Oregon Trail Lesson
This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Westward Expansion and Pioneers. Build prairie schooner, head out on a scavenger hunt using only landmarks to navigate, bake Pioneer Persimmon Pudding, practice pioneer children's chores, learn to square dance, and more! My lessons are geared toward 3rd-4th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 15 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your class, family, homeschool co-op group, camp, or after school program!
Pioneer Persimmon Pudding
1. Stretch, pray, & read Psalm 37:3. Say something such as: Some of the pioneers were killed by Native Americans. Some died from disease, starvation, and foolish decisions. Those who survived on the frontier are models of resourcefulness. What do you think it means to be resourceful? [Allow some children to share their ideas.] Being resourceful means taking the lead in order to solve a problem and/or to make progress. What does being resourceful mean? [Prompt the children to repeat the definition you just gave.] You, as children, should be attentive just like the early frontiersmen and explorers. Who remembers what we said it means to be attentive? Being attentive means to “listen closely and watch carefully.” You should be attentive when your parents give you directions, and you should obey them. Beyond simply obeying, you should also take the initiative to improve the world God gave us. In other words, we need you to not only be responders but initiators. This is especially important in our world, which needs more than ever, leaders in righteousness. The Bible verse we just read talks about being resourceful and being a leader in righteousness, which is what the pioneers had to do to survive. They had to trust in the Lord and do good. Because they could only carry very little with them, they had to live off the land and cultivate it. We should learn from their inventiveness. (Some of this came from Konos Volume III.)
2. Mix together Pioneer Persimmon Pudding and put it in the oven to bake.
-Preheat the oven to 350.
-Tell the children that persimmons grew plentifully out west, so persimmon pudding became a popular treat among the pioneers. It tastes a lot like pumpkin pie, minus the crust.
-Divide the children into groups of 6-7.
-Lead your group in mixing together the Pioneer Persimmon Pudding and putting it in the oven to bake. Feel free to look up some information on persimmons that you can share with the children while they mix together the ingredients.
- Each group will make the below recipe:
Pioneer Persimmon Pudding
4-5 ripe persimmons (If your store only has unripe ones, then store them in a paper bag for a few days until they’re soft and add an additional ¼ cup of sugar.)
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 stick of butter or margarine, melted
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Tell the children to stem the persimmons. Let the children use a mixing spoon or their hands to squish the persimmons through a colander to get the seeds out. [Let the children taste some of the persimmon that is still in the colander.] You should have about 1 cup of persimmon pulp. Combine the persimmon pulp with the sugar. [Let the children smell the cinnamon and nutmeg before adding them.] Beat in the eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, milk and butter. Mix in the flour and baking powder. Pour the batter into a 9×9-inch baking dish that has been generously sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 45-60 minutes.
YOU WILL NEED 1 SET OF THIS FOR EACH GROUP OF 6-7 CHILDREN: 4-5 persimmons, nonstick cooking spray, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 -1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs, 1 stick of butter or margarine, 1 cup milk, large mixing bowl, 1 mixing spoon, liquid measuring cup, measuring cups, measuring spoons, 9×9 casserole dish, & colander
Painting the Oregon Trail Route
3. Discuss the Oregon Trail route and include a few of the landmarks. Mention that the Oregon Trail was not the only trail that pioneers took out west. Show them the Independence and Santa Fe trails as well.
-Tell the children that we are going to paint the maps and then add the Oregon Trail. Have the children paint the salt maps from Week 1's Lesson on Daniel Boone and Tracking. They will paint it mostly green on the land and blue on the Mississippi River. Then have them use red to paint the Oregon Trail. If they want to add the other trails, they can do that later. You can also have them put brown dots approximately where some of the famous landmarks were (such as Chimney Rock).
-As the children paint, if desired you can add some additional information about the trails. You can find some information at http://www.historynet.com/oregon-trail . Something that interested my children was about how some people would try to change the trail that people followed so that they would go into particular towns. If you lived in a town that was off the path, you wouldn’t get much business coming through your town. If you wanted extra business, you’d have to try cover up the wagon wheel tracks made on the original Oregon Trail by planting grass seeds over that. Then you’d take your own prairie wagon and drive it to your town over and over again to make it look like that was the direction that everyone was taking to head out west.
