You’ve heard of them. Little House in the Big Woods. Little House on the Prairie. Farmer Boy. The beautifully told story of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
But what is it about these books that keep us coming back again and again and again to read and reread these incredible books with our children? What is it about the adventure that draws us, that pulls us into the life of the Ingalls’ family? Is it the vivid descriptions Laura gives? Is it the stories Pa tells Laura and Mary by the fire in the evenings?
And yet, reading these books is only one dimension of what they could be. But what else can you do? How do you do more than read The Little House Books?
Let’s find out together, shall we?
Who Was Laura?
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born on February 7, 1867 in Pepin, Wisconsin to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. One of the things I like best about Laura is that she gives you her story, the story of her family, in the books she wrote. You see, Laura didn’t write from her imagination, although there is lots of imagination used in the books as Laura and her sisters play! She wrote from her own experiences. She wrote what she and her family did throughout those long years.
One of the things that always struck me about Laura is her incredible gift for storytelling. You see, Laura doesn’t just tell you about the facts of her life as they happened, she takes you on a journey, on an adventure through what life was like as a girl growing up in the later half of the 1800s.
It makes you wonder if this gift of storytelling was something she learned from her Pa as she sat on his knee as a little girl and listened to the stories he told about his adventures throughout the day. It makes you wonder if listening to his stories by the light of the fire gave her the inspiration on how to tell the story of her life.
What Makes Laura and her Family Different?
Was there anything vastly different about the Ingalls family? Something that made them stand out among the crowd? Something that made you stand up and take notice of them over everyone else?
At first glance, the Ingalls family might not stand out all that much. But the more you get to know them through Laura’s words, the more you start to connect with them. The more you feel their pioneering spirit, their spirit of adventure that gave them the courage and determination to pack up everything they owned and move west. You clearly see their willingness to take risks and make a better life in the rapidly expanding United States.
In fact, you can almost start to feel this courage, this determination to make a better life for themselves. You feel like you’re along for the adventure with them, walking into the unknown with courage and faith that sets the Ingalls family apart.
Oh, and the Ingalls’ had something that most families did not have: Laura! Laura took the time later on in her life to write down the stories, the work, the adventures, the trials, the joys, and the frustrations that her family experienced. In doing so, she gave the world an incredible gift. A glimpse into the details of what life was like for so many people. But a look at what life was like through the eyes of a young girl.
Using the Little House Books in Your Homeschool
Let’s face it, reading a book and using the book as a way to teach your children through homeschooling can be two very different things! So how do you do it? How do you take this incredible adventurous Little House Book series and not just read them, but teach from them and learn through them?
Well, some of the things you can do are more obvious that others, but here are some ways you can start to incorporate activities inspired by The Little House Books along with reading the books themselves.
A Read-Aloud Book
The first place to start is to read the books! I know, I know, this one seems a bit obvious, right? Personally, these books are some of my favorites to read out loud with my children. You see, even younger children can understand and play alongside Laura and Mary in their imaginations under the big oak trees in the little log house in the big woods. But they might not be at a point where they can read the book for themselves yet. This is why I love to use the Little House Books – particularly the first three – as read alouds. Okay, there might be a selfish element in there about me wanting to read the books again for myself, but they’re so good, can you blame me?
But after you read the book, what then? What do you do?
Coloring Pages and Drawing
Coloring pages and drawing can be super fun and useful, but be careful not to overdo this one! When you have little ones, printing off a coloring page of a log cabin or of a stump surrounded by big trees for them to color and add in the details of Laura and Mary’s play house can be really fun. It’s also a great option to have your little ones color a picture even as you read out loud to them. It helps keep both their mind and their bodies occupied and yet focused on the same thing.
Now, older children might not be as willing to color a coloring page, but you could have them draw something free hand. There are so many scenes and stories that Laura describes in vivid details throughout the books. Having your child draw how they see things in their imagination can be a fun, engaging activity as well as giving you great insight as to how they are understanding the book!
Make Some Food
Throughout the Little House Books, Laura tells her readers about the food the Ingalls family makes. In Laura’s time, if a family didn’t grow and preserve their own food, they wouldn’t be able to eat! So, making and preserving food was a big part of everyday life.
