During the 1800’s Americans were moving west. These American pioneer families were claiming land and building homes on the plains with whatever materials they could find.
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Some built log cabins and others cut “bricks” of earth to form sod houses. Many would settle near creeks and rivers and eventually small towns began to grow.
Pioneer life was difficult for all members of the family — children and parents worked together to grow crops, build and maintain their home, and care for the animals.
Where did pioneer families live?
To help us understand a little more about what living conditions were like in pioneer life we decided to “build” a log cabin. Well, we didn’t actually chop down trees to build our new home. Rather, we used blueprints to draw the foundation of a log cabin.
- Log Cabin Plan (#20 from Social Studies Actual Size)
- Tape Measure
- Chalk or string with posts
- Following the directions in the plans, use the tape measure to draw a line (or pull a string) that is 16′ long.
- Make a right angle and then create another line that is 16′ long. At this point 2 sides of the cabin have been created.
- Use the tape measure and chalk or string to complete two more 16′ sides, forming a square.
Although our cabin seemed very small, we talked about how much work it would be to build a house of this size!
We also discussed the following questions:
- Would pioneer families have the tools needed to build a cabin?
- How many trees would we need to find, cut, and prepare to build a home of this size?
- How would we clear the area for the house?
- What items would fit into the house? Would we have been able to bring these along on our wagon ride west or would we have to make these things?
- Where would everyone sleep, eat, and prepare meals?
- How would we heat the inside of the home?
Social Studies Actual Size is one of our FAVORITE history resources. With this guide we have been able to “build” more projects to help us understand pioneer life including:
- Sioux Tipi
- Conestoga Wagon
- Prairie Schooner
- One-Room Schoolhouse
Pioneer Life: Hands-on Activities
With these hands-on activities kids can learn about daily life on the American frontier.
Sew your own quilt – In the mid 1800s block quilts, those made of blocks sewn together in rows, become quite popular.
Make a log cabin craft project – Using basic supplies such as construction paper, craft sticks, and paint.
Bake yummy crackers – Just a few ingredients needed…be sure to make them roll them really thin!
Build a covered wagon model – Using supplies you can easily find around your house, build your own covered wagon. Use your wagon to create your own stories and adventures – photograph or video tape the stories you create.
Cook up some American History – Stay fed on the frontier with recipes for potatoes, peach leather, and more
Make a Pioneer dress with accessories – Find patterns and step-by-step instructions for making accessories for different historical time periods.
Learn how to build a sod house with an online game – The Smithsonian Explorer helps you imagine you are a settler on the open prairie.