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The Ox-Cart Man

  Literature Based Unit Study written by: Suzanne Mazer Stewart
Author: Donald Hall
Illustrator:  Barbara Cooney
Summary: Describes the day-to-day life of an early nineteenth-century New England family throughout the changing seasons


Where is New Hampshire Shutterfold
Hardwork Bible Matchbook
Sheep to Cloak Graduated Book
New Hampshire Report Form & Pocket
Everything a Season Book & Clipart
Produced or Purchased Pocket Book
New Hampshire Tab Book
My Story Pocket
Then & Now Shutterfold
Four Seasons Circle and Cone Pocket
Cone Pocket Instructions
Who Made What Graph Simple Fold Honeybee Lapbook


Memory Verse(s)
Proverbs 12:11
"He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense"

Proverbs 14:23
"In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty."

Lapbook Component:
Hardwork Bible Matchbook

Bible Study: Biblical Families
One a day - Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Elkanah, Jacob and all his wives and children, and finally Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Read a story about each family, and then perhaps find a similarity or difference between that family and yours.  You could also read a story and then find a character trait or object lesson from that family that can be applied to your own.

Bible Study:  Seasons
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 - studying each "season" or "time" and its contrast. Have children recall certain "times" in their own lives.

Lapbook Component:
Everything a Season Book & Clipart


This story takes place in New Hampshire. Find NH on a map or atlas; place a storydisk there. Color or ID its flag. Look for info from a book or on the internet. Record NH in your notebook or passport. For older children, you could even do a state report - listing important facts and data.

State Bird and State Flower Coloring Page

Lapbook Components:
Where is New Hampshire Shutterfold
New Hampshire Report Form & Pocket
New Hampshire Tab Book

History: Time Period
This story is set in the early 1800's.
-Have a "then and now" differences discussion; if you notebook or lapbook make a chart of the differences
-Conduct a then and now interview with an older relative.
-Mark the book on your timeline or Book of Centuries.

Lapbook Component:
Then & Now Shutterfold

Other Topics for Exploration
There are several historical "trades" that could be explored - blacksmithing (the source of the kettle,) harness making, candle making, spinning and weaving, etc. (We made a simple cardboard loom and wove with yarn.) The girls also did some research into samplers and needlework. Another area to explore, especially of interest to my girls, is hearth cooking. (We even found a recipe book in our library that included many recipes for foods we eat now, with directions to make them over a hearth.)

If your student would like to try a sampler, but you don't have the supplies, let him mimic this pattern by using graph paper and markers.

Allow your older student to choose some colonial trades to research-- blacksmith, cooper, tailor, whitesmith, hatter, miller, wheelwright, silversmith, tanner, cobbler, housewright, pewterer, towncrier, clockmaker, cabinetmaker, barber, etc.


Creative Writing:  Adding Details
You can get creative with this story. Give each character a name, and then take turns telling another story about your particular family member. These can be in the form of a journal or diary entry, telling a little bit about themselves and their day. (Youngest dc dictate theirs, older ones write them out.)

Lapbook Component:
My Story Pocket

Comprehension & Discussion Questions
1. How did the family survive (how were they able to buy/produce what they needed to live)?
2. Each person in the family contributed to the goods produced.  Make a chart of who made what.
3. List the steps in the production of the mittens.
4.  Why did the family's jobs change with the seasons?  Can your student think of any jobs like that today?
5.  Where did the Ox-Cart man go to buy/sell goods?
6.  The Ox-Cart man's family was able to produce much of what they needed, however, they couldn't make everything; what items did the Ox-Cart man have to buy?
7.  How would these items be used?  Would they help the family produce more goods?
8.  What else did the man come home with?  (coins in his pockets)

Lapbook Components:
Who Made What Graph Simple Fold
Produced or Purchased Pocket Book

This "story" is actually a poem written by Donald Hall.   Point out the use of line to your student (why the sentences are "broken" off and don't run as one continual line).  Also, look for examples of repetition throughout the story. 


There are several different uses of perspective and viewpoint in the story's illustrations. You can use these to either introduce or reinforce this topic if studied in earlier books.

Folk Art
Take a look at some early American folk art, and then contrast it to modern-day folk art. Your library should have some sources for this.

Colonial Art
This book is also a good springboard for a discussion into formal colonial art and artists. (One thing we learned is that during colonial times, painters charged by the amount of the body they had to portray in their portraits. A head was cheaper than a full body, sitting down less than standing up, etc. This is the source of the phrase, "cost an arm and a leg.")

Early American Songs
Learn some early American songs, like "Yankee Doodle" or "In and Out the Needle." The "Wee Sing Games and Fun" cassette has a nice selection. Also, this website has a LOT of colonial music in midi form to listen to, download and learn, as most songs have lyrics, and some sheet music, provided.
You may also find this website

Craft Projects
-Tying in with the history lesson, try your hand at simple samplers. There are several books and websites that show examples of historical samplers.
-If you have a child responsible enough, you could let him or her try their hand at whittling. If not with real wood and knife, soap carving as described in the Daniel's Duck (FIAR Volume III) lessons would work in their place.


Counting Money
Review and expand counting money, especially coins. "How many ____ make a dollar? How many pennies in a dime? How much do 2 nickels and 3 dimes make? Which is more, 2 dimes or 2 quarters? etc."

