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The end of July marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.  Teaching children of their heritage and history is fun and easy when you use music.  It’s one of my favorite seasons for teaching music to the kids at church.  I take a straw hat and sunbonnet, an apron, and a bundle of sticks to class.  As soon as they see my props, they have their hands in the air to volunteer to help me before I ask.  Image

Modern kids are fascinated with children who walked thousands of miles to get to a home they hoped would provide peace and a bright future.  They feel proud vicariously for the children who were expected to do their part in helping their family to survive.  Very young pioneers were expected to gather dry grass and buffalo chips to fuel the evening fire when they stopped at the end of the day.  They were also responsible to tend animals, pack the family’s belongings, cook and clean, and even carry younger children along their trail.  My little friends love the costumes and role playing brave and adventurous children who lived so long ago as they walk around the room while we sing:

(click on the links to hear the mp3 version of each song)

Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked.
Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked.
They washed at streams and worked and played.
Sundays they camped and read and prayed.
Week after week, they sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked and walked.

I scatter sticks around the room and let them pick them up in their aprons or hats as we sing.

ImageYoung boys were responsible to lead the oxen or drive the wagon at a very young age.  They walk very slowly and with dignity when we sing the Oxcart song.

Here comes the oxcart

Here comes the oxcart, oh, how slow!
It’s pulled by an ox, of course, you know.
The wooden wheels creak as they roll along.
Creak, creak, creak, creak is their song.

To Be A Pioneer

You don’t have to push a handcart,
Leave your fam’ly dear,
Or walk a thousand miles or more
To be a pioneer!

You do need to have great courage,
Faith to conquer fear,
And work with might for a cause that’s right
To be a pioneer!

Little Pioneer Children (a round in 2 or 4 parts)

(1) Little pioneer children gath’ring berries for food;
(2) See the pioneer children hunting chips for wood.
(3) Gladly helping each other, merry and happy were they,
(4) Walking along, moving along, on their way.

Besides the hard work, pioneer children entertained themselves with simple toys and games.  I take several large buttons tied on strings (as pictured) and let them try the perpetual spinning trick.


The whirring sound and elastic feel as the button gets going is thrilling, particularly the first time you’re successful.


The simplicity of pioneer toys and games is amazing to our kids today.  There typically wasn’t room in the wagon to take anything that wasn’t necessary for survival.  String games, like “Cat’s Cradle” were easy to come by and didn’t take up much room.  A doll might be made of a corn cob and a little scrap of fabric.  No one had a rubber ball–they might use a rock or something resembling a home made footbag (or “Hacky Sack.”) They had to have fun with every day objects that were readily available–like a stick.

242One of our favorite activities is a “stick pull.”  Using a common stick–a wooden spoon, a broom handle, or a straight stick from a tree–one player grabs the center  with both hands (overhand) and the other player grabs it to the right and left of the first player’s hands.  While still holding the stick, they sit on the floor, toe to toe, drawing their knees up and begin with the stick centered between them.  The stick pull was a competition of strength for pioneer kids.  The object was to pull their opponent off balance, and sometimes even toss him over their head.  For the sake of our song and not getting the group too out of hand, I just have them rock back and forth in rhythm to the song .  “For some must push and some must pull.”  We repeat the song until everyone who wants to play can have a turn.  Some of the older boys (10 and 11 years old) have asked me for the stick to prove their strength with their friends when they go home.

The Handcart Song

When pioneers moved to the West,
With courage strong they met the test.
They pushed their handcarts all day long,
And as they pushed they sang this song:
For some must push and some must pull,
As we go marching up the hill;
So merrily on our way we go
Until we reach the Valley-o.