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Life Lessons From Little House on The Prairie

Updated on March 23, 2015
Life lessons from Little House on the Prairie and a fun quiz to test your knowledge.
Life lessons from Little House on the Prairie and a fun quiz to test your knowledge. | Source

The Little House on the Prairie TV show from the 70's and 80's is one of those series that became a nearly instant classic. Rarely out of syndication even now, this show has stood the test of time. Part of the reason is the timeless lessons we can all learn from its decade of episodes.

After you've read these life lessons, scroll on down to test your LHOP knowledge!

Lesson 1: Cash On The Barrel

One oft-quoted phrase in the show by the Ingalls family is that everything should be "cash on the barrel ." This means that the family did not want to use credit to purchase the things they needed.

When the Ingalls family is able to live this way, they all seem to be better off. The worry of debt is not looming over them and they tend to find pleasures in simple things such as homemade gifts or "Gift of the Magi" style trades to insure that their loved one gets what she needs. (See Season 1: Episode 15, "Christmas at Plum Creek").

Living debt-free is a worthy goal that is hard to reach in our modern society. But finding little ways to save money and work together can make you and your family more secure.

But If You Don't Have the Cash.....

But sometimes things happen: job loss, natural catastrophe, or the mill closes and your boss can't afford to pay you the wages you are owed. Just when life seems to be too much to bear and the walls are closing in, the goodness of those around you can shine through.

Time and time again the Ingalls family discovers that we all face hard times, but if we have the love and support of family, friends and community, together we can rebuild and rejuvenate as long as we are willing to work hard and work together. (See Season 2: Episode 1, "The Richest Man in Walnut Grove") When others are down, extend a helping hand.

Lesson 2: Never Trust Your Enemies

While the show would often have guest bullies and ne'er-do-wells, the ones we could count on week after week were the Olesons, especially Nellie and her mother Harriet. Perennial snobs, Nellie and Harriet were always out to make themselves feel superior to others through exclusion or mean-spirited gossip (See Season 1: Episode 7, "Town Party, Country Party" ).

But the Ingalls girls often found a way to overcome the bullying and torture of their arch enemy while learning life lessons along the way.

An enemy doesn't change overnight unless they are wanting something and Laura learned this the hard way when she confessed her crush on a boy to Nellie who was secretly recording it on her new phonograph. While she was heartbroken when Nellie played the recording for the whole class, the last laugh was Laura's because the boy took the confession in stride and indicated that the feeling was mutual. (See Season 2: Episode 13, "The Talking Machine")

Being appropriately suspicious of people and "knowing thine enemies" can keep you from embarrassing situations and public humiliation.

Cash On The Barrel Head

The original phrase most likely comes from they way business was conducted between merchants and seamen bringing their imported wares to the docks. The barrels of goods are brought into port and the haggling of the price begins. Then "the cash is put on the barrel, the seller takes the cash and the buyer takes the barrel."(

Except When You Must......

But sometimes there is no way to work around that bully, and you may even find yourself in a situation where mutual cooperation can benefit both of you.

After the Olesons invaded the Ingalls' family campout (in order to insure that the girls did not take the prize for the best leaf collection), Laura and Nellie find themselves in the water with a strong current taking them towards a roaring waterfall. While Laura could easily swim to shore, Nellie is unable to and pleads for Laura not to leave her.

True to her kind nature, Laura stays with Nellie and helps her get to shore. But even after saving her life, Nellie is back to her old tricks as soon as she is safe on dry land. (See Season 2, Episode 9, "The Campout")

Sometimes doing the right thing, despite your dislike of the individual, means personal sacrifice and perhaps only a reward of good karma. But the correct choice in the situation is usually clear, even when you don't choose it.

Mary learned to never trust her two-timing boyfriend.
Mary learned to never trust her two-timing boyfriend. | Source

Lesson 3: Never Go Check On That Sound in the Barn

And don't answer the door when it's dark and rainy and nobody else is home. It's almost always something bad or dangerous and you're going to have to defend your hearth and home and use your wits to get yourself out of a bad situation.

Oh, and hiding the baby in the cellar won't work either because he's going to find her there. (See Season 9: Episode 4, "Rage")

Humans are naturally curious creatures and we have fantastic imaginations. That sound out there in the dark may only be a raccoon going through your garbage or it may be a crazed lunatic. Don't take the risk!

Except When It's a Child Needing Help...

Because sometimes that sound in the night is a runaway child. Maybe he's left home in search of a better life and an education that he can't get because of discrimination. (See Season 3: Episode 18, "The Wisdom of Solomon") Or maybe he's trying to feed his sick father while working to earn a scholarship to attend school. (See Season 4: Episode 6, "The Creeper of Walnut Grove").

Throughout the series there seemed to be an epidemic of kids-in-need sneaking around in the dark shadows, trying to not get caught.

So sometimes you need to open your eyes to the needs of others around you, especially children who may be suffering silently.

But if it's a weird sound in the barn, my vote is to check on it in the morning.

Pa (played by Michael Landon) needed some life lessons repeated--such as never take credit!
Pa (played by Michael Landon) needed some life lessons repeated--such as never take credit! | Source
Take the Little House Quiz. Are you really a fan?
Take the Little House Quiz. Are you really a fan? | Source

Lesson 4: Don't Count Your Chickens

Planning on something before you are sure it is going to happen is almost always a bad idea.

Don't assume that you're going to have a fantastic crop because drought, hail, or locusts could be in your near future. It may even mean you have to work with explosives and watch a good friend succumb to an accident just to get the money to pay your bills. (See Season 1: Episode 3, "100 Mile Walk")

Don't plan on soon-to-be-acquired riches either through inheritance or gold-mining. While the Ingalls family often lived hand-to-mouth and struggled to survive, at different times during the series, the lure of wealth and riches would cause one of them to make bad decisions. The family would assume the cash is already theirs and make extra purchases (see Lesson 1), causing them disappointment and heartache when the dreams of wealth did not materialize into reality.

While longing for financial security and wealth is okay, make sure you keep it real. It doesn't hurt to play the lotto but put a bit of the money away in savings as well. Be happy with what you have and realize that there is an opportunity cost for everything.

Do you really know Little House On The Prairie?

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No really, don't.....

And there doesn't really seem to be an "except" for this one. Assumptions by the characters always get them into trouble. Assuming that the train car you're playing in won't start rolling, or that wild raccoons will make great pets, that your sister is right there behind you instead of falling into a well, or that your fiance' really will want to marry you after he's had a taste of big city life all lead to multiple crises.

Little House on the Prairie endures because its messages still ring true. Though the series strayed from the original, beloved book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the life lessons that were applicable in the 1870's and the 1970s are still applicable today.

And so we continue to watch, remember, and learn.

Melissa Gilbert Talks About How Little House on the Prairie Shaped Her Life

What is your favorite Little House on the Prairie Episode?

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    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Thanks! I love LHOP so much. I have watched some episodes to the point of obsession!

    • sybol profile image


      6 years ago

      I am a fan of Little House and I enjoyed reading your article. Yes, there are many great lessons to learn from the series. I was disappointed in my score on the quiz but loved taking it.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Thank you so much. It was fun to write! Are you a LHOP fan?

    • aslaught profile image


      6 years ago from Alabama

      Enjoyed this hub!


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