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Book Review: The Prairie Primer: A Literature Based Unit Study Utilizing The “Little House” Series by Margie Gray

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Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series is amongst the most often recommended read-alouds in homeschooling circles. In fact, the complete nine-book series provided our family’s earliest chapter book read-aloud experiences. Since that time we’ve re-read favourite books from the series – particularly Farmer Boy – but we’ve never sought to mine the historical treasures to be found in these beloved fictional autobiographies.

The next time we read through the Little House series we’ll have Margie Gray’s excellent unit study The Prairie Primer in hand. Gray provides an in-depth study of the series that can be completed in one or two years alongside the novels and other recommended supplementary resources. Incorporating history, language arts, science, domestic arts, Bible, character development and fine art, this guide for students in grades three through six can easily be adjusted to involve older and younger students for an educational experience the entire family can enjoy.

Clearly organized for easy use, Gray makes the lesson planning process simple for busy mothers. If you’ve tried planning your own unit studies from scratch you’ll appreciate the effort that goes into choosing appropriate resources, developing activities and conducting research. Gray’s provision of a general overview to each book (including relevant historical and background information), weekly planning guides that are invaluable in gathering knowledge and material in advance, and the clearly laid out daily lesson plans with scheduled readings, comprehension questions and a plethora enrichment activities are the keys to a simple unit study.

While the presentation and organization pull everything together for homeschooling parents, the content is excellent as well. Reading through the Primer provided an additional level of depth and understanding as Gray tied together Ingall’s life with historical events, revealed the actual chronological order of the events of the books, and shared additional background information from Ingall’s life. Reproducible worksheets and forms are also included for suggested learning activities which correlate with the portion of text studied that day.

The daily activities provide far more options than a typical homeschooling family will be able to accomplish in a single day. Many times lengthy assignments are suggested, involving research, report writing, and presentation – a project requiring more than a single day’s effort. Picking and choosing from the available activities will result in your children learning through a variety of modalities (visual, hands-on, tactile, auditory etc.) while working in a number of subject areas each day.

Of particular interest to Christian parents is the integration of applicable Bible passages and scripture memorization suggestions that are tied into the study of the text, enlivening the selected passages. I still recommend a systematic Bible study in your home apart from the Primer, as the verses examined are topically included, serving more as character lessons than deep study. This focus upon character and illustration allows for profitable use of the material by Christian families of a wide variety of denominational bents Major doctrinal issues are generally left unexamined while the author maintains a conservative, Christian worldview throughout.

As a homeschooling mother herself, Gray has pulled together as many features to simplify life for the teacher as possible. One such inclusion is an extensive appendix of suggested suppliers for the many recommended resources Gray shares throughout the Primer. Last revised in 2000, some of the suppliers are no longer in business (where am I going to find dry owl pellets for dissection now?), and parents will need to do some extra scouting to find replacement suppliers.

Whether you are interested in using The Prairie Primer to tackle several major subjects for the year, or simply want to use it in conjunction with your family’s read through and take advantage of the background information and some light activities, Gray has penned an invaluable resource. The ease of use paired with Ingalls much beloved series guarantees a delightful educational experience for both you and your children.

Sample files for The Prairie Primer and additional Christian unit studies for homeschoolers are available for free download at the Cadron Creek website.

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