8 things to discuss about “Little House in the Big Woods”

“Little House in the Big Woods” is the first book in the hugely popular “Little House” series.

These beautifully written books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, are based on her childhood experiences. Laura grew up on the American prairie lands in the 1860s and 1870s.

“Little House in the Big Woods” is set amongst the forest and bears of Wisconsin and focuses on Laura’s early childhood.

Things to discuss with children when reading the book are as follows:

1. The value of recycling and treasuring simple things.

Laura’s family never let anything go to waste and they have few possessions. The ones the children do have are highly valued. Laura’s doll for example is a corncob wrapped in a handkerchief, which she treasures as much as a “real” doll. The children are ecstatic on Christmas Day when Santa Claus brings them red mittens and candy. They love listening to their father telling them stories and playing his fiddle.

2. Differences in technology.

There are clear differences between the technology and communications in modern times compared to Laura’s childhood. There are no telephones and cars for example and children could discuss the impact this has on the lives on the Ingalls family compared to family now. What would your children do if they had no cars, electronic devices etc.

3. Food.

Children can compare what food they eat and how they obtain it. In “Little House in the Big Woods” a large focus of family life is on preparing and preserving food items. They are unable to go down to the supermarket to collect food every day. Pa hunts animals for the family to eat. The animal furs are kept so they can be exchanged for supplies in town. Vegetables are also grown, gathered and stored for future use. Ma also makes her own butter and bread – these are all laborious processes. 

4. Job roles.

The job roles between now and Laura’s time are very different. Ma “keeps house” and looks after the children. Pa focuses on maintaining the property and  gaining supplies to keep his family safe. The children all have set job roles that they are expected to complete them in order to ensure the family unit functions properly.

5. Industrial and technical know how

Industrial and technical advances greatly improve the lives of the family. In chapter 12 Laura describes “The Wonderful Machine” which helps her father “separate” his wheat.

7. School and kinder

Children can compare their situation to Laura’s. In “Little House in the Big Woods” Laura and her sister Mary do not attend school or kindergarten. Should Laura have been old enough to attend school, she would not have been able to because the school was too far away. The children rarely visit town and have only occasional meetings with other children.

8. Facing fears

Laura recounts many fearful and life threatening moments in the book. These include an incident with a bear and waiting for her father to come home while fearing he was lost in the snow. This can be used to prompt a discussion about facing fears.

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