Literature and music mesh well with third-grade lessons about how American pioneers pushed westward throughout the 19th century. The period’s rich collection of stories and songs help answer the question of why people migrated to unknown territories, which works within a grade-level goal to learn about the developing nation.
Explore the Stories
Child-centered books about pioneer times -- the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder or “Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie,” by Peter and Connie Roop, for example -- help third-graders understand the era through a child’s eyes. After reading and discussing the book, have the students write journals as one of the characters to get inside the journey westward and pioneer life. Follow up with a pioneer classroom day with no modern technology, in which the children dress as their characters, bring their lunches in pails and write their lessons on a slate board as the children in the books did.
Explore the Songs
Many beloved songs and folk tunes sprung out of the pioneer period as songwriters depicted their experiences. Have third-graders listen to a song like “Oh, Susanna!” and relate the lyrics to the westward expansion movement. “Home on the Range,” for example, laments the dwindling buffalo herd and “Don’t Fence Me In” depicts the yearning for space that had become difficult in the East. Then, turn the tables on the students and have them write their own pioneer-themed lyrics to set to music.
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