Tall Tales

I remember doing a unit on tall tales when I was in 4th grade and I thought they were so much fun to read, so I thought my littles would enjoy them too! (My favorite was always Paul Bunyan- mainly because he had an adorable giant blue ox named Babe!) Each day we focused on one tall tale character, read a few of their stories and did activities that focused around what they did- I chose John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill, but there are plenty more if you want to branch out! Since the themes and activities were organized daily, that’s how I’ve written my plans this week (rather than by subject area). I still did literacy, math, science/social studies, and art each day- so that’s how my plans are organized too. Also, after reading the books each day, I had my littles tell me the character traits of each person and I added their thoughts to a chart (see below).

John Henry

-Hammer the letter: John Henry was SUPER strong and a master at hammering- in some stories his hammers weighed up to 20 pounds each! We grabbed our own (toy) hammers for this activity and I placed some ABC flashcards on the floor, about 10 at a time. Then I called out letters and had my littles take turns hammering and saying the sound of the letter I said.

-Train car ordering: John Henry helped to build part of the Ohio railroad in West Virginia, so I knew we had to do a train activity on his day! I had printed a number train back when we did Train Week, so I just pulled it out of the closet and also used the number word cards from last week’s Sunflower Lessons along with it to make it a bit more age appropriate for my 5 year old. So first, I laid out all of the train number cards and had my 2 year old find each number in turn then put them in order. Next I had my 5 year old sound out each number word and match it to the number it went with.

-Mountain study: In every John Henry story, he ends up having a race against a steam drill while trying to break through a mountain- and of course he wins every time! We watched a mountain video on YouTube, then I printed a United States physical map and asked my littles what they noticed on the map. They immediately pointed out all of the upside down Vs that make up the mountains on the map. I pointed out where the two largest mountain ranges in the US are- the Appalachians and the Rockies- as well as where John Henry’s story took place in West Virginia. Then had my littles color all of the mountains on their maps green.

-Rainbow finger painting: In one of the John Henry stories we read, he has a rainbow wrapped around his shoulders, so we used finger paints to make our own rainbows!

-John Henry book list:

Johnny Appleseed:

-Apple tree name craft: I printed some tree pictures and had my littles color them. Then I gave them red dot stickers with the letters in their names on them and had them stick the dots/apples in the correct order on their trees to spell their names.

-Estimating apple seeds: This was a really fun hands on activity! I got 4 varieties of apples, then told my littles what estimating is- to make a thinking guess. Then I had them estimate how many seed were in each apple, and we cut the apples open and counted the seeds to see how close they were (we did one estimate then one apple, then another estimate then another apple so they could keep track of their guesses). The easiest way to get the seeds out without chopping them in half is to cut your apple through the center between the stem and bottom (lay it on it’s side to make this easier). This will make a star shape you can easily pluck all the seeds out of with the tip of a knife.

-Apple Dutch babies science: Cooking is such a great hands on way to explore states of matter and physical/chemical changes with your littles- you just need to throw in a little science conversation as you cook! I got the Dutch baby recipe from the website Kitchn awhile ago and it immediately became one of my favorites. Dutch babies are basically like pancakes, only with way more eggs and thus way more protein- plus they taste buttery and delicious! So basically, review what physical and chemical changes are with your littles. Then have your littles help you pour the Dutch baby ingredients into a blender as per the recipe from Kitchn (link above). As you put them in the blender, ask if putting the ingredients together is a chemical or physical change (it’s physical- the raw eggs are still raw eggs, the flour is still flour- they’ve just been mixed together…this is called…wait for it… a mixture! LoL Yes, that’s the scientific term. Super tricky, I know!) Pour your batter into a hot muffin tin lined with dollops of butter. Ask your littles if the batter is a solid, liquid or gas and how they know. After discussing, pop it in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes. To make the apple topping, chop up the apples from the estimating activity above. As you chop ask your little if you’re physically changing or chemically changing the apples (physical- they just look different/the shape is changed, but they’re still raw apples). Ask your little to taste one and make some observations about the apple using their 5 senses (review them if you need to). Then pop the apples in a hot pan on the stovetop with 2 TBSP cinnamon, 4 TBSP butter, and 1/2 a cup of water or apple cider/juice (depending on how sweet you want the final product to turn out). Simmer until the apples are soft and the sauce is thick and bubbly. Let a bit cool off, then have your little taste it and make observations using their 5 senses again- discuss how the apples changed. Was that a chemical or physical change (chemical…they’re soft cooked apples and can never be changed back to raw and crispy). Then take the Dutch babies out of the oven. Are they solid or liquid? Was that a physical or chemical change? (chemical…baking has cooked the ingredients and they can never go back to raw). Put 2 Dutch babies on a plate, top with lots of apples and enjoy this yummy fall treat!

