Before embarking on pioneer lessons and activities, explore the definition of pioneer to ensure that your kids understand the concept. You might liken a pioneer with an explorer, stating that a pioneer is someone who wants to move to an unknown place or learn about unknown facts to discover new experiences and learn new information. Mention that modern-day life still has pioneers and give an example such as a scientist studying new information that leads to new revelations.
Talk about western expansion that occurred in the United States during the 1800s. Explain to your kids that Americans began to apply the notion of “liberty” to exploration, and explorers and pioneers began to venture west to investigate this unexplored land. Show your child a map of the U.S., noting the Louisiana Territory that Thomas Jefferson bought in 1803, which almost doubled the size of the United States. Provide a printed map for your youngster and encourage him to draw a route from a city on the East Coast to a location out west where he might travel if he were a historic pioneer.
Reasons for Moving
People picked up and left the East Coast for a variety of reasons. Some pursued an explorer’s lifestyle, longing for adventure and unknown. Others moved west in response to overcrowding, lack of housing, lack of jobs and lack of farmland. In fact, the opportunity to purchase land out west was a significant motivator for many people who became pioneers during the western expansion era. Ask your kids if they would have felt content to stay in the East or if they would have wanted to move west. If they express a desire to move, ask about their motivations and make a list of reasons to move west.
The pioneer lifestyle can be a fascinating study for youngsters as they learn about hardships and adventures experienced by pioneers. Talk about the difficult lifestyle, going without necessities and comforts, living in homes such as shanties and sod houses built into the sides of hills, farming, hunting, trapping and surviving. Mention how hard everyone worked as pioneers, with even children contributing significantly to a family’s survival. Talk about homemade clothing, simple food, schooling at home and minimal toys to help your children envision the pioneer lifestyle.
After providing an extensive background about the history behind pioneers and their lifestyle, invite your kids to pretend they are pioneer children living during the 1800s in an undeveloped western state. Encourage your kids to write several journal entries, pretending to be pioneer children. They could describe daily activities or specific events. If you have pre-writers, invite your youngsters to dictate journal entries while you write them. After finishing with the writing, have your kids illustrate the journals.
Pioneer Rag Doll
Pioneer children didn't pick out new toys from a toy store. They made their own using materials that were readily available. Make a pioneer style rag doll by stuffing cotton balls near the top of a bandanna or handkerchief. Tie a piece of yarn around the cotton balls to make a head for the doll. Tie knots at each end of the fabric to make hands for the doll. Cut a straight line up from the bottom of the fabric to make two separate pieces, then knot each piece to make the doll's legs. Tie yarn in the middle of the doll to shape the torso.
One easy example of a pioneer craft for school children is making button necklaces and bracelets. Collect old buttons from stained or ripped clothing, then string them together using thin ribbon. Children can practice making different patterns in their jewelry by varying the colors and sizes of the buttons. Tie a double knot at the end of the ribbon, then trim off the edges before wearing.
Even if your child is a whiz with email and text messaging, it's fun to write an old-fashioned letter using the same techniques pioneers used. To make homemade ink, mash 1/2 cup strawberries in a bowl with a spoon. Add 4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar. Strain the berries over a second bowl to get rid of the seeds. Pour the ink into a small glass jar. Use a feather dipped in the ink to write a letter to a friend.
If food-centered crafts are more your thing, get your child into the pioneer spirit by teaching him how to make homemade butter. Fill a mason jar halfway full of heavy cream. Shake continuously until the cream thickens. This will take between 20 and 30 minutes, depending upon the arm strength of your child. Drain off the remaining whey and refrigerate for about an hour. To give the butter as a gift, make pioneer style labels for the jars and tie a pretty ribbon around the base.