YOU WILL NEED: picture of Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and Independence Trail routes (from a book, your laptop, etc.) & items brought by families: salt dough map of the US, T-shirt/smock to protect clothing (optional), blue, red, brown, and green poster paint, & paintbrushes
4. Read "Roughing It on the Oregon Trail" by Diane Stanley.
Both my 4 and 8 year old boys loved this "Magic Tree House" style book about a Grandma who takes her grandson, granddaughter, and dog back in time to visit their relatives who traveled the Oregon Trail. This is a great picture book series!
This had great text and includes both photos and illustrations.
5. Build a Prairie Schooner. Give a brief background on Prairie Schooners/Contessa Wagons.
-Lead children in creating their own prairie schooners.
-Tell the children that the box is their wagon. If they would like to paint it brown or paste brown construction paper to it to make it more realistic looking, they can do that at home.
-Have them draw brown stripes across the one side of the white sheet of paper. This will go on the inside of the wagon. Have parents assist children in arching the white construction paper over the top of the open shoebox and using clear packing tape or duck tape to attach it on the inside. The brown stripes will face toward the inside of the box. If the white paper is not large enough, have them tape 2 papers together.
-Have the children use their brown marker to drawn spokes on the 4 cardboard wagon wheels and have children draw the spokes on them.
-Have parents assist the children in using the pencils or nails to poke 4 holes in the shoebox towards the bottom of the shoebox so that they can poke the two dowel rods through the holes to be the axles. Have the children push the dowel rods through the holes in the 4 cardboard wheels.
YOU WILL NEED: 60 dowel rods and background information on Prairie Schooners/Contessa Wagons and items brought by families: cardboard wagon wheels, sharp pencils or nails, white paper, brown markers, & tape
Landmarks Scavenger Hunt
6. (Prep: Ahead of time hide 10 plastic Easter eggs behind the church, 10 plastic Easter eggs in the front of the church, and 10 plastic Easter eggs in the fenced in yard of the church. Using only landmarks [trees, rocks, etc.], draw a map of where each egg is hidden.) *If you have to hide these all in one area, use 10 similar colored items for each group (such as 10 blue eggs, 10 yellow eggs, and 10 green eggs).*
-Explain to the children that pioneers didn’t have phones or navigation systems to get them across the 2,000 miles they had to travel to get out West. They had to follow the trails blazed by earlier pioneers. Sometimes it was obvious where to go when they could see wagon wheel tracks in the tall prairie grass. Other times in places with packed dirt and sand and lots of wind to blow away any tracks, they had to rely on landmarks such as Courthouse Rock, Jailhouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, Soda Springs, etc. to stay on the trail and get where they were going.
-Tell the children to put on their hats. They are going to become pioneers and try to follow landmarks on a map in order to find 10 items. Divide the children into 3 teams. Have them use their maps to find all the items.
-After they return, ask they how easy it was to follow the landmarks. How easy would it be if each landmark was hundreds of miles away from each other?
-Tell the children that they can wear their hats for the rest of co-op time as long as they don’t play around with them. If they would prefer to take off their hats, they can do that as well.
YOU WILL NEED: 30 items to hide (such as plastic Easter eggs), 3 sheets of paper and 3 writing utensils to use draw maps of where you hid the eggs [3 in total – one for each teacher/parent], and brief background information and photos (from books, the Internet, your laptop, etc.) of Courthouse Rock, Jailhouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, & Soda Springs and hats brought by families
7. The pioneers usually traveled in long trains. At night they would gather up the wagons in a big circle to provide some protection from wild animals, hostile Native Americans, and thieves. They would start fires to cook dinner and then might sit around the fires and tell stories, play music, or sing songs. Two of the most popular instruments played were the fiddle (violin) and mouth harp (harmonica).
-Sing “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” while showing pictures from the book by Jonathan Emmett.
-If you have someone who plays the violin/fiddle, let them accompany you while you sing.
YOU WILL NEED: violin/fiddle and sheet music for “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” (optional – if a child or adult can play this to accompany us) and book “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” by Jonathan Emmett
Chores for Children: Hauling Water Relay
8. (If you are not limited by time) Read "Apples to Oregon" by Deborah Hopkinson.
