Magazine article Curriculum Review

Special Report: Celebrating 400 Years of Pioneer Spirit-From Jamestown to the Wild West

Magazine article Curriculum Review

Special Report: Celebrating 400 Years of Pioneer Spirit-From Jamestown to the Wild West

Article excerpt

New Book Allows Students to Explore Life as an American Pioneer

From building sod houses, log cabins, and covered wagons, to creating printing presses and maps, Great Pioneer America Projects You Can Build Yourself will provide readers ages 9 and up a chance to experience how American pioneers pushed westward across America. In fact, the book introduces readers to the day-to-day life of an American pioneer, offering a hands-on look at what life was like both on the trail and on the homestead in the vast western wilderness.

The book includes over 25 hands-on projects that can be made using simple household supplies and minimal adult supervision, and the result is a working model of the original innovation. The activities/projects can be used in the classroom or as homework assignments. Detailed, step-by-step instructions, illustrations and diagrams, and templates for each project are interspersed with historical facts, biographies, anecdotes and trivia about the real-life models, offering kids and adults alike a hands-on way to experience life as an American Pioneer.

Questions and Answers with Rachel Dickinson, author of Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself

Q: How or why did you become interested in writing about the American Pioneers?

A: I've always loved American history and have been fascinated with the pioneers and the frontier since I was in grade school. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather and his family traveled by wagon from Connecticut to Upstate New York in 1795 where they settled on land given to them as payment for my grandfather's service in the Revolutionary War. I always wondered what it must have been like for them to leave their homes and travel into what was then the wilderness. Would I have had the courage to do that? I would like to think I would but I really don't know.

Q: In researching the book, what information surprised you the most?

A: I guess I didn't have any idea how many people were willing to pull up stakes and move west. Now my picture of 19th century America is one of people on the move--by prairie schooner, on foot, by stagecoach and by railroad. I also didn't realize how close we came to driving the buffalo to extinction. The story of what happened to the buffalo and the Native Americans in the 19th century is a sad one.

Q: What purpose do the activities serve in the book?

A: I hope that kids will have a better understanding of some of the hardships faced by the pioneers when they do some of these activities. I also hope that once they get a glimpse into a pre-television/computer/GameBoy world that they'll find it kind of interesting.

Q: Why is it important that kids learn about the American Pioneers?

A: The people who decided to move west were brave and had to endure untold hardships both on the journey and in the early years of settlement. I want kids to think about whether or not they would have the courage or stamina to endure the 2,000-mile journey that millions of people made more than 100 years ago. These pioneers completely changed our country when they settled the frontier and became farmers and ranchers and established communities. Someday, I hope one of my readers will find him or herself standing in front of an historic marker in Wyoming reading about the Oregon Trail, and they'll look out over the high desert and will see just a faint trace of wagon ruts and a little chill will run up their spine because they'll remember how difficult the journey was for so many who walked the length of that trail.

Q: After researching the book, did you come away with any favorite stories, legends or anecdotes?

A: I love it all--stories about the cowboys, the frontier families, the prospectors, the Mountain men, the Plains Indians, the buffalo and the early explorers. I particularly liked reading about the artists and photographers who documented the changing face of the West--we're so fortunate to have their images today. …

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