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'Frontier House' by PBS: Lesson One

Lesson Two

This is the first in a series of two lessons that you can adapt to use with the PBS Special “Frontier House”.

Important Note: to my surprise, there were several subjects discussed in the episodes that I would not consider appropriate for younger children. Please be aware that some of the discussions are graphic, especially those dealing with hygiene and private relations between family members. With that in mind, my recommendation is to not use this series except with older children, unless you have the capability of editing out the areas you think are inappropriate for use with your children.

Frontier House aired its first two episodes on April 29th, 2002.
Episode 1: The American Dream
Episode 2: The Promised Land

The following episodes are scheduled:
Episode 3: ‘Til Death Do Us Part on April 30th
Episode 4: Survival on April 30th
Episode 5: Family Affair on May 1st
Episode 6: The Reckoning on May 1st


The following lesson plans are available at the PBS website
“Free Land”
“Oh, Do You Remember the Clunes from L.A.?”
“Bring No Poor Articles With You”


To assist with these lessons, you may get familiar with the names of the families and their members by reviewing the Frontier House website.

Who are the members in the Brooks family and what are their relationships?

Who are the members in the Glenn family and what are their relationships?

Who are the members of the Clune family and what are their relationships?

During the first episode, where the family had a 10 day intensive training before going to their homestead, what was your initial impression of each of the families? Give reasons.

What year were they re-enacting and where was it? [Answer: 1883 in Montana Territory]

Research the Homestead Act and how it impacted settling the west, particularly Montana.

What percentage of families were unable to complete the five years necessary on their homestead to take ownership? [Answer: 60%]

Instead of five years, how long were the families going to be living on their homestead? [Answer: five months]

In episode one, what kind of training did the women get? The men? The children?

Animals were a critical part of the life of homesteaders and also critical for the survival of the Frontier House families. What animals were they given to help them complete their time on the homestead? [Answer: 1 cow, 1 calf, horses, dog]

Research how to care for the animals in the show. Create a “how to” booklet for one animal in particular, complete with instructions and illustrations.

During the first episode, people began talking about what they would miss. What would the kids miss? What would the adults miss? If you were in their situation, what would you miss and why?

According to information in the show, 40 was the average life span in the 1880’s. Today the average lifespan in 70+. What do you think has increased the lifespan? Do you think the hardships that people faced on the frontier affected their health? Research and support your answer.

The women and the teenage girls seemed to have difficulty leaving certain things behind. What were they? [Answer: i.e., makeup] Based on their reaction to leaving these things, how do you think they are going to cope once they get to the homestead?

What were some of the clothing issues that the girls and women had? [Possible answers: added 12 pounds once they had everything on, so many layers, corset made it difficult to breath, etc.]

At the end of the first episode, we see the families packing their wagons. They have to decide what to take and how best to fit everything into their prairie schooner. During the real 1883, how long could a frontier family expect to be “on the road” reaching their homestead? [Answer: 6 weeks to several months]

Build a scale replica of a prairie schooner or draw a scale model.

The Frontier House families didn’t have an auspicious beginning of their two day trip to their homesteads. What were some of the problems that occurred? [Answer: team ran away, road washed out, boy bitten by dog]. How do you think the families’ reaction to these events foretell how they will survive their five months? Support your answer.

After the first episode is complete, which family is your favorite? Why?

After the first episode is complete, which family do you have the least confidence in? Why? If you have problem with a particular family and/or family member’s attitude and behaviors, tell why. Be specific.

Keep a “score card” for all three families and re-evaluate them after each episode. Note why you feel they are your favorite, least favorite, most likely to succeed, most survival conscious, etc. Older children and teenagers may even wish to do this by members within each family.

To help the Frontier House families, a member of the Crow Indian Tribe harvested a deer to help feed them. What was the irony in this? [Answer: The Crow Indian Tribe was forcibly removed from Montana Territory to make way for the white homesteaders. Over have the Crow people of that time starved because they were not allowed to hunt to feed their families.]

To go along with the previous question, you may wish to research and try various venison recipes and find out the hunting laws in your own area.

Once the families began setting up their homestead they used several simple tools. What were they and how were they used?

Some families seemed to have advantages over others. One family had a cabin completely built, one family had to finish building a partially completed cabin, and one family had to build theirs from nothing. How do you think this affected each family based on their actions and feelings in the second episode? Be specific.

What were some of the personal problems that became apparent during the second episode?

What were some of the environmental problems that the families faced in the second episode? [possible answer: cold, freak snowstorm in mid-June, distance of carrying water, etc.]

Additional Activities:

Learn to cook in a wood stove and/or with a Dutch Oven. Some Dutch Oven recipes can be found here. Note: due to the speed at which I am trying to get these lessons up, some of the recipe pages may not be completely formatted. If they are not, check back as they will be, shortly.
Dutch Oven Bread Recipe
Dutch Oven Breakfast Recipes
Dutch Oven Chili Recipes
Dutch Oven Dessert Recipes
Dutch Oven Main Dish Recipes
Dutch Oven Meat Recipes
Dutch Oven Soups and Stews Recipes


To supplement the supplies that the families brought with them to the homestead, they needed to plan and plant a garden. If you had to feed your entire family from a garden, what would you plant and how much? Research some of the various vegetables and fruits that you would like to plant. What kind of care and weather do they require to grow? Would they even grow in the Montana Territory? When would you plant them in the Montana Territory? [Note: check the various plant “zones” that appear on the back of many vegetable seed packets and in books on planting vegetables to help find this information out.]

Two of the families are becoming concerned about their food supplies. What is the difference in their diets compared to what they are used to? Why do you think they are losing weight?

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