Ninth Step: Laura Ingalls Wilder ~Exploring Walnut Grove~


Wrapping up our Laura road trip was a stop at Walnut Grove. We technically passed through here on the way to South Dakota with our visit to Plum Creek. However, I wanted to see the pageant in De Smet AND Walnut Grove, which meant splitting our visit to Minnesota in half. First Plum Creek on the way out and Walnut Grove and the pageant on the way back.

Walnut Grove is an interesting place for Laura history. It is where Laura history and Laura fiction intersect. Though the Ingalls only lived in Minnesota for little more than 3 years, the TV show’s setting, all nine seasons of it, took place in Walnut Grove. Despite the fact that the show was filmed on a ranch in California, Walnut Grove, Minnesota preserves much of the show’s history in the museums of the little town.

One of the first things you’ll see to let you know you’re in Walnut Grove is their water tower. Follow that off the highway and across the railroad tracks and you’re greeted by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. This is quite a big museum that spans several buildings laid out to look like a mini town. You start in the gift shop and book store. I have to say, that I was impressed by most of the gift shops and book stores at the Laura museums I visited. This one had a particularly large book selection that I enjoyed. In the museum buildings you got to see a good mix of Laura history and the TV show history.

Several weekends a year, you can see Walnut Grove’s pageant, Fragments of a Dream. It’s quite an elaborate production and worth watching! Since 1978 there had only been 2 times where the show had been rained out. The show we attended happened to have been the 3rd. We got to see half of the show before some wicked thunderstorms rolled through. The show keeps a keen eye on weather reports. They hustled a bit through the last scene before intermission then let everyone know of the impending storm(which we could guess was coming by the distant lightening and random drops of rain). We were given enough notice to make an orderly exit to our vehicles and for the show to quickly clean up and then the storm hit. Before we made it out of the parking lot it began to rain, and by the time we were on the highway to our hotel the storm was in full force and it was quite scary to drive in.  I’ve been in a lot of storms, but there isn’t anything quite like a prairie storm!

That wrapped up all the Laura related parts of our trip, and now we just had to finish the drive home. It was one of my all-time favorite trips and I’m looking forward to going again with the kids are a little bit older. Maybe next time I’ll get to see the whole show in Walnut Grove! Our next trip though, will be to visit Mansfield, MO where Laura and Almanzo lived out the rest of their days. I can’t wait!

Ninth Step: Laura Ingalls Wilder ~Exploring De Smet, SD~


De Smet, South Dakota was where we stayed the longest on our Laura road trip. This makes perfect sense considering the Ingalls lived here for quite awhile, and it is where more than half of the Little House book series takes place. There were also many things to see and places to visit while here, including seeing the town’s annual Laura pageant, which happened to be ‘By the Shores of Silver Lake,’ when we were there.

When planning this visit, I knew I wanted to stay at The Prairie House Manor Bed & Breakfast. This bed and breakfast used to be Banker Ruth’s home, who was mentioned several times in Laura’s books. It is beautiful and centrally located to many Laura stops in town. Not to mention that our hosts were very gracious, hospitable, and helpful. It was a real pleasure to stay there. It is family friendly and I loved all the little Laura touches that were sprinkled throughout the property!  The breakfast was a real treat and the kids LOVED their pancake men(just like Laura had in Little House in the Big Woods)for breakfast. It is also just a few doors down from Ma and Pa Ingalls’ last home!

In De Smet there is no forgetting that you are in Laura territory! You are able to see the Surveyor’s house that the Ingalls stayed in when they first arrived in South Dakota, the school that Laura attended, a replica of Brewster School where Laura first taught, Ma, Pa, and Mary’s final home, the Ingalls’ homestead site, the cemetery where several Ingalls were laid to rest, and more. Going on the historic home tour was very informative and a lot of fun! On this guided tour you see the Surveyor’s house, the First School, Brewster School, and Ma and Pa’s house. It also includes a stop to the gift shop, a small museum  and visit to their Discovery Center for the kids with lots of fun hands on activities.

Laura’s familie’s homestead site is a short drive away. It spans acres and is maintained as kind of a living museum. There is a wonderful gift shop with a mini theater for viewing documentary type videos, then you can can walk around the premises and visit different buildings that highlight different aspects of pioneer living. There are also many activities for you and the kids, including driving buggies and covered wagons and a lesson at the school house!

Our final event in De Smet was to see their Laura pageant, which changes each year, and was By the Shores of Silver Lake this year. It’s an outdoor show with sets, lights, and sound. The actors come from around the area to perform. It was a beautiful, if buggy, night on the prairie to see Laura come to life right on the land where her family homesteaded.

