Pioneer Experience – Frozen Feet and All

Give your children a pioneer experience they’ll never forget. You can do this in Primary or for family night.

Today’s guest contributors Emily, Shanda and Ashna brought a picnic cooler full of ice and water to Primary to help teach this lesson. Emily invited two children to remove their socks and shoes and stick their feet in the freezing water. They kept their feet in as long as they could (with no hard feelings when they’d had enough). Meanwhile, all the children watched the 4-minute video “Mormon Pioneers: Act of Courage,” President Gordon B. Hinckley’s touching account of the three 18-year-old boys who carried members of the pioneer company across the icy Sweetwater River, then died from the effects of that ordeal.

Pairs of children volunteered to be oxen, yoked together with a hula hoop.Other children were divided into “families,” where pairs of children packed a laundry basket full of supplies. All the children watched while the trekkers packed the laundry basket with flour, dried beans, crackers, a frying pan, a gallon of water, extra clothes, rope — whatever pioneer essentials you have on hand. Then the children carried the basket, one on each handle, on a trek around the edges of the room, while everyone sang (you guessed it), “Pioneer Children Sang as they Walked” (Children’s Songbook, 214), “Little Pioneer Children” (CS, 216) or “To Be a Pioneer” (CS, 218). Simple costumes are fun if you have time — cowboy hats, sunbonnets, bandannas as neckerchiefs or head scarves.

For an extra touch (optional), Emily brought small glass jars for each child, filled halfway with heavy cream and a dash of salt. The children shook the cream into butter while watching the video and singing. Baby food jars or small jelly jars work nicely for this. Then, as the cream turned into butter, each child brought their jar to the back of the room, where Emily spread the homemade butter onto saltine crackers for a pioneer snack for the journey.

You could do the trek with just one or two groups of children pioneers. You could also just have 1-2 children shake cream into butter, perhaps passing along the jar to other children.

Emily writes, “The Sweetwater River crossing was a story that I wanted to include because it is personal to me. According to her biography, my great-great grandmother was a 13-year-old girl in the Martin Handcart company. Her father had died on the plains in Nebraska, but she continued on to Salt Lake City with her mother and sister. My purpose in sharing these stories was to help the children understand that living the gospel brings its challenges, but choices we make today affect not only us, but our posterity. After our Sharing Time, one of the brothers who teaches Primary came to me and told me his ancestor was one of the young men who carried the people across the river.”

Materials needed:

  • cooler with ice (add water at the church building)
  • towels for drying off feet
  • hula hoops for yoking oxen
  • laundry baskets
  • pioneer supplies such as flour, dried beans, crackers, a frying pan, a gallon of water, extra clothes, rope — whatever pioneer essentials you have on hand
  • simple costumes (optional) – cowboy hats, sunbonnets, or bandannas as neckerchiefs or head scarves.

If desired:

  • small glass jars
  • heavy whipping cream
  • crackers
  • knife for spreading
  • napkins

For another idea, click here for a simple “how-to” for a 10-minute pioneer trek for families, nursery, Junior or Senior Primary. You can trek on July 24 (Pioneer Day) or any day. This is a free chapter from the book that was born on this blog, “Sunday Lessons and Activities for Kids.

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