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Literature Unit Resources: Sign of the Beaver

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As much as I tried, my son never understood the appeal of studying seasonal things…at least not in season. He had no desire to do anything with pumpkins in the fall or flowers in the spring. As a result, I had a heck of a time trying to find fun things for him to work with.

That’s when I got the idea to hide those things in a literature unit. It’s kind of like hiding the veggies in the sauce, but a lot more fun!

Literature Unit Resources - The Sign of The Beaver

Suddenly, my son’s passion for learning pretty much went off the scale, as did his love for reading. To this day, he still has either a book in hand or an audiobook playing whenever possible, and his mind is rolling with connections.

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

He has now outgrown the units we had so much fun with, but I haven’t! Each Saturday, I’ll give you a resource list and ideas for a unit. And in my Library, I’ve got a free unit planner to help you put everything together. Just sign up for the password, and you’ll get access to that and other free resources!

The Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver was written by Elizabeth George Speare in 1983, and it is a Newberry Honor Book. It is set in the wilderness of Maine in 1768, shortly before the Revolutionary War. At this time, much of the Eastern seaboard was fairly well-settled, but colonists were just barely starting to settle Maine.

12-year-old Matthew Holloway and his father traveled up the Penobscot River and into the forest to set up their homestead as soon as the spring thaw came. They left the female members of their family safely in Quincy, Massachusetts; Matt’s father was to go back for them once the land was cleared and the cabin built.

Toward the end of the summer, shortly before his 13th birthday, Matt’s father left to bring his mother, sister, and the new baby to their new home. Matt was given the responsibility of staying at the new homestead to tend to the crops and guard the house. Things don’t go as planned, however, and Matt is faced with having to handle some interesting and difficult situations!

Literature Unit - Sign of the Beaver Background

Questions to Discuss

  • Children in colonial times sometimes had responsibilities that are very different than those of children today. At 12 years old, Matt was left to tend to his family’s crops and guard their home for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months! How do you think you would react if you were in Matt’s situation?
  • Matt went through a pretty wide range of emotions during his time alone. He felt bored sometimes, while at other times he felt very responsible and busy. When he was well-stocked, he felt very secure and happy, but when he wasn’t, he made some choices that were not very wise. Should we let our reactions be determined by our circumstances? Or is there a better way to handle things?
  • Matt and Attean have many disagreements during their time together, but they eventually become friends. Their cultures are very different and they often don’t understand each other. Have you ever known someone who comes from a different background and does things differently than you do? How did you respond to them?
  • Back in 1768, different cultures didn’t come together very often. They didn’t have the internet, movies, or magazines to show them how other cultures lived. When they did meet someone from another culture, they responded in different ways. What did Matt originally think of Native American ways? What did Attean originally think of the white man’s ways? Can you think of ways that both were right and wrong?
  • Toward the end of the book, Matt has to make a very difficult decision. If you were in the same situation, what do you think your decision would have been? Why?

History and Geography Activities

  • In 1768, Maine was not yet its own state – it was part of Massachusetts! The history of this area is really interesting. Find out more about it here!
  • Life in the 1700s was pretty different from what we know today. What was it like to be a kid in 1768? Mr. Donn offers a bunch of great resources for you to explore.
  • How did people survive in the colonies? What did they wear? How did they build and cook? Colonial House has the answers! (Note – these resources are from 1628, but many of them are also accurate to settling the wilderness 40 years later.)
  • There were several Native American tribes that lived in this area during the colonial period. Some of them include the Maliseet, Micmac, and Penobscot. Pick one tribe and learn about them. Write a short report or make a journal showing what you learned. Get creative!
  • Matt and his father traveled by boat and land from Quincy, Massachusetts, up the Penobscot River, and over land to reach their new property. We do not know exactly where this was, but much of the journey can still be mapped. Blank maps can be found for free online. Where do you think they ended up?

Literature Unit - Sign of the Beaver Forest

Science Activities

  • Matt and his father built their log cabin from the foundation up. This took quite a bit of carpentry and engineering! Find out what it took to build a log cabin, and then design your own. You can design it however you like – in a sketch book, on the computer, on graph paper, or with a building set like Lincoln Logs!
  • There were many animals in the forest where Matt lived. Pick one – or several! – and make a scrapbook or journal with what you find. Some choices include:
    • Various birds, like woodpeckers, bluejays, great horned owls and loons
    • Squirrel
    • Porcupine
    • Deer
    • Rabbit
    • Beaver
    • Moose
    • Trout
  • Matt and his family had to grow much of their own food. Where they lived, corn and pumpkins were common crops. What types of things are grown where you live? What does it take to grow them?

Life of a Homeschool Mom

Language Arts

  • Matt was given the task of teaching Attean how to read, even though Attean was not the most cooperative student. Matt tried several different ways before finding one that worked. What are some ways you could teach someone to write or read? Get creative!
  • Make an alphabet book to help someone – maybe a younger brother or sister? – learn their letters. What words would you choose to help someone understand and remember the letters?

Life Skills

  • Today, many of us don’t hunt daily for our food, but Matt and his father had to. (They didn’t have a grocery store nearby!) Find out what early rifles and muskets were like and what it took to hunt with them.
  • While his father was away, Matt had to make, catch, or find all of his own food. Try out some of the recipes he made!
    • Johnnycake
    • Grilled trout (Matt would probably have used a tin or cast iron pan) Try it with and without salt to see what Matt thought after the bear broke in!
    • Stew (Matt used rabbit or squirrel, but you can use whatever type of meat you like!)

Additional Resources

Have fun, and let me know how it goes!

I have a several units in the works for upcoming weeks…what are some that you’d like to see? Comment below and let me know!

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