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Orphan Trains {Free eBook With Go-Along Resources}

Orphan Trains {Free eBook With Go-Along Resources}

Big Brother by Annie Fellows Johnston, author of the Little Colonel series, is an easy introduction to the Orphan Trains of the 1800s.

Like the passel of other children on the train, Robin and his “Big Brother” Steven were orphans bound to the west where “an old farmer” offered to take both boys for a while. Their chances of adoption in New Jersey were limited because of their refusal to be separated.  Steven does everything he can to make sure Robin is not considered a trouble so that they can remain together.  Despite his efforts, the farmer to whom they were promised eventually decides he just can’t keep both children.

Of course, not all of the stories of the orphan trains had a happy ending.  But this story does!

And Big Brother, with his head pillowed once more beside Robin’s, lay with his eyes wide open, too happy to sleep—lay and dreamed of the time when he should be a man, and could gather into the great house he meant to own all the little homeless ones in the wide world; all the sorry little waifs that strayed through the streets of great cities, that crowded in miserable tenements, that lodged in asylums and poorhouses.

A warm read, and a simple introductory look at the well-intentioned, but sometimes misguided efforts, of those trying to help the large number of orphaned children in the big cities of  America.

Free eBook

 

Suggestions
  • Have a youngster who is interested in trains?  Take a closer look at steam locomotives!
  • Learn more about blackberries.  Why do you think they would be a welcomed sight among the children on the train?
  • Steven and Robin were from New Jersey.  Map a path from New Jersey to Kansas. (Mapping resources below.)
  • Steven in gratefulness for Robin’s care said, “It just seems like this is a Thanksgiving Day that will last always!”  What have you been so thankful for that it seemed like Thanksgiving Day would last always?  Make a thankful list.
  • Find out why the orphan train movement ended.  (You’ll find helpful resources below.)
  • As you learn more about the orphan trains, make a list of the good characteristics of the movement and the positive advantages, and also list a few of the negative impacts.

 

Additional Resources

A History of the Orphan Trains
Background information including two reasons why the trains stopped.

Orphan Trains of Kansas: Timeline
For perspective.

Orphan Train Flyer
Photo of a flyer seeking homes for the children.

About Our Founder
Brief biography of Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children’s Aid Society.

The Orphan Trains
History from the Children’s Aid Society started by Charles Loring Brace.

Homeless Children
Ad appearing July 8, 1893.

Homeless Children Find Welcome Awaiting Them
Newspaper article from the Nehma County Herald (Nebraska) February 5, 1915.

 

Activities

Interactive Map Maker {Free}
Click on USA and choose the United States map.  Then have your child chart a course from New Jersey to Kansas, and print!

United States Map
Another option.

Compare Contrast Map
Interactive at ReadWriteThink that can be used to list the advantages and disadvantages of the orphan train movement.  (Use whole-to-whole comparison with Item 1: Advantages and Item 2: Disadvantages.)

 

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

The Orphan Trains Teacher’s Guide
Lesson plan from PBS that goes with the American Experience show (transcript available via link at bottom), but stands well on its own.

Philanthropy and Children Who Are Homeless
Unit with six lessons using the orphan train as background with a focus on giving.

Trains Unit Study {Free}
Unit study from Jennifer Steward that includes research, writing, math, mapping, science, art, music, field trip suggestions, and other areas of interest.  We’ve added a few additional resources.

 

Notebooking Pages

Big Brother and the Orphan Trains
Simple notebooking pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.