Saturday, September 14, 2013

Farmer Boy: Autumn Read-Aloud

Paddy and I are reading Farmer Boy, which is not our typical choice of reading material.   But Cindy Rollins was talking about in on a Circe podcast which I listened to this summer, and I remembered that Paddy really enjoyed LIttle House in the Big Woods, which I read to him when he was about six, and that this was probably one of the last years I could get away with reading it aloud to him.  So we are reading maybe 3-4 chapters a week.   I have the Memoria Press guide, which has vocabulary, comprehension questions, and some character lists, as well as questions to discuss.   We bring it out about once a week and discuss the chapters we have read.   Paddy likes this because it is easy, though last week he complained that one of the discussion questions wasn't really a discussion question because the answer was too much of a given -- nothing really to discuss. 

Though Farmer Boy  is not a page-turner so far, I am glad we are reading it.   While boys are boys everywhere, there is so much that has changed in those past 150 years or so.  It is interesting to compare the life of my boy now with the life of Almanzo back then.  

Recently, in our reading, Almanzo has been training his ox calves. 

To me it is impressive that a 9 year old can spend a whole day out in a cold winter trepeating "Whoa" "Gee" and "Haw" patiently over and over again until the calves in the yoke have it down.     Furthermore, he is way better than I am at progressing in increments while teaching, and not expecting too much to soon. 

It is interesting that when Almanzo asks to stay home from school for a day to work on calf-training, his parents allow it, though they are by no means indulgent parents.   They also let him stay home from school on his birthday.   On the other hand, he also spends a whole day working with his brother stacking ice blocks cut from the frozen lake in the icehouse for summer.  

In a chapter we just read, when Almanzo tries to makes his calves do something they have not been trained to do, they run wild.  No one is hurt, but Almanzo realizes that he needs to teach them what he wants them to do.  Furthermore, he patiently returns to the basics of "Whoa!" and "Haw" since making them do something they were unprepared for made them regress. 

Finally, it is interesting that Almanzo knows he is never to strike or speak harshly to the calves while training them.   He knows from what his father has often said that if young animals are taught to fear their trainers they will never be reliable   (It is interesting to me that this didn't extrapolate to the training of young children at the time -- though Almanzo's parents are just and calm, and by no means resort to whipping by default, it is mentioned for instance that the previous schoolmaster used to strike Almanzo's old brother's hand with a ruler when he didn't know his lessons).

I think one of the things I like the best about reading Little House books to my kids is the orderliness of the work routine displayed in the lives of both the Wilders and the Ingalls.    The work, too, is independent, home-oriented, and dignified, though physical and strenuous and sometimes heartbreaking.    

I also like the way father, mother and children were united in contributing to the welfare of their little kingdom. 

As for my boy listening to the story -- there is no question, his favorite part is all the lists of food.   This was something Cindy said her boys loved about the book, and I didn't think it would apply to Paddy so much, since the food mentioned is often different from what we eat, and he is a relatively fussy eater.   Apparently descriptions of groaning tables crosses all cultural boundaries, however.  

There is a Farmer Boy lapbook at HomeschoolShare

On Wikipedia I read a bit about Almanzo Wilder's subsequent life.   There was some tragedy,.  Almanzo was partly crippled after diphtheria struck their family, there was a barn fire and a drought, and their son died in infancy.   But he lived till the age of 92, and Laura outlived him by 8 years, so the later years of their marriage were easier than their first.


  1. Great thoughts. My mom grew up on a farm and wanted to communicate those same work ethics to her city slicker children, and these books provided a central frame of reference as we were growing up. We wanted to be like Laura and Mary and be able to run a household at an early age. And the perils of prairie life sure helped to keep our own problems in perspective! I owe so much of my childhood resolve to my mom reading these books aloud when we were little and implementing many of those same practices of hard work and orderliness.

    This is a great study guide for the Little House books. You get recipes, historical context, family trees, and lots of visual aids to really bring the stories alive.

  2. Love it! I read that book aloud to Sam at about the same age. So many happy memories tied up with that reading.

  3. We listened to this book while on a motor home trip with only the most rudimentary food selections. The book was tantalizing and depressing because of our paltry fare. My 6 year old daughter listened and drooled to the July 4th Chapter over and over. I suspect she may have listened to it more than 20 times. I think she liked it because it was such a happy time.

  4. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't my favorite Little House book :)

    My kids have all loved it.....and especially my boys......they all enjoyed the other LH books......but those are all pretty girl-centered.

    Glad you get to enjoy this special story with him.......he will remember it forever.


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