Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Unit Study

You 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 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 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 reread and reread 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.

  • Create a notebook for all things Laura Ingalls Wilder as you read through the Little House series.
  • Mark on a map the locations as you encounter them and include the map in the notebook.
  • Have your students copy and illustrate a favorite passage.
  • Have your students provide written narrations (or if they are too young, write down their oral narrations) to include in the notebook.
  • Take pictures of the hands-on projects you complete and include those in your notebook.
  • Make a list of any words that are unfamiliar as they are encountered. Provide the definitions.
  • Write a character sketch of a favorite character from the books.
  • Complete an author study on Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Use these other ways to interact with literature.

Further Investigation

Meet the Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Brief bio aimed at kids from Houghton Mifflin.

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.


Little House on the Prairie WebQuest
Online scavenger hunt to learn more.

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.

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

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

Little House Inspired Family Fun Crafts and Activities
And if you are still looking for more, this site should keep you busy for a while!

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Unit Study

The 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 Unit Study

The 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 Unit Study

My 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 Unit Study

The 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!

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books by Marta McDowell
A new favorite that takes a look at the locations and landscapes encountered and detailed in the Little House books. Beautifully illustrated, well written, and informative! Read our full review.

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 Unit Study

Musical 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.

Tracks and Tracking {Free eBook}
Useful book when reading the series!

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Unit Study

The 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 Activity Guide
Wonderful go-along from Harper Collins that includes biographical information, writing tips, and then discussion questions (narration prompts!) and journal suggestions for each book in the series.

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.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Lesson plan at Utah State University covering the frontier and more through the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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 in the Big Woods
Fascinating 17-page download from the Federal Reserve geared at 3–4 graders that looks at how the Ingalls produced the goods they needed to survive.

Little House in the Big Woods Novel Study
13-page download with activities and questions that can be used for narrations.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Author Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for recording information on Laura Ingalls Wilder including room for copywork, narrations, an illustration, dates of birth/death, and books by the author.

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

Ready for More?
Go West, Young Man: A Unit Study

Enjoy our other Westward Expansion units!

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