One of our last stops on our way out of town was the De Smet Cemetery where some of the Ingalls family and friends are buried, such as: Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, Grace, Laura and Almanzo’s baby son, Mr. Boast, and Rev. Brown. Finally, we would begin the final leg of our journey and head back east toward home. But not without a stop in a little town called Walnut Grove first….


Ninth Step: Laura Ingalls Wilder ~Exploring Plum Creek~


After our brief stop in Pepin, Wisconsin, we continued on our Laura journey to Minnesota. This included a stop at Sod House on the Prairie . This was a really fun stop! Here you can see several different types of housing that was common on the prairie during Laura’s time, including types of sod housing like the Ingalls lived in at Plum Creek. I remember when reading, On the Banks of Plum Creek, that Ma lamented at having to live in a dugout. Though Laura is a master of description, I still couldn’t wrap my brain around how this whole thing worked. Sod House on the Prairie filled in some of those gaps for me.

The sod houses had their challenges, but looked surprisingly more livable than I had imagined. It was a hot sunny day when we visited, but the prairie winds kept you feeling cool and inside the sod houses with their packed dirt floors, shade, and open windows it was even cooler. We were the only ones visiting at the time we were there, so we could take our time checking everything out at our leisure. Though this site does not operate as a bed and breakfast anymore(what a neat experience that would have been!), there are bonnets and aprons to help you get into character during your visit and to snap a few fun photos. The homes are furnished with period items to try out and explore as well. The kids loved looking through the braille books like Mary’s, sitting at the tables, trying out the beds, and climbing ladders to look in lofts. One of their favorites was encountering the free roaming cats and kittens that have made the houses their homes.


After Sod House on the Prairie we went to Plum Creek to see where the Ingalls’ dugout was! This was my favorite stop of the whole road trip…..I think. 🙂 It was amazing to wade and play in Plum Creek, knowing that we were truly walking in Laura’s foot prints! The creek is on a farm that is maintained in its natural condition. They have provided a turnaround, garbage cans and few picnic benches for visitors near the creek, and a foot bridge over the creek to reach the dugout site, which is marked by a sign. Other than that, you are welcome to climb down into the ankle deep creek and play in nature to your heart’s content. The water is clear, the trees are beautiful and provide a quiet little retreat where you can walk in the waters and look for pretty rocks or find minnows and frogs. We stayed here for a couple hours just enjoying ourselves. We packed a lunch as well to munch on. For that, we walked across the foot bridge to read the sign marking the dugout site and to see the beautiful prairie behind it and try to imagine where Ingalls’ beautiful house may have been. (To see many more of our pictures from this  stop click here to see a previous post.)

Following our stop at Plum Creek, it was on to De Smet, South Dakota!

Ninth Step: Laura Ingalls Wilder ~Exploring Pepin~

After reading several of Laura’s Little House books it became clear that a road trip was going to be in our future. I had to see these places described so lovingly in the books and stand in the same creeks that she played in and experience the prairie for myself. Thankfully, the bug had caught and everyone in our home felt the same way. Some books that were very helpful in planning our trip were, Laura Ingalls Wilder Country, The Little House Guidebook, and  Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was also very fun reading about other’s Laura travels, which besides being fun, had some interesting tips and hints as well! These narrative-style books were  The Wilder Life, and My Life as Laura. With that, on to our  first stop, Laura’s birthplace, Pepin, Wisconsin!
Coming from the Chicagoland area, it was a half a day’s drive to Pepin and a great place to hop out of the car and stretch our legs. The first place we visited was the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. It is a small museum with some interesting artifacts that were either Laura’s or from the time she lived. It also included a small gift shop and play area for the kids. After viewing, playing, and shopping we headed to the shore of Lake Pepin.
I wanted to collect some rocks like Laura did when she made her first visit to a town ever, Pepin. She filled her pockets so full with rocks that her pocket ripped from her apron when Pa went to lift her into the wagon! The kids enjoyed finding their own special rocks to take with them as a memento of their visit. Finally, we went to visit Laura’s birthplace!
At Laura’s birthplace there is a recreation of a small cabin, and a sign denoting the significance of the spot. Unfortunately, there are no more Big Woods there. Those big stumps that gave Pa so much trouble have been cleared for farmland, so some imagination is necessary. Whomever owns the site has planted some trees there though to shelter the area a bit and separate from the surrounding farms. From there we continued on the next leg of our journey to Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, Minnesota!