Your younger student may enjoy these -- Coin Puzzles

Grocery Budget (Life Skills)
A good lesson for older dc is to give them several different grocery fliers, a grocery list and a budget. Can they purchase enough for dinner? Which store has the best prices on _____? Which store has the most expensive ____? Find the average price of ____. (I got this idea because the father/farmer only had so much goods to barter with, and only so much money to spend. He had to somehow acquire the things his family needed with, hopefully, some left over. This modern day equivalent was a real eye-opener for my dc as to just what it takes to feed a family of 8!)

If you have a child learning multiplication tables, ask them to find out how much it would cost to serve X number of people a certain item or items for practice.

Calendar Skills (science and critical thinking, too)
Make a calendar (month by month or season by season) for the Ox-Cart Man's family.  You will have to do some research, and you will also have to make some educational guesses; some activities will appear in every month/season.  Include any of the following activities plus others you can think of--
shearing sheep
making candles
going to town to buy/sell
picking apples
retrieving honey/honeycombs
maple sugaring
collecting goose feathers
harvesting potatoes
planting vegetables
gathering turnips, cabbages, etc.
taking care of animals
making flax into linen
spun yarn
knitted mittens

Lapbook Component:
Four Seasons Circle and Cone Pocket
Cone Pocket Instructions


Wool Production
There are several FIAR lessons, such as A New Coat for Anna (Volume II) that cover this as well. A really nice go-along book for this lesson is Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola.  If you want to touch this topic lightly, simply list the steps mentioned in Ox-Cart Man.

Charlie Needs a Cloak Activity Card

Lapbook Component: Sheep to Cloak Graduated Book (originally made for Charlie Needs a Cloak Unit)

Farmer's Market
If you have one, go for a field trip visit. If not, there's a wonderful book by Lois Ehlert, titled Market Day, that shows a family traveling to market. The book is illustrated with folk art from around the world, so this may tie in with your art lessons, as well.

Farm to Table
Pick one or two of your everyday produce items (such as milk, eggs, potatoes, or even honey) and research the process it goes through today to get to your dinner table.   From the Farm Activity Sheet

Go-along books:
Milk: From Cow to Carton by Aliki
The Milk Makers by Gail Gibbons

Farm animals
This book is a wonderful way to introduce your student to the different animals that make up the farm. OR you could do a more in-depth study of just one or two.  You could also have your student list the animals that lived on this farm and what products each one "gave" to the farmer's family.

"In May they planted potatoes, turnips, and cabbages"
Choose some vegetables to plant in your garden this year.  If it's planting time, plant outdoors.  If the season is right for starting seeds inside, then do that.  Chart the growth of your plants in a nature journal (or on a separate chart for your notebook or lapbook).  You may even want to compare the different seeds, growth rates, etc. of each plant (if you choose more than one). 

"While bees woke up, starting to make new honey"
Honeybee Report Sheet
Honeybee Print-out Enchanted Learning

Honey is a sweet fluid produced by honey bees from the nectar of flowers. Honey is put away by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. 

Here is the process of how honey is made (from )
A field bee carries nectar in its mouth.
The field bee gives the mouthful of nectar to a house bee at the hive.
The house bees put the nectar inside the hive's six-sided honeycomb cells.
The nectar is mostly water.
After the nectar is inside the cells, it must dry.
The bees fan the cells with their wings.
The bees cover the cells of the honeycomb with wax.
The nectar dries for a few days.
When the nectar thickens, it turns into honey.

Further topics to explore: lifecycle of the honeybee, beekeeping, how bees are necessary in the apple-producing process

Go-along suggestion: The Honey Makers by Gail Gibbons

Maple Sugaring
(a big thanks to Colleen Yoder for the following information! --this lesson was originally in Letting Swift River Go)

Maple Sugaring begins late in the winter when the temps go above freezing during the day, and below freezing during the night.  This gets the sap flowing up the trees (and therefore "running" out the spiles) during the day.  During the night, the sap goes back down the tree until the warmth/sunshine draw it back up the tree again.  We like to get long "runs", lasting several weeks.  In Ohio, the weather is more volatile and the seasons can be cut short abruptly by a warm trend in the weather.  When the sap stays up in the trees, the season is over.  As the leaves come out, the sap becomes bitter.

As for technical drill holes in trees and lightly tap spiles into them.  Some people hang buckets on the spiles.  Others, like us, use food grade tubing from spile into 5 gallon buckets that sit on the ground at the bottom of the tree.  Some people extract sap with a vacuum, but this is potentially harmful to the trees.  You can roughly expect a quart of syrup per tap. 
It takes about 40- 60 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. It depends on the brix level (or sugar level) of the sap.  Sugar maple trees have a higher sugar content than other maples.   The sap is gathered daily and put into holding tanks which is then fed into large evaporators.  The evaporator boils the sap down quickly.    Ours is heated with wood and is in a little building called a sugar shack.  (As a side note, we actually have someone else cook ours down on shares).
The evaporator has a hood which catches the steam.  Interestingly, the water that is discharged from the evaporator will not freeze----unless the container is moved in the freezer!! (We did this as an experiment because we were told this, and it is strange but true.)

Want to learn more about maple syrup?  Try HSS's Maple Sugaring Unit Study & Lapbook

Additional Resources

Ch. 3 (Ox-Cart Man) Exploring the Environment Through Children's Literature by Butzow
p. 56-58 Social Studies Through Children's Literature by Anthony D. Frederick

Library List
The Pumpkin Man from Piney Creek by Darleen Bailey Beard
Colonial Days: Discover the past with fun projects, games, activities, and recipes by David C. King
…If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern
Warm as Wool (FIAR Volume III) by Scott Russell Sanders
Katie's Trunk by Ann Turner, illus. by Ronald Himler
Kids in Colonial Times by Lisa A. Wroble