Banks of Plum Creek: 12—"The Christmas Horses" and 13—"Merry Christmas"

Teacher's Guide Author: Suzanne M. Hill, 4th Grade Teacher, William K. Moore Elementary School, Clark County School District


This teachers' guide is one of a series including activities for all chapters of On the Banks of Plum Creek. Additional teacher's guides are available for other Little House books as well as other books addressing the topic of U.S. westward migration.


Chapter Overviews: Holiday time has arrived on the Plains. Laura and Mary are having longing dreams of Christmas. Soon their dreams are put aside by a choice that mama has them make. They must decide whether the gifts they long for are more important than the horses their pa needs in order to run the farm. The girls show their unselfishness by making the right choice. Laura and Mary make Carrie (their baby sister) a chain made out of buttons for her Christmas present. When Christmas morning arrives the girls are surprised to find small gifts in their stockings. Pa is happy that he has his horses to help him with farming. Laura gets to take a ride on the new horse.

Chapters' Themes: Holidays, Horses, Weather, Farming, Traditions, Snow, Unselfishness, Love, Family, Pioneer Life

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Pioneer Christmas Research Project
      • Students will use internet resources and books to research Christmas traditions followed during the time of the pioneers. Students will then create a foldable style book featuring traditions of the pioneers. Students will be given expectations through a teacher created rubric. Traditions to be studied will include foods, decorations, gifts and other traditions.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)6.1: Students will use the writing process.
        • (4)11.1:Students will formulate research questions and establish a focus and purpose for inquiry.
        • (4)11.2:Students will use a variety of library resources, media and technology to find information on a topic.
        • (4)11.5:Students will present research findings for different purposes and audiences using various media.
    • Literature Response Activity
      • The teacher will read aloud "A Pioneer Christmas"
      • Students will respond to reading by writing a two paragraph summary of the text.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)2.1:Students will use pre-reading, during, and post-reading strategies to improve comprehension.
        • (4)2.4:Students will determine importance in stories.
        • (4)5.5:Students will write responses to literary selections using supporting details from the selection to support their responses.
  • Mathematics
    • Christmas Recipe Adjustment
      • Students will need to double a recipe in order to make enough for the class. Students will be given a traditional Pioneer recipe to use to complete the activity. We will then complete the activity during Science instruction time.
      • Recipe can be found on Besides Pizza.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.0:Students will use appropriate tools and techniques of measurement.
        • (4)1.19: Students will multiply and divide multi digit numbers by one digit numbers.
    • Create a Log Cabin
      • Students will use their skills at measuring and cutting to create a log cabin. They will use brown paper rolled into log style, stacked together to form a house. They will then use a different color paper to fashion the roof for their cabins.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.0: Students will use appropriate tools and techniques of measurement.
        • Students will measure length to a required degree of accuracy.
  • Social Studies
    • Create a Pioneer Newspaper
      • Students will work in small groups to create a one page newspaper using a template from the computer. The newspaper will include some typical happenings in pioneer times. Students will use information from earlier research and books to find interesting stories for their papers.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)4.4: Students will describe experiences of pioneers moving west.
        • (4)4.10: Students will recognize famous people in Nevada's history.
        • (4)4.12: Studies will read historical passages and interpret details.
    • Primary Document Study
      • Students will study pictures of pioneer scenes and read excerpts from diaries to study pioneer history. Students will then write one paragraph about each document as they see it through their own eyes.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)4.4: Students will describe experiences of pioneers moving west.
        • (4)4.13: Students will identify appropriate resources for historical information.
  • Science
    • Christmas Recipe
      • Students will combine ingredients from math lesson recipe to prepare a batch of cookies that we can share in the classroom. Students will measure and stir ingredients. The teacher will then complete the cooking during prep time to serve to the children later in the day.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)1.10: Students will cooperate and contribute ideas within a group.
        • 20.3.3: Students will demonstrate that when parts are put together they can do things that they couldn't have done on their own.
    • What makes soil fertile
      • Students will research what makes soil fertile. Farming was a huge part of pioneer life and many chapters of the book mention farming and soil.
      • Standards Addressed
        • N2A: Students understand that science is an active process of systematically examining the natural world.
        • P5A: Students understand the properties of objects and materials.

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

The major theme in both my chapters was Christmas on the Plains. I did some research about typical Christmases during this time period and have included some background information here. Christmases were often hard for the pioneers. The weather proved to be a huge factor during winter time, blizzards were whipping outside the home. Through all hardships found on the prairie Christmas was a shining light. The tree (if there was a tree) would be decorated with cookie dough ornaments, pine cones, nuts and berries. Many families waited anxiously for mail from back east that might contain Christmas surprises. Families would gather around the fire on a cold blustery Christmas Eve and sing carols or tell stories. After the children were asleep parents would fill their stockings with cookies, candy and fruits. Presents bought in a store were often too expensive for the pioneers. Most families made gifts for the children such as corn husk dolls, wooden toys, scarves and socks. When Christmas arrived the food was plentiful. Christmas dinner was the main event of the year. The table would be laden with poultry, plum pudding and vegetables. After dinner it might be time to attend church, or to attend to chores around the farm. Even though Christmas was much simpler back then, in many ways it sounds like a happier time than now.

Additional Resources


Note: This teacher's guide was developed as part of one of the Clark County School District's Teaching American History grants. In this grant module, teachers focused on using children's historical literature to teach cross-curricular concepts relating to 19th century westward movement. For more information about this blog, related teacher's guides, or the grant module, please contact Dr. Christy Keeler.


Marie Dattero said...

I really liked the activities you suggested to use with your chapters. I especially liked the Pioneer Christmas project and the Newspaper. I was under the impression that the activities needed a step by step detailed explanation though. That's the part where I spent most of my time. Your blog looks great.

pamfoster said...

I really like your activities that help to teach the themes of your chapters. Two activities I really liked were creating the log cabin and the newspaper from a template. One extension activity to go along with the Christmas/winter theme is researching the amount of snow that fell during an average winter storm. They could also figure out the amount of snow that actually fell during a blizzard on the prairie. Another take on the diary exercise from the Primary Document Study could be to write a diary/journal entry from a character in the Little House books while using primary resources such as pictures and other historical diaries. I did not mind your short activity descriptions. I think this gives teachers a chance to put their own spin on an activity and not feel they must follow it step by step. Good job!

Christy G. Keeler, Ph.D. said...

I love your focus on primary sources such as in the "Primary Sources," "Pioneer Christmas," and "Recipe" activities.

Thank you for the link to the Beyond Pizza recipe! What a great way to appeal to all senses (touch as they knead the dough -- unless they use a mixer which I wouldn't recommend because it will lose authenticity, smell as the cookies bake, taste as they try their creations, and sight and hearing as they work collaboratively).

It is so hard to deal with Christmas traditions in public schools today. I am pleased to see you undeterred by the challenges of addressing a critical holiday in our nation's history by focusing instead on culture and history.

Could you link to (or otherwise offer) a teacher-created rubric like that mentioned in "Pioneer Christmas Research Project"? Also, could you be a bit more specific about how students will complete the log cabin construction project while focusing on mathematical principles?