Learning Through Unit Study: The Prairie Primer

Learning Through Unit Study: The Prairie Primer mylearningtable.com

Let me tell you about our wonderful Little House on the Prairie year with The Prairie Primer.

Admittedly, I am somewhat biased. Being a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, I devoured her books when I was young. Imagine having a curriculum centered around her books! I was sold immediately. As the mother of three boys, I wanted to immerse them in the 1800′s while ensuring that they would relate to the stories and the subject matter. Contrary to what some may think, the Little House books are not just for girls. My boys’ excitement soon caught up with mine as we jumped into this unit study. A homeschool mom herself, author Margie Gray has created a curriculum that is not only thorough and interesting but also fun and easy to use.

Although the course is designed for grades three through six, we used The Prairie Primer when my boys were in first, fourth, and seventh grades. The curriculum adapts easily to different ages, and the author even includes a scope and sequence chart broken down by grade. Each of the nine units, one for each book in the series from Little House in the Big Woods through The First Four Years, can be scheduled to cover about one month, with the course covering a total of thirty-six weeks. Depending on how much of the guide is utilized, the literature portion can be completed in a shorter time frame. Some families also choose to spread the course out over two years. As year-round homeschoolers, we began the study in January and completed it by the end of the summer.

Each unit of The Prairie Primer begins with background information and history to go with the book for that unit. There are also suggestions for activities to do throughout the unit. Weekly planning guides and field trip and video suggestions are included with lists of all the information and materials needed for the week. Field trips can even include a visit to some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical sites for those who live near enough.

The daily lessons include the reading assignment (usually one or two chapters), reading comprehension questions, and activities divided by subject. The following is an example:

History/WritingResearch your family’s ancestors living in the 1870’s. Show pictures, if possible. Write a brief biographical account of one ancestor.
GeographyOn the United States map provided, trace a hypothetical trail of the Ingalls’ journey. Refer to this map throughout the Primer to mark Laura and her friends’ travels.
LivingRead about Conestoga Wagons. Then with a yard stick, yarn, and tape mark out an area four feet by ten feet. This is the size the wagon would have been. Load your ‘wagon’ with blankets, cast iron pots and skillets, dishes, food, trunks, etc. Allow each child one toy to take on their westward journey. After the wagon is loaded have some children get in the wagon while others may walk carrying their toy. Serve snack food such as jerky, corn cakes, and water. Pretend going through rivers, dust storms, prairie fires, mud, etc.
BibleAlthough Laura ceased to complain outwardly, she felt she was still naughty. What does the Bible say about this? Read Mark 7:1-23 and Matthew 5:27-30.
ScienceStudy about mustangs. Find a picture of one. What are the advantages of this breed or horse?
VocabularyWhat is a ford? (p. 63)

The topics covered in The Prairie Primer include:

  • Bible and character building concepts, such as courtship, struggle with sin nature, and yielding rights
  • Bible memory
  • crafts, including beadwork and candle making
  • health, such as food groups, frostbite, and nutrition
  • history, government, social studies, and geography
  • biographies, including Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass, and Noah Webster
  • literature and language arts
  • life skills, including cooking, manners, and music
  • science, covering topics like distillation, light and prisms, and weather
  • the animal kingdom, with topics including animal classification, chickens, cows, fish, etc.
  • the human body, including eyes and eyesight, immune system, and reproduction

This is just a smidgen of what is included in the complete three-page list of topics. Bible study is emphasized above all, and the primary texts, in addition to The Prairie Primer, are the Little House books and the Bible. If you add spelling, grammar, and math, you will have school covered for the year.

To immerse yourselves even further in the Little House world, you could include some of the author’s suggested resources like Ray’s Arithmetic, a nineteenth century math program, Spencerian penmanship from the 1800′s, and the 1828 Facsimile First Edition American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster. Libraries often carry many of the additional resources used throughout the year. Because the topics are laid out so plainly, it is easy to select substitute resources from what you have on hand or can easily find. For instance, for one week the planning guides recommends that you gather information on the history of your state, your state’s constitution, the invention and history of trains and the railroad, and the migration of birds. This suggestion make it easy to choose books and resources appropriate for each child’s age and abilities. A weekly trip to the library to stock up on materials can be quite enjoyable.

During our Little House year, my boys learned U. S. geography, mapped out the trails of early explorers and settlers, learned how to cook Johnny cakes, built covered wagons for their Star Wars figures, made chamois-covered journals to write in like Lewis and Clark, completed animal notebooks including facts and classification, dissected owl pellets, and made homemade butter. The Prairie Primer also provided a gentle introduction to concepts like courtship, which initiated some wonderful conversations in our family.

Because my boys are hands-on learners, we took advantage of all the crafts, cooking, and field trip ideas that went along with this study. If your family is not quite so hands-on, have no fear! There is plenty to do in The Prairie Primer even if you choose not to do hands-on activities.

The plentiful suggestions allow you to easily adapt the curriculum to your needs and your kids’ interests and abilities by choosing the activities you want to do. More than anything we have done in our ten years of homeschooling, our Little House year with The Prairie Primer still stands out as a favorite time with wonderful memories made. My boys still request Johnny cakes with maple syrup from time to time.

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