Navigating the Oregon Trail

My 2nd grader’s class has been working on the Oregon Trail and Westward Expansion. It is a fun topic for kids to study and because we are doing Project Based Learning, they really get to be immersed in it for a few weeks. She was so excited, that the first day they started we went to the local library to see what kind of books they had and then she brought them into school. I’ve only now gotten a chance to take a look at them myself!

One book that she really enjoyed is Voices from the Oregon Trail, by Kay Winters and Illustrated by Larry Day. This book takes a caravan of travelers and tells their stories on individual pages. From the Captain’s son wondering how many will die along the way to the women who didn’t want to leave their farms, families just trying to make it through the journey, 4 deaths, one wedding, and one birth. There is even a page of a Sioux scout who fears what the travelers mean for his tribe and Nez Perce Indians who help guide the caravan across the Snake River. E loved that it really helped her feel like she was there and she found all of their stories captivating.

One neat way for younger kids to learn about the Oregon Trail is through the book If you were a Kid on the Oregon Trail, by Josh Gregory. The “If you were a kid” series is always a fun book for kids to explore and see the history from a child’s viewpoint. This really does paint a picture of what traveling by wagon across the country was like. The sidebars on each page also gave great insight to differences between then and now.

Surviving the Journey: The Story of the Oregon Trail, by Danny Kravitz has a classic nonfiction feel to it. It breaks down the different parts of the trail, talking about challenges that the pioneers faced along the way. In our school, kids study the Oregon Trail in 2nd and 5th grades and this book feels much more appropriate for 5th graders – it even discusses the Donner party. An interesting book for research.

I don’t know about every school, but in our school the classic game, “The Oregon Trail,” is a HUGE hit. Last year a book series that allows you to “choose your own trail” came out so that kids can work the challenge while offline. The text matches the game very closely, but is still perfect for younger readers. I think the kids still prefer playing it on the computer, but the book is a fabulous option for a car ride.

My daughter’s class has made learning about the Oregon Trail incredibly fun, especially by utilizing project based learning. That said, books are always a great addition. Reading the stories about what people went through and seeing the types of clothing they might have worn really makes the concept more accessible. These are great choices that help kids make the Oregon Trail come alive.

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