Homeschooling Unit Studies: The Pioneers

Ideas for creating a homeschooling unit on Pioneer History. Advice on activities, lessons and supplemental materials.


A good way to start a pioneer unit is to lay the foundation with basic information. The student can utilize basic research and writing skills by seeking and writing short answers to the following questions:

- Who were the pioneers?

- Why were the pioneers moving West?

- During what period did the pioneer's westward expansion take place?

- What was the Homestead Act?

- What were the dangers of westward expansion?

- Why did people attempt it, despite the known hazards and the poor odds?

- Were many people successful in fulfilling the contract of the Homestead Act?


Get a map of the North West and mark the Oregon Trail. Calculate how many miles it stretched, and look up what the terrain and climate were like. Get a map showing which Native American tribes populated the North West in the 1800's. Research those tribes and try to learn what westward expression felt like from their point of view. Compare two maps showing the buffalo population and range of habitat, before and after westward expansion. How did it change?


Field Trip: see if you can find a living history museum in your area that has an old one-room school house to explore. What was it like learning in a one-room school house? Consider how the one-room school house was more like home schooling than modern day schools.


To get just a tiny taste of pioneer life, plan an overnight camping trip at your local park. Make sure, however, to avoid bringing any conveniences that wouldn't have been available to the pioneers (or, at least, as few as possible). Leave the camper with full hook-ups and the portable stove at home; opt for a tent (no air mattress) and some blankets. No video games were there to keep pioneers occupied- can you think of things to do to pass the time? For meals, heat some beans in a cast iron pot or pan over a campfire, bring some rations (day-old bread and beef jerky) with water, coffee or cider.

Imagine what it would be like to spend four months traveling and camping without modern conveniences, eating the same food, always doing chores, with no electronic entertainment. Imagine what it would be like doing this in a strange land, in harsh weather, where there were hostile natives attacking others and wild animals all around.

If you can't camp out overnight, plan to spend a full day, from dawn "˜til dusk, at a local park.


Imagine you are in the future, and the galaxy government has reinstated the Homestead Act, offering free land for the first settlers on Mars. Could we learn anything from the experiences of the pioneers of the old west?

Have children write a skit or a play about space pioneers.



"The Oregon Trail," by L.E. Fisher (1990)

A fictional book about what life was like on the Oregon Trail.

"Frontier Living," by Edwin Tunis (1976)

A non-fiction book detailing every aspect of frontier life, jam-packed with illustrations.

"Atlas of Westward Expansion," by Alan Wexler (1995)

Excellent resource for study of the pioneers.


"Frontier House"

This PBS video series documents the experiment in which three modern-day families were chosen to spend six months living life like the pioneers.

Computer Resources:

"The Oregon Trail"

This educational and entertaining CD-ROM game puts you at the head of a family traveling the Oregon Trail by wagon in 1848. How well can you plan? Will the elements be against you? Can you adjust for the surprises that come your way and get your party safely across the trail?

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