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I’ve always loved the Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve read them to my children so many times that I almost have them memorized. The second series of books based on her parents and grandparents lives (The Caroline Years etc.) are good but they are not hers. Please don’t get the two of them confused! I’m loyal to Laura and her original books.

Although the Little House books made every meal sound mouth-watering, the Ingalls family ate plain, basic food over and over again, read from just a handful of books and lived in isolation for most of their lives. Can you imagine eating salt pork for almost every meal? It’s a very salty bacon-like meat but it was an important part of the Ingall’s diet.

To make the books come alive for my children when they were young (and to help them understand the deprivation all early settlers experienced), we spent a weekend living like pioneers. I considered this a 48 hour unit study. My kids loved it! Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. We didn’t use electricity for two days. This meant using candles and one oil lamp. We read by candlelight so they could experience how hard it would be to read in bed!

2. We used a wood stove to cook on. If you don’t have one you could use one burner on your stove and call it “the stove.”

3. We used only an outside hose for water and called it “the well.” We went to the well for water with a bucket and hauled that bucket of water inside the house.

4. We ate beans and cornbread three times a day for two days and a lot of bacon!

5. We used the Bible and an old McGuffey reader as our only books.

6. We all lived in one small part of the house (I marked off the average size of a log cabin so they could get a feel for small amount of space in an average log cabin). In that space we had one bed, some blankets and two books.

7. We tried to get up at dawn and go to bed soon after the sun went down.

8. I kept the children busy with “chores” (ie., scrubbing clothes by hand, hauling water, hand-washing the floor, cooking over the fire etc.

These are just a few of the things we did during our Little House Weekend. The sky is the limit as far as ideas go. Do a quick internet search for pioneer crafts and you will find a boggling array of ideas. The children absolutely loved these weekends even though we only got around to doing them about twice a year.

These days I am using some of those same ideas and teaching them to over fifty children in a home school co-op. It’s a bit of a challenge to get things done in less than an hour per class but we did make a green pumpkin pie last week as well as a simple candle holder out of air-drying clay. I read the passage where Ma Ingalls makes the pie in The Long Winter and I explained how important candles, lanterns and candle holders were before electricity was invented. The kids enjoyed it.

Making literature come alive doesn’t have to take a great deal of planning…with young children who’s got time for that? Simply read a book, turn out the lights, light a candle and bake a pan of cornbread. Your children will associate the study of the past (ie., history) with yummy smells, cosy evenings and the excitement of something different…and they will learn!