Second Step: Nellie Bly ~Exploring Cont’d and Conclusion~


Studying Nellie Bly has been a treasure trove of learning for us! We left off in England in my last post. From there we continued to France where we made strawberry crepes, then we headed to Egypt and made some self portraits of ourselves as ancient Egyptian pharaohs. In the last two weeks we also got our first package from our monthly subscription to Little Passports to continue our world studies after Nellie Bly and we did a quick activity about how Nellie traveled, that is with one 16″x9″ bag for a 72 day trip! It was all capped off with a trip to our local train diner  for lunch and the kids’ Festival of Countries program at  their school! The kids had a fabulous time making crepes when we ‘visited’ France on our travels! It was a little messy, but they tasted great! After we did all the mixing, sifting and pouring of ingredients the kids had some time to just play at the table with some of the ingredients while I cooked the crepes. We finally cleaned up, added some strawberry, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce to our crepes, and sat down to eat! The recipe for the crepes(which really were fantastic) along with other links to the activities and materials can be found on my Pinterest page for Nellie. Our next activity on our trip ’round the world were ancient Egyptian pharaoh self portraits. The kids loved seeing themselves as ancient pharaohs and coloring their headdresses and tunics. I let their Festival of Countries studies at school take them the rest of the way around the world as life kind of got in the way of us doing it at home. 🙂

We received the first of our monthly activities from Little Passports, a subscription service that sends us materials to learn about a new country each month. The first kit introduces you to the hosts of your studies, Sam and Sofia, who are doing the traveling and sharing the adventures with you through: letters, stickers, maps, information, computer games and more. Each kit after that focuses on a new country and sends you new materials for fun and games while you learn.

Inspired by our kits from Little Passports, we decided to try an exercise in packing for travel. Nellie Bly traveled the world for 72 days with just one hand bag measuring 16″x9″ in size, about the size of a loaf of bread. The bag that I bought for our photo shoot was the same size and style as that bag. I thought it would be fun to see if we could pack for a two day trip to Grandma’s with that bag. We made a pile of items that we thought we would need to be away from home for two days. The kid grabbed pillows, blankets, clothes, toys, etc.  Needless, to say, the items did not fit in the bag! They ended up narrowing down to just a few small items to take with them. My son didn’t seem to mind editing his pile, but my daughter was a little frustrated, lol!

We decided to wrap up our studies at Choo Choo Johnny’s, a local train diner for lunch. It seemed appropriate and was a lot fun! 🙂 We also got to see the kids perform at their Festival of Countries program which was really fantastic and included songs, dances, costumes and they brought home a ‘suitcase'(portfolio) of all their activities from their studies! We had so much fun learning this month and are looking forward to our next awesome lady, a real ‘fly girl!’ 😉

Second Step: Nellie Bly ~Exploring~


There are so many great opportunities for learning when it comes to Nellie Bly! I’ve had to narrow down some of my ideas quite a bit! Nellie Bly’s life and career lend themselves to many fantastic themes that activities can be planned around, but in keeping with our photo shoot I’ve chosen ‘around the world’ as our theme. It opens up so many doors to learn about so much with the kids and is easy to make age appropriate since my girlies are still quite little! I’m also kind of cheating a little since Big Sister and Brother are in the midst of an international unit at preschool! They’re already doing half of my work for me! 😉

So, to kick off Nellie Bly we started with a game. We played the game Round the World With Nellie Bly. It’s a 300 piece puzzle, that when complete, is a remake of a board game released in 1890. The puzzle comes with rules, game pieces and a die as well. I let the kids attempt to help with the puzzle but it was a little beyond them.  I ended up putting the puzzle together and was happy to have a quiet activity to do by myself after the kids went to bed. 🙂 When they discovered it finished the next morning they were excited to take a look and play a round. I let them have some time to look at the game first and just play with the pieces a bit. The game board is very picture heavy and some of the pictures sparked some conversations about Nellie’s trip and travel in general which was a great start! The real fun came when we started to play though(fun is a debatable adjective here if you ask the kids, lol)! Nearly every single space on the board sends you somewhere else. You could be sent back to port, back 2, 5, or even 10 spaces. You might get lucky on a rare occasion and land on a spot that is ‘safe’ and let you be or you could actually be propelled forward a few spots. The kids found this incredibly frustrating. They never knew what would happen next and the idea that they could be sent back so often and so far was galling! It was a perfect segue into a chat about what travel was like back in the 1890’s and why it was such an accomplishment for Nellie to go around the world in 72 days!