One simple way you can make the books come to life is by making some of the food Laura talks about. Here are some suggestions to get you going:
- Try some smoked venison, or smoked meat of any kind.
- Churn your own butter using a jar and heavy whipping cream.
- Bake a loaf of bread from scratch.
- Make some maple sugar candy
- Bake a pumpkin pie
- Make hulled corn and milk or bean porridge
- Safely build a fire in your backyard and make your entire meal over an open fire like the Ingalls’ did while they were traveling west in their covered wagon.
- Take time one night to make dinner from scratch – every dish! Now, you don’t have to make this complicated, but in making everything from scratch you can start to appreciate how much work it was to make enough food to feed a family before there were modern conveniences like refrigerators and microwaves and loaves of bread you could buy at the store!
Take a Field Trip
Take a field trip to a working farm. It’s interesting how you can read all about the different techniques people used to work their farms. How they sheered sheep and spun wool to make fabric. How they milked the cows and cared for their animals. But it’s another thing to see all these things in action. To try carding wool and then watch someone use a spinning wheel to turn the carded wool into thread. Then to watch someone use a loom and turn the wool into fabric so clothes can be made.
It’s one thing to read about milking a cow, but it’s another thing to stand next to a cow in real life and see how big they actually are. To try milking them and realize it’s not as easy as it sounds…even after you get the hang of it!
Now, you might not have a working farm nearby that includes all these things, but check around your area and see if you can experience these things for yourself – even if it needs to be a couple different field trips.
If you’re near enough, you can even visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, MO. (Be sure to check their website for all the details.) You could also visit the old Wilder farm in Moline, NY.
Make a Craft
Another way you can experience the Little House Books is by making a craft. Now, this could be a craft mentioned in the book or it could be a craft that reminds you of the book. Here’s a list of suggestions to get you started:
- Make paper dolls like Ma did with Laura and Mary. You can look up templates for paper dolls online and print them out or you can purchase a book of pre-printed paper dolls.
- Try making a doll out of corn husks like Laura’s doll Susan.
- Make a log cabin out of popsicle sticks.
- Make a covered wagon out of LEGOs
- Make a straw hat. (This one might take some extra skill or even consider taking a class on how to do this!)
- Make a bookshelf or a stool out of wood like Pa made all the furniture for his family. (Note: This craft requires extra adult supervision and some knowledge of woodworking!)
Step Back in Time with Your Chores
Take a step back in time with your chores and try to do everything like Laura and Mary would have had to. Start by making your bed. Wash all the dishes by hand. Cook only using the stove top and the oven – no fair using the microwave or toaster today! Mix everything by hand. Knead bread by hand. You can even wash some clothes by hand and hang them out to dry in the sunshine. Or maybe you could just wash your doll’s clothes by hand to get a feel for what it must have been like.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of rigidly structured book reports for elementary students, but at the same time, it’s very beneficial to be able to put into words what you’re thinking and learning about a book. Yet at the same time, all book reports do not need to be written!
You could have your child write a few paragraphs telling you which part of the story was their favorite and why. You could have them write a letter to Laura or Almanzo asking them questions and being their pretend pen pal. You could have them pretend to be Laura or Almanzo (or anyone else in the book) and write a few entries in their journal.
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to give a book report without giving a “book report,” be sure to grab your free copy of the Creative Book Reports guide below. It gives you 12 different ideas on how you can creatively help your child communicate what they learned and read in a book without having to simply regurgitate what the book said.
The Final Chapter
No matter what extra activities you choose to do. No matter if your bread tastes a little too flour-y or if your dinner over an open fire gets a little crispier than you hoped. No matter if you see a cow up close and personal or not, remember this:
The most important thing you can do with your children to help them learn is to read! Read to them. Read with them. Model reading in front of them. Read as much as you can and as often as you can.
You see, reading unlocks worlds and adventures you might never experience except through the pages of a book. The Little House Books are an incredible example of this. Through these pages you get to step back in time and not only read, but experience though Laura’s eyes what life was like for a young girl growing up in the big woods and on the wide prairie.
- Creative Book Reports: Leave the Bland and Boring Behind
- How to Make Reading Fun and Interesting
- Roald Dahl: Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
- Why Is Reading With Your Kids So Important?
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.