9. (If you are not limited by time) One of the duties of children was to haul water from the river. Weather permitting, have a water relay race outside. Ahead of time set up a "river" outside. (We used a large plastic storage bin and filled it using the hose. A kiddie pool or a bucket would also work.) Divide children into 3 teams and give each team 2 buckets. One bucket stays at "camp." They will take turns running with the other bucket to the "river," filling their bucket, and running back to fill up the bucket at "camp." They'll pass the bucket to their next "family" member who will run to the "river," fill up the bucket, and bring it back to the "camp" bucket. Continue this until one team fills up their camp bucket.
YOU WILL NEED: 6 buckets (we used beach/sand pails), 1 large container to be the "river," & towels
This is a delightful "slighty-true" tale of a family who hauls trees across the Oregon Trail. It has great illustrations, is fun to read and includes some of the duties that children had to do while on the trail.
10. Sometimes in the evening they would also hold dances. Introduce a few basic square dancing steps and lead the children in attempting square dancing. (Use YouTube if you need some ideas on this.)
YOU WILL NEED: way of playing square dancing music (CD with CD player, your computer, phone, iPod, etc.) and at least one square dancing song
Herbal Tea and Pioneer Persimmon Pudding Feast and Review
11. After their dinners, the pioneers might have some tea and dessert. They would have to make tea using dried herbs they brought with them or herbs they found in the wild. Wild mint made a wonderful teal.
-Sanitize children’s hands and then serve them sweetened mint tea and persimmon pudding.
YOU WILL NEED: at least half a gallon of mint tea (sweetened and cooled), hand sanitizer, plates, spoons, & napkins
12. 5 minute review of what we’ve learned: What does it mean to be resourceful? (taking the lead in order to solve a problem and/or to make progress) What is one way that the pioneers were resourceful? What were some of the trails pioneers followed to head out West? (Oregon, Santa Fe, Independence) What type of transportation would they frequently use to travel? (Prairie Schooners/Contessa Name a landmark they would use to know they were going the correct direction. [Allow a few children to answer] (Courthouse Rock, Jailhouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, & Soda Springs, etc.) What is something they would do around the campfire at night for fun? (tell stories, sing, play the fiddle or mouth organ/harmonica, dance, etc.) What is something they might eat for dessert? (persimmon pudding) What is something they might drink? (herbal tea such as mint tea) What was your favorite activity from today? [Allow all children to answer.]
Material List for the Lesson
For Families to Bring Per Child:
-Your salt dough map of the US made during Lesson 1 (or bring a sheet of paper to paint if you don’t have a salt dough map and don’t want to make it)
-Tempera/Poster board/Finger paint – at least green, blue, brown, & red
-At least 1 paintbrush (preferably one that is larger than the type that comes with watercolors)
-T-shirt/smock to protect clothing (optional)
-shoebox or other box of a similar size (such as a cereal box – with one of the larger sides cut off so that it would be like a shoe box)
-4 cardboard [i.e. from a cereal box or something like that] wheels. They should be about the same height as the side of the box. Use a sharp nail, knife, or other item to punch a hole in the middle of each wheel.
-a few sheets of white paper (Construction paper is preferable but you can bring any type.)
-a brown marker
-clear packing tape or Duck tape (1 roll per family) [and scissors if they’ll be needed to cut off the pieces of tape]
-a sharp pencil or nail (1 per family)
-pioneer (cowboy) hat, pioneer bonnet, or any other hat
Items to be assigned to bring for the entire group:
-1 set per group of 6-7 children: 4-5 persimmons, nonstick cooking spray, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 -1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs, 1 stick of butter or margarine, 1 cup milk, large mixing bowl, 1 mixing spoon, liquid measuring cup, measuring cups, measuring spoons, 9×9 casserole dish, & colander
-picture of Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Chisholm, and Independence Trail routes (from a book, your laptop, etc.)
-book: “Roughing It on the Oregon Trail” by Diane Stanley
-2 dowel rods per child and background information on Prairie Schooners/Contessa Wagons
-30 items to hide (such as plastic Easter eggs), 3 sheets of paper and 3 writing utensils to use draw maps of where you hid the eggs [3 in total – one for each mom], and brief background information and photos (from books, the Internet, your laptop, etc.) of Courthouse Rock, Jailhouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, & Soda Springs
-violin/fiddle and sheet music for “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” (optional – if a child or adult can play this to accompany us) and book: “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” by Jonathan Emmett
- OPTIONAL: book "Apples to Oregon" by Deborah Hopkinson, 6 buckets (such as beach/sand pails), 1 large container to be the "river," & towels
-way of playing square dancing music (CD with CD player, your computer, phone, iPod, etc.) and at least one square dancing song
-at least half a gallon of mint tea (sweetened and cooled), hand sanitizer, plates, spoons, & napkins
Our Favorite Picture Books on the Oregon Trail
This has beautiful illustrations and simple text to explain what the pioneers went through as they traveled west. I love that they include how that they prayed.
