What <i>Little House on the Prairie</i> Can Teach the Modern Kid

I wasn't expecting to get so wrapped up in the stories of life on Plum Creek, again. And what I found was that I needed it just as much as my kids did. Here's what our TV ancestors, the Ingalls Family, had to teach us
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Somewhere between late summer and early fall, I realized my big summer plans for getting my kids back to the basics were about as likely to happen as me not sneaking into their Halloween candy this year. We were going to do all the summertime things I remembered doing as a kid on our family farm -- hiking for hours in the woods, picking honeysuckle and berries all the way down to the creek. We'd go camping (the real kind -- with no air mattresses, or bathrooms), fishing for our supper and chasing fireflies at the first sign of dusk. My little iPad-wielding, air-conditioned suburbanites were going to become one with nature (or at least a two or a three).

But as usual, our busy travel, work and camp schedules led to summer's end with not a fish snagged or a berry picked. So I did what any modern mom would do. I borrowed the complete DVD set, Season 1, of the 1970s/80s TV series Little House on the Prairie from a friend. I figured at the very least, I could divert my kids from mind-numbing, sarcasm-inducing shows like "Jessie" and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for some good, wholesome programming about "the simple life."

At least that's the way I saw it when we sat down to watch the series over the course of several weeks. The simple joys of prairie life on the American Frontier. Maybe not an easier life. But a slower, simpler life in many ways.

Whereas my husband, who had never watched the show and curled up with us for a few episodes, didn't see it as quite so idyllic. He honed in on the harshness of frontier life -- the stress and physical strain of living off the land sucking all the joy right out of it. Pointing out, in particular, the backbreaking labor for all the menfolk back then (I'm assuming drug-free childbirth, that often ended in death, was an oversight on his part).

Gender roles aside, it's a great history lesson for kids -- my 9-year-old read some of the books, but was still fascinated with everything about life for Laura Ingalls. And they had a million questions. How does the mom bake bread in just a fireplace? Why is there a teenager in the same class with all the little kids? You mean the doctor goes to visit THEM?

This led to more questions about what life was like for me and their Dad when we were little. We didn't nearly perish in a blizzard, no, but we did survive all those years with just a rotary phone, no answering machine -- and no computer (gasp!)

I'm still hopeful that we'll get out for some of those real-life nature experiences with our kids, but watching Little House together took me right back. I wasn't expecting to get so wrapped up in the stories of life on Plum Creek, again. And what I found was that I needed it just as much as my kids did.

Here's what our TV ancestors, the Ingalls Family, had to teach us:

A quiet evening together at home does not involve typing, texting, viewing, gaming -- or electronics of any kind. So remember this, kids, the next time we declare it "family night" or call for an evening -- maybe even an entire day -- of no screen time (yes, TVs count). You may not see your "Ma" needle-pointing by gas lantern or "Pa" playing the fiddle while you and your brother do a little hoedown, but you sure as heck won't see us scrolling through email or Minecraft, either. You can talk, read, play, relax ... and then it's up to the loft, sleep bonnets on and candles out!

Setting and clearing the table, feeding the pets and cleaning your room are not "chores." They are ... say it with me ... family re-spon-si-BIL-i-ties. Chores, Half-pint, are the things you do after your five-mile walk straight home from school. They involve scrubbing your laundry with a tin board and a bucket of water, or squeezing your breakfast from an animal's teat on a cold winter's morn. This, child, is a chore. Best you appreciate the difference now.

Always be thankful for your health, and when you're sick, the medical care at our disposal. Not always easy to remember, but a lot easier when you see Doc Baker prepare to pull Laura's tooth with just some Chloroform and a pair of plyers.

Everyone needs a "Mr. Edwards." That family friend who will be there for you no matter what -- whether it's to ride your kids around piggyback, or search for days on horseback for your child who trekked to a mountaintop "to be closer to God." That someone you can call on in a pinch. And who will come running, no questions asked.

Food does not come from a shelf; it comes from the earth. Since the dawn of time (which, according to my 6-year-old, is when Little House took place), this is where real food has always come from. Sow it. Grow it. Pick it. Eat it. (Or at least buy it as fresh and as whole as possible). It takes a little more work to prepare, but it's worth the effort. And, thank God, we have much better tools to work with than the good folks of Walnut Grove did.

You will never forget your favorite teacher. Now in the case of frontier children, this is your only teacher -- for all of your school life, but you get the point. Cherish your "Miss Beadle," and thank her every chance you get, for she is, truly, one-of-a-kind. And you never know, like with Laura, she may one day pass the ringing of the schoolhouse bell down to you. Make her proud.

Playing alone at the creek, or with your sibling, is not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Alone time and sibling time are often needed, and sometimes all that is available. They may not be as exciting as a wagon ride into "the city," but when the horse is put up for the day, they can be a nice alternative.

There will always be a Nellie Oleson in your life. The snooty schoolmate who has a much fancier petticoat, finer living quarters and an endless supply of peppermint sticks from her parents' mercantile. But remember, "country girl," you have so much more in your little log home on the prairie -- a loving family (including, might I add, a strapping and fine-lookin' Pa) and a mess of wild animal friends. It's still, today, all anyone really needs.


Follow Susan Fishman on Twitter at @handprintcom or find her at handprintcommunications.com.

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