Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool
After several months, my three kids and I recently finished reading all nine books of the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Reading these to my own kids was like a dream come true.
I fell in love with Laura and her life as a young girl myself and have read through the whole series three or four times. But experiencing them as an adult with children of my own gave me a new perspective than I had before.
Certain parts made me laugh, some parts made me cry, a few parts shocked me, and I took away a few lessons to remember as well.
1. Self-reliance and industry are vital to family life.
Pa might hunt alone all day in the bitter cold, in the Big Woods covered with snow, and come home at night with nothing for Ma and Mary and Laura to eat. So as much food as possible must be stored away in the little house before winter came.
~ Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 1
The survival aspect of Little House draws many of us into the Ingalls’ life story. It’s so far removed from our own lifestyles that it sounds like an adventure.
Our generation has been given a gift–the gift of leisure–that pioneers didn’t have. How are we investing that leisure time–giving it to hours in front of the television or computer–or dedicating it to our families, our education, and our life mission?
Freedom and purpose emerge through self-reliance and industry. Though there are certain things I hope never to do–like cook a pig’s head, for example–there are other skills I want to do myself and teach my children.
As homeschoolers, we have time to invest into teaching our kids these skills. Laura would be proud.
2. Atmosphere matters.
No that’s not Laura’s cabin, but actually the 200-year-old farmhouse my family currently lives in. Photo by Desirea Rodgers
“What will Pa and Ma say?” Carrie quavered.
“We’ll know when they say it,” said Laura. “They won’t blame you, this isn’t your fault. It’s my fault because I rocked that seat so hard. I’m glad of it!” she added. “I’d do it again!” Carrie did not care whose fault it was. There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.
~ Little Town on the Prairie, Sent Home from School
I was struck by Carrie’s insight in this passage: “There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.” How true.
Laura and her family lived through severe ups and downs, yet an atmosphere of togetherness generally characterized her home–patience, family unity, and contentment.
As homeschooling families, we find a lesson in this–the atmosphere we create with our words, our tones, our smiles (or lack thereof) influences our family in profound ways.
3. A little (education) goes a long way.
Photo by Desirea Rodgers
Laura almost wailed, “Oh, Ma! How can I ever teach school and help send Mary to college? How can I ever amount to anything when I can get only one day of school at a time?”
“Now, Laura,” Ma said kindly. “You must not be so easily discouraged. We will hurry and get the work done, then you can study. There is enough figuring in your arithmetic to keep you busy for a good many days, and you can do as much of it as you want to. Nothing keeps you from learning.”
~ The Long Winter, No Trains
Ma dreamed that her children would receive formal schooling. But for years and years, it didn’t happen.
Laura and Mary spent most of their childhood working with the family and playing on the prairie. In reality, they were homeschooled for most of their young lives.
When they finally went to school for a couple of years, they soared to the top of their class. Not only that, both girls demonstrated a passion for self-education, spending hours at home learning by lamplight.
Mary continued her studies, even after she became blind. Laura continued studying even after she became a teacher herself.
4. Keep calm and carry on.
Photo by Desirea Rodgers
Ma sighed gently and said, “A whole year gone, Charles.” But Pa answered, cheerfully: “What’s a year amount to? We have all the time there is.”
~ Little House on the Prairie, Soldiers
The Ingalls family endured severe setbacks–loss of homesteads, debt, sickness, and death. But they continuously demonstrated a calm and grateful spirit, even in the face of tragedy.
I’m fascinated by their example, for as I write in my e-book Mindset for Moms, our reaction to life ultimately influences our circumstances themselves. Our perspectives matter.
Two of Ma’s upbeat sayings have become phrases around our home as well: “All’s well that ends well,” and “There’s no great loss without some small gain.”
5. There’s always room for improvement.
“Why don’t you like Indians, Ma?” Laura asked.
“I just don’t like them, and don’t lick your fingers, Laura,” said Ma.
“This is Indian country, isn’t it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”
Ma said she didn’t know whether this was Indian country or not. She didn’t know where the Kansas line was. But whether or no, the Indians would not be here long.
~ Little House on the Prairie, Prairie Day
Hmmm. As an adult, I had a different reaction to some of these passages than I remember noticing as a child. I found myself editing a lot as I read-aloud. Some passages I’m surprised haven’t been removed or altered in subsequent printings.
Other parts I skipped touched on the harshness pioneers truthfully experienced, but that I wasn’t yet comfortable sharing with my kids. “Mommy, what’s a massacre?” wasn’t a question I wanted to tackle just yet.
But real life is like that, isn’t it? Imperfect, like we all are, reflecting both the highs and the lows of the cultures we’re raised in.
Several years ago, when Steve and I were moving cross-country, we chose to drive through Missouri so I could visit Laura and Almanzo’s home where she spent the majority of her life, and where she wrote her stories. (Did you know she didn’t even begin writing until the age of 65?!)
I stared in awe at Pa’s fiddle, sat on Laura’s porch, and stood by her grave as well. Like thousands of other Americans, I remain thankful for Laura’s words that have allowed this historical period to come to life for so many readers.
These stories capture our imaginations because they represent what we all desperately want: courage to keep trying in the face of resistance, wonder and desire to have an adventure, and the hope to believe that something better is sure to be just around the corner.
Little House Resources:
- The Complete Little House 9-book set
- The Prairie Primer
- The Little House Cookbook
- The Little House Guidebook
- My Little House Crafts Book
- Little House Site Tours
- The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder documentary
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Timeline
Have you read the Little House books to your children? What lessons stuck out to you?
This post originally published on April 2, 2012.