Here’s one book no homeschooling family should miss: A Pioneer Story: The Daily Life of a Canadian Family in 1840. It combines heartwarming stories of a busy pioneer family with the background information and hands-on activities of a unit study. Truly, it is a winning combination.
Beautifully illustrated, this story of the Robertsons fills our hearts and minds with the life of a pioneer family in the backwoods of eastern Canada. We follow Sarah (10), Willy(9), George(13), and Meg (15), as well as Granny, Pa, Ma, little sister Lizzy, and baby Tommy, through a whole year of maple sugaring, baby animals, milking, sheep shearing, fishing and more.
With the Robertson children we face the terror of meeting a lynx, the thrills of building a new home, the hard work of bringing in the harvest before the storm, and the joys of surviving a night lost in the wintery woods. We trade with a jolly peddler, meet a new English boy at the school, and visit Uncle Jacob’s home for a thrillingly different Christmas.
Reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilders’ stories, these tales are not only the delightful story of a busy family, but also a wonderful introduction to the book’s detailed explanations and activities.
For example, in the chapter “Finding a Honey Tree,” Uncle Jacob took Sarah and Willy out to mark a bee tree in anticipation of the fall, when the honey could be harvested. After enjoying the story, we learn about bees, harvesting wild honey, and pioneer remedies.
“Signs of Spring” shows us the family’s house, winter diet, cooking, and farmyard in such wonderfully illustrated detail that we can almost imagine their lives for ourselves. When Sarah found the year’s first egg, the entire breadth of pioneer experience is revealed in Ma’s response:
Ma stroked the egg dreamily. “Pudding,” she said. “I’ll make a nice egg pudding for tonight’s supper. There’ll be a good mouthful for each of us.”
When the peddler arrived, he brought joy and excitement to everyone in the family. Itinerant preachers, shoe makers, peddlers, tailors, and tinkers all were welcome visitors at the farm. Crafts in “The Peddler’s Visit” include making a punched tin picture, a pioneer water carrier, and a sand clock.
Willy spent a lot of time with his friend Neekeek, and occasionally Neekeek’s uncle would teach the boys a new skill. Once he taught them how to catch trout with their bare hands. When Willy came home triumphantly with the fish he had just caught, George scoffed at his story. Granny, on the other hand, laughed, “Och, aye! Tickling trout. Your granda was a dab hand at that. Many’s the poached fish we had from the laird’s stream. Scooped up just that way. Good for you, young Will!” Of course this chapter discusses fishing, hunting, guns, and snares.
Throughout the book we learn to read the weather, make a balance scale, prepare for winter, make candles, use a bake oven, build a road, and thresh the grain while we live, laugh, and bicker with the family. While the bickering does bother me, this book is, on the whole, happy and inspiring. The illustrations are a joy, and the stories are a treat. My children enjoyed A Pioneer Story even more than I did both times I read it aloud, and they’ve enjoyed it on their own as well.
A free Teaching Guide is available.
–Written by Annie Kate, a Christian homeschooling mom of five, who reviews and blogs at Tea Time with Annie Kate.