Prairies Through the Eyes of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Language Arts, Social Studies, Science for Grades 3-5
The Growing in the Garden curriculum includes this lesson, “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Life on the Prairie.” Students will identify important ways history was recorded; compare pioneer life, housing, farming, and transportation to today; and create a timetable to study history. Reading and mapping activities will help your students learn more about life on the prairie.
Who was Laura Ingalls Wilder?
An author of many books about life on the prairie
What was the title of one of her most popular books?
Little House on the Prairie
What could we learn about prairies from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books?
Have the students share ideas from what they know about the books and televison series. You may want to record their thoughts on the board.
Copy “The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” (pdf) to a transparency, print handout, etc.
We are going to read a biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of several books about her family’s life. In the story, you will hear how Laura’s parents were brave pioneers who wanted to make a life for their family on the prairie. Please take out a paper and pencil to write notes about the different places Laura lived. Your notes should include where she lived, something about the land, and why her family moved. We will explore what life was like on the prairie.
Have the students take turns reading “The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” You may want to pause after each paragraph so the students can write notes.
Copy this map on a transparency / print handout for students to track the places where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and worked. This map comes from a timeline activity in the Growing in the Garden lesson, “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Life on the Prairie.” Students chart the towns and states where Laura lived, how long she lived there, the type of house she lived in, what book she wrote about that particular place, and Laura’s age when she lived there. A guided discussion helps students understand what life was like during that time period and the challenges of working and living on the land.
Before revealing the map, have the students share what they learned from the biography with the following activity.
Timeline for the Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Where did Laura live when she was born?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, Pepin, Wisconsin, stand at one end of the front of the room to start a timeline.
Ask the students about the dates, what the land was like, what the family lived in, and what they did on the land near Pepin.
From Pepin, where did Laura’s family move to and why?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, prairie land near Independence, Kansas, because her dad dreamed of homesteading on the vast prairie, stand next to the student representing Pepin. Ask the students how the family traveled and what homesteading meant.
Why did the Ingalls family move from the prairie in Kansas and where did they go?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, the land belonged to the Osage tribe so they moved back toPepin, Wisconsin, stand near the last student on the timeline. Ask the students what Charles did in Kansas.
Where did Charles find another prairie site to move his family to again?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, prairie land near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, stand near the last student on the timeline. Ask the students what types of houses the family lived in while in Minnesota and why they had to wait for the first wheat crop to build a real house.
What happened to Charles’ dream of wheat farming on the prairie that made him look for another way to make a living for his family?
Grasshoppers destroyed the crops two years in a row.
Where did Charles find work running a hotel?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, Burr Oak, Iowa, stand near the last student on the timeline.
Ask the students why Charles wasn’t happy running the hotel and wanted to move again.
Where did the family move after two years in Iowa?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, back to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, stand near the last student on the timeline.
Ask the students where Laura’s dad worked after they moved back to Minnesota.
Where did the family move to be with Charles Ingalls and his work?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, Silver Lake in Dakota Territory – eventually known as the town of DeSmet, stand near the last student on the timeline. Ask the students what it was like living in Dakota Territory.
Where did Laura live after she married Almonzo Wilder?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, on a farm north of DeSmet, stand near the last student on the timeline.
Ask the students what happened on their farm.
When farming was rough and Almonzo got seriously ill, where did Laura, baby Rose, and Almonzo move to recover?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, Westville, Florida, stand near the last student on the timeline.
Ask the students what Laura and Almonzo did to save money to move again, where they wanted to move, and why they wanted to move there.
Where did Laura’s family move to from Florida?
Have the student who knows the correct answer, Mansfield, Missouri, stand next to the last student on the timeline.
Ask the students what Laura did on her journey that would eventually lead her to becoming a famous author.
Did Laura move from her farm near Mansfield, Missouri? No.
How were Laura and Almonzo fulfilling their dreams of farming again?
They had an apple orchard, chickens and other livestock, and grew vegetables. The land was too rocky to plant field crops. They called their place Rocky Ridge Farm.
What did Laura do to combine her love of farming and writing?
She began writing a column, “As a Farm Woman Thinks,” for a newspaper. At age 60, she took all her notes and memories and started writing her books.
Show the transparency with the map of where Laura lived. Have the students in the timeline tell which place they represented and point to it on the map. Note the illustrations that tell you something about the place or the move. Use the following questions to wrap up the timeline activity.
How many places did Laura live?
Have the students figure it out by using the timeline, their notes, and the story. Then check their answers by having the timeline students count off.
The students should come up with 10 places. Point out that Laura’s family lived in Pepin and Walnut Grove at two different times.
What did the prairie have to do with their moves?
Laura’s dad was always trying to make a living for his family and fulfill his dream of farming on the prairie at the same time. Life on the prairie with weather and insects destroying his crops made it hard for him to feed his family. However, it made Laura and Almonzo also have a love of farming on the prairie. They carried on Charles Ingalls’ dream and lived and worked as farmers and a writer about the farm and prairie life.
Were Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about the prairie based on facts and real experiences? Yes. How do you know? She wrote her stories based on the journals she wrote and her personal experiences.
What elements in Laura’s stories compare to your life?
Think of the number of moves, packing, why people move, living on a farm or a near a prairie, writing journals, loving farm or country life, etc.
Would you like to live on the prairie during the late 1800s and early 1900s?
Why or why not?
How has life changed on the prairie since Laura Ingalls Wilder’s time?
Most of the prairie in Iowa has been plowed and turned into farmland…like the Ingalls and Wilder families started to do. Prairie plants and animals have decomposed after thousands of years, making rich soil to grow crops. That’s what people did and still do. We grow corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, vegetables, fruits, and other crops in rich prairie soil. The small amount of prairies now is beneficial for keeping the soil alive, preventing erosion, filtering water, and preserving and protecting habitats for several animals and plants. We can enjoy and appreciate the diverse and beautiful plant and animal life in prairies.
Try writing a short story, “My Life on the Prairie,” about living on the prairie. Pretend that you are living during the same time period as Laura Ingalls Wilder, or pretend that you are enjoying or working with a prairie now. Your story must include you and the prairie. It must contain an introduction, a body, and a closing and be at least one page long. If you would like to add an illustration, you may.