-Apple orchard free art: I gave my littles brown and green paint as well as instructions on how to paint trees (vertical lines for the trunks, pounce the brush on top of the trunks with green paint to make fluffy tree tops.) After they were dry, I gave my littles red (and yellow) dot stickers to add to their trees and the ground in their orchards. (PS my toddler painted “A path with a tree at the end and apples rolling down the path”…LOL It’s called free art for a reason! I just let him go to town!)

-Johnny Appleseed booklist:

Pecos Bill:

-H is for horse craft: Pecos Bill was a cowboy so of course he rode a horse…and of course the horse was the most wild mustang in the west that no other man could tame. In some stories he was named Lightning, in others Widow Maker. To tie to the story, we made letter H horses. First I drew an H and an oval, had my preschooler cut them out (I cut my 2 year old’s out for him) then add yarn for a mane and tail, a googly eye, and hooves/a mouth with a marker to make a horse. I got this idea from All Kids Network.

-Rattle snake patterns: Pecos Bill used a rattlesnake as a lasso- so we made rattlesnake patterns for math! First I taught the boys about AB patterns since my toddler has never done them before. Then I gave my littles snake print outs and some do-a-dot markers and had them make repeating patterns using the dots on their snakes. (I had my 2 year old use 2 colors and my 5 year old use 3 since he’s done patterns before and had pretty much mastered them.)

-Tornado in a bottle: Since Pecos Bill rides a tornado, I knew we had to get one of those tornado bottle connector things from Amazon and make one at home! To put it together, I took the caps and plastic rings off 2 two liter bottles, filled one bottle with water, connected it to the bottom of the joiner piece, then connected another empty 2 liter bottle to the top. Then- you just flip the bottles so the filled one is on top, swirl the water around in a fast circle, and a tornado forms as the water drains into the second bottle! If you don’t want to drop $6 on the connector, you can totally use tape, but you will have some pretty mad leakage. Of course my little asked why the tornado forms…it’s basically the magic of physics! LoL From what I found- all the water wants to go down the hole at once but the swirling motion of the bottle pushes some of it away…then the air coming into the top bottle through the center of the vortex helps hold everything in place as it rotates around…the water drains from the top bottle, the air comes up from the bottom bottle. Without the spinning motion, the air and water would have to take turns in a drain, glug, drain, glug fashion (which we also played around with!)

-Draw tornados: After doing our tornado demonstration, I had my littles draw tornados on paper. After giving it a shot themselves, I showed them how to make a spiral or scribble that’s larger at the top and gets smaller and smaller like the tornado did in our science activity.

Paul Bunyan:

-Write your own tall tale: You can do this in one day or break it into chunks through the week- I had my little illustrate the beginning, middle and end of his tall tale on Monday and then write the beginning on Tuesday, the middle on Wednesday, and end on Thursday.

-Paul Bunyan measuring activity: First, I measured out the length of Paul Bunyan with my little using a tape measure and marked it on the floor with a sticky note labeled with his name (most sources say this tall tale character was 7 feet in height…though how he could carry an axe large enough to carve out the Grand Canyon at that height doesn’t make sense to me! But anyway!) Next I measured and marked my little’s heights on the floor- my 5 year old marked my height for me (make sure to have everyone place their feet flat against the wall before measuring so the comparison is accurate.) After we had our sticky notes in place, we used our measuring tape to compare our heights by see how much taller Paul was than each of us.

-How lumber is made: Paul Bunyan was a tall tale woodcutter, so we watched a few YouTube videos on how lumber is made today. My boys are super interested in construction, so it was interesting to watch how lumber goes from tree to 2×4.

-Babe the blue ox footprint art: I made blue footprints with my littles’ feet, then had my 5 year old add legs, a head, a face and horns to his to make Paul Bunyan’s trusty companion- Babe the blue ox! (I added the details to my toddler’s for him…)

-Paul Bunyan booklist:


-Letter of the week: Ee, each day we do a different activity focused on our letter- introduction/have your little practice it on the chalkboard (or white board), think of words that start with the letter and make a list, workbook letter writing practice, workbook word writing practice.

-Word of the week: at, each day we do a different activity focused on our word- introduction/sound the word out/have your little practice writing it on the chalkboard or whiteboard, word family list- think of other words that rhyme with your word of the week, use the word in a sentence (have your little come up with the sentence and write it for them or help them sound it out) then have your little illustrate the sentence, and workbook page practice.

-Bible verse: This month’s Bible verse is “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14 I write each word in the verse on a post-it, stick them to the wall then have my little point to each word and read it each day all month.

-Character trait of the month: Responsibility…this word is reviewed and posted at the start of the month then each time one of my littles freely demonstrates responsibility I use the word to specifically praise what they’re doing and encourage the trait in them. (ie. “Oh wow! You put your plate in the sink and all of your trash in the trash can without being asked! That is SO responsible!”)

Supply/shopping list:

  • 3+ books each on John Henry, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and Johnny Appleseed
  • two 2 liter bottles
  • “tornado” bottle connector
  • measuring tape
  • several different types of apples
  • Dutch baby ingredients (or pancakes)
  • toy hammer

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