This has silly illustrations that keep the educational text enjoyable.
This lesson could easily be made into an entire unit. We didn't have time to do all the great activities in one co-op lesson. I did many additional activities with my family. We read some of the books from the "Little House" series. Even though they don't travel on the Oregon Trail, their experiences are very similar to those who did. We also made dried apple rings, painted paper bags with oil (to make pioneer "windows"), tried to determine directions using the sun and shadows, attempted cross-stitch, and more. My family attended a Rural Folk Life Festival at which the children got to help make lye soap, crack a bullwhip, watch a blacksmith, stamp leather, fish with cane poles, watch sugar cane get boiled down (and try some), and more.
I read some of this 144 page picture book with my 8 year old. It has beautiful ilustrations on every page. We also read the 80 page chapter book, "Marcus and Narcissa Whitman" by Marian Place. The Whitmans were faithful missionaries to the Native Americans living near Washington and Idaho. Narcissa was one of the first women to pave the way for the Oregon Trail. Warning: As the title suggests, she died a "tragic" death.
This picture book includes excerpts from a pioneer woman's diary as they crossed the Oregon Trail. It includes the many perils they faced but also focuses on their optimistic attitudes.
Looking for the other lessons?
Fry up Daniel Boone's favorite fried chicken recipe and talk a walk outdoors in search of tracks and you study frontiersmen and tracking. Dramatize the purchase of Louisiana from France and more as you study Lewis and Clark! Build a pioneer wagon and the transcontinental railroad. Pan for "gold" and deliver mail on the pony express (using bicycles rather than horses). Wrap up the unit on Westward Expansion and pioneers with a wagon roundup dinner and presentations on various frontiersmen and pioneers.
- Daniel Boone, Frontiersmen, & Tracking Lesson - This is part 1 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Westward Expansion and Pioneers. Go on a nature walk to practice tracking, cook Daniel Boone's favorite fried chicken recipe, create salt maps of the US, and more!
- Lewis and Clark Lesson - This is part 2 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Westward Expansion and Pioneers. Dramatize the Louisiana Purchase, taste and see some of the plants and animals Lewis & Clark discovered on their journey, visit with Sacajawea and Pomp, create a Lewis and Clark lapbook, and more!
- California Gold Rush, Pony Express, & Transcontinental Railroad Lesson - This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Westward Expansion and Pioneers. Pan for “gold,” bake Gold Rush Sourdough Biscuits, race to deliver mail on the Pony Express, build the Transcontinental Railroad out of craft sticks, and more!
- Oregon Trail Lesson - This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Westward Expansion and Pioneers. Build prairie schooner, head out on a scavenger hunt using only landmarks to navigate, bake Pioneer Persimmon Pudding, practice pioneer children's chores, and more!
- Westward Expansion & Pioneers Presentations & Field Trip Ideas - The end of the unit activity and presentations for our 4 part hands-on unit on Westward Expansion and Pioneers was a Pioneer Wagon Roundup Dinner. Children dressed as various famous frontiersmen or pioneers and presented on their assigned person. Afterward we had a pioneer themed dinner around a campfire. Also included are the field trips we attended while studying this unit.
- Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Looking for all of my lessons and unit studies? Over the years I have posted over 30 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 140 lessons. For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at the above link.
Great Free Lapbooks on the Oregon Trail
If you'd like to put together a lapbook related to the Oregon Trail, two wonderful FREE options are the Westward Ho Lapbook found at http://www.tinasdynamichomeschoolplus.com/exploring-to-revolution/westward-ho/ and the "Apples to Oregon" free lapbook and unit study found at http://www.homeschoolshare.com/apples_to_oregon.php .
More Great Activity Idea Books
144pp. of information with activities dotted throughtout the book.
96 pp. of fun activities, mainly craft-type projects
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
© 2011 Shannon