Home School Years

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Exploring The West

Related Posts:

Regions of the United States

Timelines: Past, Present and Future

Animal Series

Weather Series

Music Theme

Fairy Tales: A Comparison

Recommended Books

  • How We Crossed The West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark (National Geographic Society) by Rosalyn Schanzer
  • The Lewis & Clark Expedition: Join The Corps of Discovery to Explore Uncharted Territory by Carol A. Johmann
  • Lewis and Clark for Kids: Their Journey of Discovery with 21 Activities by Janis Herbert
  • Roughing It On The Oregon Trail (Time-Traveling Twins series) by Diane Stanley
  • Going West! Journey On A Wagon Train To Settle A Frontier Town by Carol A. Johnmann
  • If You Traveled West In A Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine
  • Twister on Tuesday (Magic Tree House Series) by Mary Pope Osborne
  • Ghost Town At Sundown (Magic Tree House Series) by Mary Pope Osborne
  • Whatever Happened To The Pony Express? by Verla Kay
  • Yippee-Yay! A Book About Cowboys and Cowgirls by Gail Gibbons
  • Banjo Granny by Sarah Martin Busse

Spring is finally here! After a long and strong winter storm season, we are glad to be enjoying warmer days. Windows are now open allowing lots of bright sunlight and fresh air to come in. It’s also nice to hear the birds singing and see the trees flowering with buds. Nature is calling so we’ll be spending lots of time outdoors once again, exploring and enjoying all she has to offer. Speaking of exploring and enjoying the outdoors, we just wrapped up our lessons on the Lewis & Clark expedition which leads us into exploring the west for the next two weeks. Here are some themes I built into our lessons:

Related History:

  • Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • Trail of Tears
  • Gold Rush
  • Pony Express
  • Wild West
  • Transcontinental Railroad

Target Vocabulary: adventure, buffalo, comparison, continental, cowboy/cowgirl, expansion, explore, express, field guide, frontier, historic, horse, journal, journey, land, log cabin, map, native American, outdoors, ox, past, pioneer, plains, present, railroad, range, rodeo, route, settler, site, territory, timeline, trail, transcontinental, travel, United States, wagon, west, wilderness

wagonsPast vs. Present: Wagons Ho! by George Hallowell and Joan Holub offers a creative and comparative look at the journey west. It presents the story of two girls – Jenny and Katie – who move with their respective families from Missouri to Oregon at different times in history. Jenny’s story is set in 1846 while Katie’s is in 2011. The two timelines are presented on a side by side, past vs. present comparison format which helps the reader see the differences and similarities between the two journeys in time. It was a great book to use with the themed lesson.

Follow The Trail: Using a map, we are discussing various trail routes followed by settlers through the western territories and states.

  • Oregon Trail – from Missouri through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and into Oregon
  • California Trail – from Missouri through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho then south into Nevada and west into California
  • Santa Fe Trail – from Missouri through Kansas then it splits into two routes: one west through Colorado into New Mexico and the other south through border of Colorado and Oklahoma into New Mexico

In addition, we are discussing the starting point – Independence, Missouri – which was known as the gateway to the west. The West is a reference to land west of the Mississippi. This gateway is presently symbolized by the famed Gateway Arch of St. Louis, Missouri.

Geographical Features: As we follow the trail routes, we are discussing various geographical features of the region, such as rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, plains, desert, waterfalls, etc. In addition, we’ll take a look at the continental divide of North America that is linked to the Rocky Mountain range. I’ll explain how this divide (which runs south from Alaska into Canada then through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and into Mexico) divides natural water flow systems. On one side of the mountain range, waters flow west to the Pacific Ocean and on the other side they flow east to the Atlantic Ocean (including the Gulf of Mexico) or north into the Arctic Ocean.

Animals of the West: I’ll also be introducing many animals related to or associated with the western part of the U.S., such as bison/buffalo, prairie dog, antelope, deer, elk, horse, bear, coyote, cougar, sheep, mountain goat, eagle, hawk, lizards, snakes, etc.

What’s The Weather Like?: We’ll be discussing some of the weather conditions and challenges that many pioneers and settlers had to deal with, including high winds and tornadoes, drought, severe winters, as well as extreme heat in the summer and desert areas.

Music: For our music lessons, I’ll be introducing folk and bluegrass music styles, as well as discussing the harmonica, banjo and fiddle. We’ll also be listening to and studying the lyrics of these songs:

  • Home On The Range
  • She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain
  • Clementine
  • Oh Susanna
  • I’ve Been Working On The Railroad

fairy talesFairy Tale Comparisons:

One of the things we enjoy reading most is fairy tale comparisons. It’s always fun to see a new version or perspective on an old tale. Following the “west” theme, we’ll be reading two new comparisons:

Little Red Hot by Eric A. Kimmel – this take on Little Red Riding Hood presents a southwestern style tale of a young Texas girl who loves red-hot chili peppers and has the misfortune of meeting Señor Lobo on her way to deliver her sick grandmother a hot pepper pie “that will knock those cold germs right out of her.”

Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by Susan Lowell – about a cowgirl who lives in the west with a stepmother and two step-sisters, and is aided by a fast-talkin’ fairy godmother in trying to lasso first place in a rodeo and win the heart of Joe Prince.


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