News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 1, 2012

Christmas Past: Hoosier Prairie students undergo pioneer training

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Using a mallet, Hoosier Prairie Elementary student Sofia Miller pounded a nail into a round lid several times as she made a tin can ornament during the fourth-grade Pioneer Christmas Day celebration Friday. When she was completed, the ornament had several holes in the shape of a heart.

About 60 fourth-graders rotated through 10 stations that included crafts, music, games and a lesson in a one-room log cabin located on the school property.

“It’s fun, getting to see what they [pioneers] did and all that stuff,” Miller said after she completed her tin can ornament. Next, she and other students made garland by threading together popcorn and dried apples.

Miller especially liked having a lesson in the log cabin, where there was a real fire in the fireplace to keep everyone warm. “You get to see how they did school and how different it is,” Miller said.

The Pioneer Christmas celebration, which the school has done for several years, supplements the fourth-graders’ study of Indiana history. The students also read Log Cabin in the Woods, about an Indiana pioneer family.

Friday’s Pioneer Christmas “is more of a hands-on approach to things they’ve read about,” said Lynn Bolinger, one of the fourth-grade teachers. “It lets them see how a pioneer might have celebrated Christmas.”

The activities run all day and involve many volunteers, including parents and retired teachers. Principal Dallas Kelsey and Holly Pies, district curriculum coordinator, also participated, with Kelsey serving as a school master and Pies a schoolmarm in the one-room log cabin.

Other activities included square dancing, cookie baking, weaving and story-telling. Students made various ornaments, including star ornaments, in which they glued toothpicks into gumballs that had fallen off trees.

The children, fourth-grade teachers and several volunteers dressed in pioneer garb, including long skirts and bonnets for the girls and coonskin caps for the boys.

Student Brayden Bender said it was fun to learn about how pioneers lived and may have celebrated Christmas. “It was hard for them because they had to do a lot of stuff. Like, they didn’t have radios to listen to music; they had to make their own music,” he said.

Another student, Brent Tryon, noted that the pioneers “had to make their own tools to cook and cut trees down and stuff.”

They didn’t have cars and they had to walk wherever they went, he said. When it was really cold, “They didn’t have heaters. They only had one fire for the whole family,” Tryon said.

While it might have been fun to live back then, for a while, Tryon likes having Internet, electricity, computers and heaters.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or