Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cardstock Covered Wagons on the Oregon Trail

Personal experiences from the Oregon Trail are great to explore, and we've immersed ourselves in loads of them, from documentaries to fictionalized diaries to real diaries, but the engineering problems of emigrating cross-country in a covered wagon are also quite fascinating, so over the course of a couple of weeks, I set up an engineering challenge for the kids:

Can you build a covered wagon out of cardstock, load it with gear, and take it down the Oregon Trail?

I gave the kids these cardstock covered wagons to color and assemble; they were both able to do so without any assistance other than me holding the odd glued piece so that it could dry (and Will colored and cut and glued contentedly--GASP!!!):

The kids were quite... generous with the glue, so rather than completing the rest of this activity later that afternoon, I put it off for an entire week until the next Friday. 

The next Friday, while the kids did their chores, I set up a general store at our jumping off point, the play room:

First, the kids would have to roll the dice to determine the number of family members who would travel with their wagon.
You can have as many housewares and pets as you want, but all they are is dead weight.
Work animals can walk, at least. One food package per person must be "eaten" at every stop on the trail.

I was pleased that each kid ended up rolling a ridiculously large number of family members:

Will crammed her wagon with all the housewares and bedding, but had to drop most of them before she could even leave this jumping off point:

Both kids quickly learned that the wheels are by far the weakest part of the wagon, and had to very carefully choose what to bring and how to pack it:

All those wheels have to stand up straight, Young Pioneer!
Syd eventually determined that it works MUCH better when you make all your family members walk!
 The kids' Oregon Trail journey consisted of taking their wagons and all family members and possessions to each room of the house, where they'd have to stop, eat their "food," make sure their wagon could still stand, etc. If they ran out of food, I was going to make them kill off family members, but back at the jumping off point, when I told them how often their family would use the food, Will sent Syd to run around the house and count all the rooms, so they both had enough.

If I'd wanted to make the activity really elaborate, I could have assigned a real stop on the Oregon Trail to each room--Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, river fords, etc.--and then had the kids do something special or choose a slip of paper with an accident or adventure written on it. That would have been a fun way to spend the afternoon, or to do as a culmination activity with a co-op full of kids studying pioneer history.

In the coming weeks, we'll be doing the occasional activity to highlight post-emigration pioneer life, but that's well-trod ground for us by now, and I'll be shifting most of our history study to Ancient China.

We're going to see some real Terra Cotta Warriors!


Tina said...

That's an awesome activity! Gonna have to pin it for later.

julie said...

It did turn out to be a lot of fun. I wish that a field trip to an Oregon Trail site was do-able this year!


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