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Pioneer Living

Students gain a better understanding of life in pioneer times with the Pioneer Living Suitcase. The students can card wool and cotton, make candles, compare tools, games, and lifestyles of the pioneers with their own, or trace the route that many pioneers took on a map while discussing dangers and problems that might have occurred on the journey.


Household Items: washboard, flat iron, lantern, popcorn popper
Clothing and Fabric: quilt square samples, weaving cards, wool, carding combs, and braided rugs
Resource books: Pioneer Projects, Pioneer Life from A to Z, and Schoolyard Games


Display all of the artifacts and ask students to guess what time period they will be studying. Have them examine the items and guess what they were used for and how they were used. At the end of the unit, display all of the items again and have the students explain the use of each item using the information that they have learned.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: OV.1.1.1, IR.1.2, H.6.1.7)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: OV.1.5.1, OV.3.7.1, IR.12.5.4)

Have the students write a paragraph about what they think life was like for pioneers on the frontier. After studying pioneers, have the students write another paragraph about pioneer life including some of the information that they have learned.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: W.4.2.4, W.4.3.8, W.4.4.9, W.5.3.2, H.6.4.19)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.4.5.6, W.4.6.6, W.5.5.3, W.5.5.9, IR.12.5.4, G.3.7.6)

When families traveled on the pioneer trail, they had to take all of the items that they would need in order to survive while traveling. Have the students pretend that they are beginning a journey on the pioneer trail. Do the "Supply List" activity included in the binder.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: E.7.1.1, E.7.K.2, NO.2.2.6, NO.3.3.1, NO.3.4.4)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: NO.3.5.3)

The long westward journey was filled with danger and hardship. Pretend you are a pioneer journeying westward. Write a journal entry about some of the hardships you face on your trip.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: W.5.3.10, W.5.4.1)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.5.6.3, W.5.5.10, W.5.6.10, G.3.7.6, G.3.7.7)

Trace the route of the pioneers on a map. Notice the landforms they encounter. A pioneer family traveling in a wagon could usually travel 10-15 miles in one day. On a rainy muddy day they might only travel one mile. If you started in Missouri and traveled to Oregon, which is about 2000 miles, how long would it take you to get to your destination? What things could happen along your way that might slow you down?

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: H.6.1.6, G.1.6.6, IR.12.2.4)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.5.5.10, G.1.5.9, H.6.5.24)

Imagine what it was like during pioneer times without electricity. Make a list of some of the things you do now that you would not be able to do without electricity. What activity would you miss the most and why? Which activity do you think that pioneer children would most enjoy?

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: OV.1.K.6, H.6.1.7, H.6.K.7, G.2.1.2)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.5.5.10, G.3.7.7)

Make a Venn diagram or write a compare/contrast paragraph about the differences and similarities between the pioneer flat iron and our iron today. Be sure to include the shape, weight, purpose and heat source.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: R.10.1.10, R.10.1.4, W.4.2.6, W.7.4.5)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.4.5.2, R.10.5.14)

Make candles. Instructions are included in the binder.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: A.2.6, A.2.7, A.2.4, A.2.8)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: A.2.2, A.2.6, A.2.7)

Pioneer children had many chores to do each day. They helped with soap making, cooking meals, gathering wood for the fire, and fetching water from the nearest stream. They also milked the cow, and helped with "chinking". Chinking was the process of filling the gaps between the logs of the house with mud, sticks and stones. Make a list of the chores you do each day. Are any of them the same as pioneer children? Which pioneer chore would be your favorite? Which would be your least favorite?

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: G.2.1.2, H.6.1.7)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.5.5.1, G.3.7.6, G.3.5.6)

Have the children take turns carding some wool or cotton.
Make a class quilt using a basic 9-patch pattern. Discuss different shapes used in quilts.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: A.2.6, A.2.7, A.3.5, A.2.1, A.2.8, A.4.1.2, G.8.1.3)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: A.3.4, A.2.1, A.2.2)

Make a construction paper quilt square. Put each square up on the wall to make a class quilt. Sample and instructions included in the binder.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: G.8.1.3, G.11.1.2, G.11.1.1, A.1.4, A.2.1, A.2.8)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: A.3.8, A.2.1, A.2.2)

Let the students weave on the cards included in the suitcase or make your own cards for each student using a piece of cardboard or heavy paper. They can weave yarn or fabric strips.
Make a paper woven placemat. Instructions included in the binder.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: A.2.6, A.2.2, A.2.4)

Make a yarn doll, by using yarn instead of fabric. Instructions are included in the binder.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: A.2.6, A.2.2, A.2.4)
  • (AR Curriculum 5-8: A.2.3)

Using the Resource Book, Schoolyard Games, compare pioneer children's toys and games with yours today. Make a Venn diagram or a T-chart to record your information. What toys do we still use today? What games do we still play?

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: G.2.1.1, G.2.K.1, G.2.2.1)
  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: G.2.5.1, W.4.7.2, R.10.5.14)

Have students make a Jacob 's ladder (page 21) or a Whizzing Whirligig (page 20). Instructions are in the Schoolyard Games resource book.

Write poems or tall tales about pioneer life.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks 5-8: W.5.5.4, W.5.6.4, G.3.7.6)

Research prairie animals and plants.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: LS.2.K.2, LS.2.2.1)

Construct a log cabin using different materials.

  • (AR Curriculum Frameworks K-4: A.2.4, A.2.6)