Kids often enjoy learning about history, especially if you make it personal and help them identify with the figures who lived in bygone eras. By studying the pioneers who lived, explored and learned about their surroundings, your children gain understanding of the roots that became a part of American heritage.
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.
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