We have a tradition in our house that has been taking place at least every other year. This summer, for the 3rd time, we are reading the Little House series out loud to our children. Right now we are in the middle of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods, and my kids are really getting into it. I first fell in love with this series as a girl and read it through a couple of times. Then, when my oldest boys were at an age where I thought they would enjoy it, I read it out loud to them one summer. Even though the main child characters are girls, they still loved it and couldn’t wait to hear what the next chapter would be about. We read it through again another summer and as I mentioned, I just started it again for the benefit of my daughter and little boys. Together we’ve learned lots about life in those days like churning butter, building a sod house, cutting ice, maple sugaring, and much more. There are so many good life lessons that can be gleaned from reading these books as well, so I thought I’d share a few:
*How children were expected to behave. Laura’s growing up years were definitely in a time when children were expected to be seen and not heard at the table. There are several incidents where Laura acts up and has to get a spanking for her disobedience or where she mentions having to go out and cut a switch. Though my kids aren’t perfect little angels, we do believe in spanking (gasp!) or other appropriate punishments for deliberate misbehavior. We also get comments out in public about how well-behaved they usually are, so I’m guessing that not letting them run around like a bunch of wild banshees is paying off.
*The value of hard work. Even at a very young age Mary and Laura have chores and are expected to work alongside their parents to get the necessary work done. Laura mentions daily chores and helping their Ma and Pa with specific tasks. Throughout the set of books you definitely get the idea of just how much effort it took to make or do things we take for granted. In those times industry was a necessity and if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat.
*Material things are not everything. We just read a chapter about Christmas with the Ingalls family and their cousins. Laura had a corn cob doll for years and finally receives a rag doll her mother made her. She can’t stop looking at it, cuddling it, and even allowing her girl cousins to take turns holding it. You can tell that this sweet little gift is a treasure to her and the simple gifts the other children receive are all played with and appreciated. They had very few possessions but that makes them cherish them more and take care of them as best as they can. There’s lots to be said for contentment by reading these books.
*The value of family. The Ingalls family is close-knit and in Farmer Boy, the one that describes Laura’s husband Almanzo’s childhood, his family is as well. No, they’re not perfect. They all have flaws like the rest of us, but they stick together through everything. You observe great sibling relationships, parent/child relationships, and husband/wife relationships. It kind of cracks me up when partway through the series Pa suggests moving to another state–again. If I were Ma I would probably be pretty annoyed at that point. However, she says her usual “Oh, Charles” and doesn’t complain or run him down. You can also tell that Laura feels a bit inferior to Mary, her beautiful older sister. When Mary goes blind in her teenage years Laura takes up a job just to help pay for Mary to go to a special school for her handicap and becomes her sister’s “eyes” by describing everything to her.
*Being a good neighbor. Though they really don’t have neighbors in the first book, there’s many mentions of the Ingalls’ neighbors in the rest of the books. A lot of big jobs back in those times required many helping hands, and it seems as if the neighbors pitched in to help each other out. They also helped one another out through sickness and just plain watched out for one another. I happen to be blessed with great neighbors, but I know this isn’t as common anymore in the present day and age, which is just sad.
*Having a strong and noble character. I can’t forget how desperate the townspeople of De Smet, SD are during The Long Winter and the sacrifice Almanzo makes with one other fellow to procure grain for the whole town. In fact, this one brave act saves the people of that town from starvation as there is no other possible way for them to get supplies. That, my friends, is a man of character. Shoot, I would marry him too. (Oh wait, I did marry quite a man of character ;))
*Staying strong through the tough times. We all have them, no matter who you are, where you live, or when you have lived. The Ingalls family goes through some tremendously hard times and trials we can only imagine. Loss of their homestead, extreme illness, crazy weather events, near starvation, and even the death if Laura’s first baby are all things they struggle through. However, they keep on keeping on and get through it.
*Enjoying the fun times. Though there is lots of hardship in these books, there’s tons of fun stories thrown in too. We’ve shared many laughs reading about some of the mishaps that occur and the fun things they get to do.
If you’ve never read this series before, I would definitely recommend it for adults and especially for kids. There’s also lots of activities you can do with kids that tie in with the books. Though I’m not a homeschooling mom, this would lend itself to a great unit study.
Happy summer reading!