July 24th is actually a holiday in Utah to celebrate the Pioneers arrival into the Salt Lake Valley, and it revivals Independence Day. In fact many of the youth in our church participate in Trek (Shelle is lucky enough to go this year) to help them appreciate the sacrifices of those pioneers and it’s always an amazing spiritual experience as they learn what they are really capable of. Every summer our family has a Pioneer Week, in honor of our Mormon Pioneer Heritage. This is one week for focusing on the basics, no electricity, and lots of work and fun.
I also love our Pioneer Week because it is GREAT emergency preparedness in disguise. The biggest shock of a disaster is the aftermath; having your entire life and way of life wiped out. Pioneer week is a fun way to prepare them for a different lifestyle and links the situation with memories and enjoyment instead of stress and fear. Later in an actual disaster you can tell your kids (younger since the older ones will look at you like you’re crazy), that we’ll just pretend it’s a pioneer week. It’s easier to pretend you’re doing something you’ve done before when you’re brain wants to be preoccupied with the disaster your in.
Get Your Pioneer On
I always start with a discussion about who the pioneers were and how life was different for them. I love using stories to help them see the big picture. The Little House on the Prairie series are great books to use, not just for introducing pioneer week but for ideas of what to do during the week. Our family prefers focusing on pioneers, but my sister-in-law does third world countries and different time periods each year. Go third world or historical by grabbing a book from the library on the desired time/place and use that to plan a menu (staples only), chores, recreation, and possible housing (tents, sleeping on the floor, etc).
It’s important to have a schedule or list of ideas for each day to help them learn new skills and really experience life without modern conveniences. This also means boredom won’t have you “falling off the wagon.” Talk to friends and family members to plan field trips to gather eggs, milk a cow, gather veggies from a garden (hopefully you have one already). Not only do they learn skills, but you also have contacts in an emergency that you could ask for help or barter with. But the best benefit is that your family learns to live without the daily luxuries and know that they can do without them. Visits to local historical sites also help bring a little realism to your week, especially since wagons, mills, and cabins aren’t something we usually have lying around. Be creative! Just because you don’t live on or near a farm doesn’t mean they can’t experience the same things.
Don’t forget that clothing is a big part of the culture shock that this week brings. I made my kids pioneer cloths, but even having a dress that the have to wear all the time, and only 2 outfits for the week will help them experience that lifestyle. One year my sister-in-law’s theme was Serfs and each child was given a pillow case smock (worn over normal clothes) that they had to wear each day and wash by hand. We are used to going through clothes like nobodies business, and this would be another area of discomfort in a disaster. I still remember my mom telling me about wearing her bell bottoms (they were for gardening only since my grandmother DISPISED them) for a whole week after the Teton Dam Flood in Idaho.
Have everything stocked and ready, because you won’t be running to the store. Pioneers couldn’t just run to the market and grab some eggs or flour. Stock your fridge, freezer, and cabinets with the necessities. Remember no mac’n’cheese or hamburger helper. Flour, sugar, eggs, salt, milk (unless you have a cow); these kind of necessities. Any needed supplies for your planned activities will also need to be on hand. Schedule everything in advance for your “field trips.” Pioneers didn’t “google” anything, so do your research now.
In case you’re wondering there are a few modern conveniences that I continue to use throughout the week, out of necessity since it’s not a real disaster and for basic limitations. Cars are allowed since most of us usually don’t have an alternative mode of transportation, especially if you have kids, that you can safely use for longer distances. I also use my stove, because our neighborhood doesn’t allow open fires and I don’t have a safe place or equipment for dutch oven cooking. But I do use my charcoal grill a lot throughout the week. TV, microwave, computers, and other electronics are of course of limits. However I keep my cell on, since that is my only phone line and I still have people who need to contact me and aren’t aware of our quirky family tradition.
We always end the week with a big pioneer meal where we try to make as much as possible from scratch or have harvested it ourselves. It’s a bit more of a challenge than you would think. But after a week of picking your own fruits and veggies, washing by hand, hunting for eggs, and standing over the stove, a meal never tasted so good! It’s a trophy of what you’ve accomplished that week.
So cinch up your skirts, tie on your apron and don your bonnets and hats. Its Pioneer week and it’s gonna be a blast… from the past.
Oh the Possibilities
Here’s a list of ideas:
- Hide eggs every morning in the yard so the can hunt eggs like you would if you had a chicken coop.
- Tie apples to a tree so the can pick apples.
- Arrange to tour a farm
- Visit a petting zoo
- Go to a u-pick farm
- Wash some clothes by hand in a tub (or the tub) and hang dry them
- Go camping!
- Take a bath in a large tub and boil for warm water
- Find a place where you can do some good yard work, elderly neighbors are always game.
- Visit the local history museum
- Go hiking in “costume”
- Arrange to milk a cow, and feed chickens and pigs with an area farm.
- Bake homemade bread (or this bread recipe)
- Make a pie
- Go fishing (trout farms count)
- Cook over a fire (not hot dogs or s’mores)
- Play some pioneer games
- Make some Pioneer toys and games
- Make a doll
- List what you would bring in your wagon and what you would leave behind
- READ as a family
- Use lanterns or candles once it gets dark
- Learn to sew, embroidery, knit or crochet
- Do some Family History
- Look at old family photos
- Make and use a quill
- Cut wood (with adult supervision or just have them stack it)
- Go horse back riding
- Take a hay ride
- Go square dancing
- Build a fort
All of next weeks Facebook posts will be pioneer week related activities