Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Unit Study

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Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyYou possibly already know who Laura Ingalls Wilder is, having met her in her delightful autobiographical children’s novels. She was born on February 7, 1867, and the early part of her life progressed much as she described in her books. After she and her husband Almanzo had their fill of the hardships of farming in the Dakotas, they moved to a new farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where they stayed the remainder of their lives. It was here that her daughter Rose, a talented writer herself, inspired Laura to take up the pen. Laura’s articles for the Missouri Ruralist led to her recognition as an expert in poultry farming and country life.

However, the Wilder family’s considerable investments in the stock market were devastated during the Great Depression, leaving them heavily dependent on Rose. Laura’s writing became more important than ever as a source of income. Furthermore, both Laura’s parents and her older sister Mary had passed away by this time. Laura recognized that her treasured family stories were in danger of being lost forever. A longing grew within her to preserve her pioneering heritage for generations to come, to help children understand the dramatic changes that she saw overspreading the nation.

 

The Little House on the Prairie Books

Accordingly, she wrote down her memories in a manuscript titled Pioneer Girl, telling of her life from early childhood to the beginning of her marriage. This manuscript was not accepted for publication, but Laura was undaunted. She continued to revise it, and finally Harper and Brothers accepted her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, describing the house where she was born, near Pepin, Wisconsin. A well-known illustrator of the day, Helen Moore Sewell, was chosen to provide the pictures, and Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, when Laura was 65. The book was an instant success. Laura was flooded with letters from children begging for more stories, so she planned an eight-volume series telling of her life on the American frontier.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit Study
Almonzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder

The next book in the series, Farmer Boy, published in 1933, described Almanzo’s boyhood near Malone, New York. Laura had never seen the Wilder family farm, and Almanzo hadn’t visited it in years, but he could vividly recall many of the details and thus provide his wife with ample material for her book. It is interesting to note that he had a sister and a brother not mentioned in the story. His older sister, also named Laura, was deleted to avoid confusion with Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Perley was not born until after the events described.

Then came Little House on the Prairie, probably the most famous of Laura’s stories, in 1935. It told of the Ingalls family homestead on the Osage reservation near Independence, Kansas. Although in the story Laura describes herself as being five years old, in reality she was two. The events of Little House on the Prairie actually took place before those of Little House in the Big Woods. The Ingalls family returned to their home in Wisconsin after leaving Kansas, and it was this time that was detailed in the first book of the series. Since Laura’s memories of Independence and Indian Territory were naturally few, most of Little House on the Prairie was based on what her parents had told her about their brief stay.

The fourth book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, telling of the family’s hardships while living near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, was published in 1937. This and the rest of the books in the series were primarily from Laura’s own recollections, although she relied extensively on her younger sister Carrie’s memories, too. The next two years of the Ingalls family history were omitted from the series. During this time they lived in Burr Oak, Iowa, and helped some friends run a hotel, which it seems none of them enjoyed. Soon afterward they moved back to Walnut Grove and accumulated a large amount of debt. Laura chose not to write about this difficult time, but it did set the stage for another move and the events of the fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, published in 1939.

By the Shores of Silver Lake and the remainder of the original eight-volume series described life in and near De Smet in what was then Dakota Territory. The Long Winter (1940) told of the winter of 1880-1881, one of the worst on record for that area. Then followed Little Town on the Prairie (1941) and These Happy Golden Years (1943). The Brewster family and school of the latter book were actually called Bouchie, but Laura changed the name because of the family’s poor character. This story marked the end of the series.

All of the books won a wide readership and a great many awards. After the completion of the series, Harper and Brothers reissued it in 1953 with new illustrations by Garth Williams, famous for his work in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Williams researched his work carefully, visiting each site mentioned in the books. The results were received with delight and acclamation, and continue to please readers to this day.

But there was still one more book to come. Laura died on February 10, 1957. Another manuscript was discovered among her papers telling of the beginning of her married life, and the difficult experiences the Wilder couple faced while trying to establish their farm in the Dakotas. This final book, The First Four Years, was published in 1971.

 

The Little House Legacy

Laura once said, “It is a continual pleasure to me to know that my books are read.” She would undoubtedly be pleased to know that through all these years the whole series has been read and re-read and re-read again, being kept continually in print and even translated into a multitude of foreign languages ranging from Japanese to Swahili. Each of her hometowns honors her in some manner, as well. Many of the houses she lived in are now museums. The heritage she sought to preserve is alive and well, promising to continue to be handed down for generations yet to come.