That evening I began reading ‘It Can’t Be Done Nellie Bly,’ by Bonnie Christensen to the kids. It’s a telling of Nellie’s journey as she circumnavigated the globe and the adventures she encountered along the way. With some of her stops in the book we will also stop and complete an activity to go with that country. Her first stop is in London, England.

In honor of London we attempted to paint peg people to look like the Queen’s Guard and discussed some ways that England is similar and different from the US. This is where that international unit at school is really helping out! They’re making all kinds of connections and are familiar with some of the places we’ll be talking and reading about already. I tried to paint a peg person as well. I was nearly done when I left it to dry and put Little Sister to bed, and upon returning to finish it up, I found my son had taken the liberty of finishing it for me. See the pictures below for the result, lol!  After painting our peg people I took out some passport sticker books that I ordered from Oriental Trading Co. and we put a sticker in our passport for London. Next up is France, then Italy, Egypt, Hong Kong and Singapore. We’ll see if I’m crafty enough and find the time to do an activity for each!

I’ve created a Pinterest board with links to all the things mentioned above for your reference! 🙂

First Step: Frida Kahlo ~Closing~


I needed a closing activity to wrap up our time with Frida. The perfect thing seemed to be a self-portrait! Big Sister was excited to paint for the afternoon while Little Sister napped. She  warmed up with some free paint time, creating an abstract painting. Then we talked about Frida’s paintings and revisited the book ‘Frida Kahlo: the Artist Who Painted Herself.’ After that she was ready to create her own self-portrait. She very seriously chose her colors and brush strokes. It was fascinating to watch her at work! When she was done she added her sister to the portrait and some ‘me flowers,’ as she called them. She was on a roll at that point and decided that she would continue painting and now was taking requests. I asked for a painting of flowers. She got right to work and finished it before I got a couple of the shots I wanted, so I asked if she could add a few more flowers to the bottom of the page where it was a little blank. I thought this would buy me some more picture taking time. I had no such luck. She responded, ‘Painters don’t do bottom flowers,’ very seriously, and there was no persuading her otherwise. Her compromise was to add some dots to the bottom of the page to fill it in. She did tell me that she could paint another picture though, and that I could choose whatever I wanted because, ‘I’m a painter, I can paint anything.’ Except bottom flowers I guess. 😉

First Step: Frida Kahlo ~Exploring~


I’ll admit that part of the appeal of doing this project with my daughters was the opportunity to shop for cute outfits, dress up, and take pictures. It’s soooo much fun!! I can’t escape the former school teacher in me though, and there had to be more meat to what we were doing. So, we’ve spent some time reading, creating, and exploring Frida Kahlo’s life and her artwork through various methods. This aspect feeds my need to research and plan. 🙂

To start, we already owned the children’s picture book ‘Frida’ and had read it, but visited it again. The artwork is stunning, but the story is told in a bit of a depressing light(hard to avoid with her life at times) that required some discussion. It does do a good job of presenting true and accurate information though. I then picked up ‘Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself.’ This book is told from the point of view of a young girl learning about Frida Kahlo for a school project. It includes photographs of Frida Kahlo and her artwork, so it makes a nice reference book for young children. A great digital resource that we found via Mommy Maestra(a terrific site for lesson planning for Frida Kahlo) is a fun iTunes app called Frida’s World. It is a very cute story about Frida that you can read to your children or you can choose to have it read to your child. It also includes some coloring pages from the story. We really enjoyed this app and the story is very positive and upbeat. Speaking of coloring, we found some coloring pages online(a favorite and free download found here), and purchased a coloring book as well, but I have yet to receive it. Finally, we worked on some paper dolls. I ordered a book on Amazon of paper dolls, but they were too pretty for me to cut up! I instead found some online that you can order and print instead. 🙂 I may end up trying to scan some pages of the book to print and cut if I find the time. 🙂

Once we knew about her story  I wanted to look a little closer at her style. A lot of who Frida was, she portrayed through her choice in clothing, hairstyle and decor of her ‘Blue House.’ La Casa Azul, is Frida’s house in Mexico City, Mexico which is now maintained as a museum to Frida. Last year they opened a temporary exhibit of Frida’s dresses and costumes(see video on the exhibit here). It is a fabulous website with a sections for Children and teachers here, and visiting the actual museum has been on my bucket list for some time now! We had a lot of fun looking at the website and seeing how the clothes we picked for the pictures corresponded to Frida’s own style.