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….


Third Step: Amelia Earhart


Another month and another fabulous lady to learn about! Amelia Earhart is the focus of this month’s studies. Like Nellie Bly, she is also an adventuring woman and we are in the adventuring spirit!  We had a fabulous visit to one of our local aviation museums, Illinois Aviation Museum, to kick things off! We had a phenomenal time looking at all the different planes, helicopters, and memorabilia at the museum. Some of the museum is inside a hangar where you can see planes, a helicopter and also get a behind the scenes look at some of the museum’s restoration efforts and speak to volunteers manning the museum. Outside we got an up close and personal look at more planes and jets, along with witnessing the occasional take off of aircraft from the airport that houses the museum. While we were outside we met a local pilot who invited us to his hangar and let the kids sit inside the cockpit of one of his planes. He also took us to meet Jim and Bob of Midwest Aeronautique LLC who showed us their current restoration project and an inside look at how some of these planes are made. We capped off our afternoon, dubbed by my son as, ‘the best day ever,’ at Charlie’s the airport diner. While there we got a front row seat to the runway and some fab diner food(they received the 5 Prop award for best airport food in the state)!  More about our afternoon at IAM to come, but for now here are some favorite photos!


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! 🙂

Second Step: Nellie Bly ~Introduction~


Nellie Bly! I was so excited for this step! Big Sister’s personality reminds me a bit of this famous reporter and globetrotting record breaker. Nellie Bly is the pen name of a journalist born Elizabeth Cochrane. She is known for her edgy stunt-style reporting which included a trip around the world inspired by Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days.’ This feat made her a household name in 1889-1990. It was this trip that inspired our photo shoot and the activities during our study of Nellie Bly.

Though Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg completed his journey in 80 days, Nellie Bly circumnavigated the globe in 72. She did it with only two days notice from her employer, with only one handbag measuring 16″x7,” and was basically unchaperoned(unheard of in her day). These were all feats for her day and some still would be today. On her journey she traveled from New Jersey through England, France(with a pit stop to meet with Jules Verne himself), Egypt, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, and San Francisco before arriving back at New Jersey. She encountered many obstacles along the way, but beat even her own personal goal of 75 days by 3 days. Through writing about her experiences and having them published as she went, she became a household name and the most well-known woman in the world at the time. She inspired songs, fashion, and games created in her name as a result.

Nellie Bly’s trip around the world brought her through Joliet and Chicago, IL on her way back home. Nellie arrived in Illinois on the The Miss Nellie Bly Special, a train for the express purpose of getting Nellie on her way to break a world’s record for traveling around the world. It was a passenger train comprised of one passenger car and an engine that set new speed records during its trip. Nellie passed through Joliet and Chicago on the morning of January 24th, 1890, 114 years ago.

At that time the current stations in Joliet(Joliet Union Station) and Chicago(Chicago Union Station), did not exist. Both locations had overhauls and new stations built just a few short years after Nellie’s trip. They were, however, in the same basic locations. I had hoped to have our photo shoot on the anniversary of Nellie’s stop in Joliet, but the weather around here this year did not cooperate! But, we did get to shoot at Joliet Union Station and on the same tracks she rode on her legendary journey! It really was an incredible experience. The whole family had fun exploring the station and its history.

We are really looking forward to learning more about this amazing woman in the coming weeks! I have created a Pinterest board for all things Nellie that I used as inspiration while researching her and planning our activities, you can check it out here!