 

Further Investigation

Laura Ingalls Wilder Timeline
From the marriage of Ma and Pa Ingalls, through the publication of each book, and her death.

Laura’s Little Houses
Descriptions of each of the places she lived.

Pioneering Journeys of the Ingalls Family
Timeline of their moves, and a little about each place they lived. Use the index at the top to visit each location. Hosted by the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

DeSmet South Dakota Street Map
Interactive map to learn about the places mentioned in Little Town on the Prairie.

 

Activities

A Pioneer Town
Templates to print and build your own pioneer town. From the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Wildflower Seed Packet Activity
Create a seed packet for some of the wildflowers mentioned in the books.

Little House Crafts & Activities
From grinding wheat and churning butter, to making Carrie’s button string.

Little House on the Prairie Recipes
Make maple candy, cambric tea, and six others from the stories.

Make Your Own Little House Journal
Complete instructions for making a very beautiful journal!

Little House 3D Model
Print, color and assemble from Practical Pages.

The Long Winter
Thirty-minute (including Hallmark commercials) old Hallmark Playhouse audio dramatization.

 

Books

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyThe Complete Little House Nine-Book Set by Laura Ingalls Wilder
All of the books in the series illustrated by Garth Williams.

The Ones, Twos, Threes of Pioneer Life: A Little House Counting Book
Interesting online interactive book hosted at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyThe Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker
Subtitled “Frontier Foods From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories,” this cookbook contains “100 authentic recipes” taken from Laura’s books. However, this is far more than a cookbook! Because of the complexity of the recipes (oxtail soup, anyone?) it may serve better as a historic look at cooking in the late 1800s.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyMy Little House Crafts Book by Carolyn Strom Collins
18 projects from the Little House series including corncob doll, straw hat, button lamp, and Christmas tassels. Beautifully illustrated with clear directions.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyThe World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins
A beautifully illustrated personal favorite. Filled with background information on the author and her family, the places they lived, and the time in which they lived. Includes family tree, maps, make-it-yourself activities, games to play, food to cook, and a beautiful timeline in the back that gives the reader an idea of the times and events Laura lived through. Information on how to see each of the little house sites is also included. Perfect companion to the series!

Little House in the Ozarks by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The “rediscovered writings” of the older author. Any student of history will find this telling glimpse into the past a rewarding read. For older students. Highly recommended.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyMusical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Diana Waring
Sadly out of print, if you can lay your hands on this one you won’t be disappointed! Includes the tunes that Laura recalls in her books, those Pa played on his fiddle, and background information for the songs. The versions are very well done. Highly recommended.

 

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Mini Unit StudyThe Prairie Primer by Margie Gray
One of our recommended prepared unit studies, this title by Cadron Creek Christian Curriculum “opens a door to the 1800’s world of the homesteader on the American frontier” by using the Little House on the Series books as the key. Tons of ideas for each book you can choose from to follow formally or informally. Highly recommended!

Little House on the Prairie: An Adventure
Webquest where the student reads, stops, and then completes an activity (writing, craft, research, etc.).

Pioneer Life With Laura
Lesson plans to go with the books including discussion questions, activities, and assessment ideas. From the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Little House in the Census
A Teaching With Documents activity from the National Archives.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes Girl Scout Patch
The requirements can be worked through by anyone.

Little House Classroom Activity Guide
17-page download from Harper Collins with ideas for covering each book in the series.

Little House in the Big Woods
Ideas from the Perkins Family.

Farmer Boy Unit
Another great unit from Homeschool Share.

 

Printables & Notebooking Helps

Laura Ingalls Wilder Lapbook Activity Pack
Free download courtesy Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Little House Lapbooks
Foldables and unit ideas from Homeschool Share. Very well done!

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Notebooking page to wrap up with room for illustrating from Homeschool Helper Online.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

 

Ready for More?

You might also enjoy these Westward Expansion mini-units:

Pike's Peak: A Mini Unit StudyPike’s Peak

 

Go West, Young ManGo West, Young Man

 

The Oregon Trail: A Mini Unit StudyThe Oregon Trail

 

The Oklahoma Land Rush: A Mini Unit StudyThe Oklahoma Land Rush

 

The Transcontinental Railroad: A Mini Unit StudyThe Transcontinental Railroad

 

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