your body with what your mind is absorbing.
    Well done!!

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