Imagine if you didn't have a cell phone, a car, light bulbs, television, grocery stores, or the internet. Life would be pretty different! Though it may be hard for you to imagine this, every year the town of Mansfield, Missouri "unplugs" itself to go back to the late 1800s as the townspeople celebrate Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the beloved Little House books. These historical books chronicle the life of a young girl living in pioneer times, where she and her family had to grow and catch their own food, entertain themselves with stories around the fire, and use a horse-drawn buggy to get into town.
If you think your family needs a break from technology, try reading this book together and then having an "unplugged" dinner to reenact those historical times. You'll encourage reading by setting a time everyday to read as a family, and once you're finished with the book, you'll get to experience what it was like to live in the pioneer times by turning out the lights, cooking a traditional dish, and spending some quality time together as a family!
What You Need:
- Copy of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Copy of Little House Cookbook by Barbara Walker
- Groceries for dinner
- Candles, matches, lanterns
What You Do:
- Read: Set a time aside each night to read Little House in the Big Woods, the first installment of the Little House series. Create a timeline on the family calender with dates and times of when you're going to read each chapter. If you have younger children, it's a good idea to read aloud to them for 10 to 15 minutes each night; right after dinner or before bed are prime times for reading. If you have a progressing reader, have each family member take a turn reading aloud. If you have older children or very busy schedules, you could get a copy of the book for each family member and use the timeline to list a different chapter to read for each night so that everyone completes the book at the same time.
- Discuss: When everyone has finished reading the book, discuss your favorite parts. Ask your child who her favorite character was and why. Encourage each family member to describe their favorite part of the book, what they think would be their least favorite chore to do in pioneer times, and what they would do for fun if they lived back then. Ask them to imagine how they would react if there were no electricity, TV, or internet, and how they might benefit from not having these things.
- Then make a list of the types of foods the Ingalls family enjoyed in the book and get each member to pick a dish that they would like to eat. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, you might want to peek inside the Little House Cookbook for some inspiration. Then compile a menu for a family dinner!
- Once the menu is finished, decide on what kind of entertainment you'd like to have after dinner. Be sure that none of these activities use electricity so that you can really celebrate the way people used to live on the prairie. Use the book to come up with some activities, such as storytelling, playing instruments, dancing, playing charades, cards, or shadow puppets.
- Cook: Shop and prepare the dinner. Get the whole family involved in the preparations by assigning each person a job. Parents can chop food and handle the stove or oven while younger children can do simpler tasks, such as setting the table or washing the vegetables.
- Pull the Plug: Before you enjoy your meal, prepare the house for an electricity-free evening. Turn out the lights and use candles or lanterns to light the rooms instead. If you have a fireplace, turn off the heat and build a fire. If it's hot out, open a window instead of using the air conditioning. Be sure that television, cell phones, ipods, and computers are turned off so they won't distract anyone. Unplugging yourself is a great way for the family to connect, and it can be a real treat for children!
- Now you're ready to enjoy your meal and after-dinner entertainment as if you were really living on the prairie! Not only is this activity a great way to carve out some family time, but it will also encourage reading in the household! Kids will get a history lesson by reading and then experiencing what it was like for a family to live back then. It's a great activity that the whole family can enjoy. You might have so much fun that you'll end up reading the entire series together, with monthly Little House dinner nights!