Posted on June 27, 2016
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Unit Study
The children and I have just finished reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin together, and we have been so interested in it, and had so many good discussions, that I decided to do a unit study about it, for the end of our school year. I would have said the we ‘enjoyed’ it so much, but given the heart-rending subject material (slavery), that affected so many real people’s lives, I don’t think that would have been the right word.
What the Book is About
For anyone who is not familiar with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it is a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, written during the time period when slave plantations were still very much a real part of life in the USA. It was first published in 1851, as a serial in an abolitionist newspaper. It is written from a Christian perspective, and follows the stories of several different slave families who are very much affected by that way of life, their stories all drawn together in the character of Uncle Tom. No matter how badly Uncle Tom is treated, or how cruelly he is tempted by slave owners to retaliate, he never gives in and stoops to their level.
The book does not shy away from the horrendous details of the characters’ daily lives, but is also uplifting and offers hope, and was a challenge at the time to get rid of legal slavery once and for all . It is written in the language of the time, and I have to say, I did not read out the ‘n’ word to my children, but I did explain to them why I was doing that, as of course they wanted to read over my shoulder!
Here are the resources and activities I hope to include in our Uncle Tom’s Cabin unit study:
For our unit study, I hope to make lapbooks about the novel and characters themselves, then explore some of the issues it addresses. For the lapbooks we will be using lapbook templates from Homeschoolshare. If you haven’t come across lapbooks before, you can see more about them in my post on our Martin Luther lapbooks. For more background on the novel, the author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the impact Uncle Tom’s Cabin had in the US and around the world, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center has helpful information.
Currclick sells a Progeny Press study guide to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but it is somewhat expensive, although the Homeschool Buyers Co-op does have reduced prices for buying bundles of five Progeny Press Guides. A list of free printable worksheets for Uncle Tom’s Cabin is available at Printable Worksheets, and C3 Teachers has a 7th Grade Inquiry printable on Can Words Lead to War? For discussing the book, Plugged In Online’s book review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin does include discussion questions for using with High School age children.
While we were reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, we did look at our atlas several times to see which parts of North America the characters were travelling through, and heading for, but we will probably do some brief mapwork using the photocopiable maps from Mystery of History to look at their journeys and also where slaves had been taken from in the first place. You can also get free printable outline maps from d-maps.com
Bookrags post on activities for Uncle Tom’s Cabin includes various ideas for making art related to the book, and also links to paintings by Jacob Lawrence which are reminiscent of the slave trade era. This page from the Museum of Play also shows paper dolls for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which were released at the time by the Boston Sunday Globe.
Negrospirituals.com has lots of information on the history of ‘Negro Spiritual’ songs, which are referred to in the scenes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Tom leads devotions and worship, and includes a large index of songs and their lyrics. You can also listen to a long playlist of songs here on You Tube.
In addition to Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself, we also have Escape on the Underground Railroad, a children’s historical fiction book which our 12 year old daughter has really enjoyed, and Dave and Neta Jackson’s fictionalised biography of Harriet Tubman, the real life underground railroad ‘conductor’. We will also use children’s encyclopaedias and books I have ordered from our local library to learn more about the wider issues of slavery.
As part of this study, I hope to watch the film Amazing Grace with our older two children, which covers the life and work of British politician William Wilberforce, who fought earlier to outlaw the slave trade here. The 1987 TV movie of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, starring Samuel L. Jackson, is still available on You Tube, however I will be previewing it first to decide if it is suitable for our older children. We already own an Adventures in Odyssey CD called The Underground Railroad, which is similar to Eliza and Harry’s journey in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. There is also a free audiobook of Uncle Tom’s Cabin available to download at Librivox.
Modern Day Slavery
Earlier this month we read in Trudi Parke’s 40 Days 40 Bites, which we are currently using during our morning prayer time, about child labour, which led on to a discussion about modern day slavery. As we had been reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a while, and hearing detailed descriptions of the people who lived it, this made the realisation all the more shocking for the children that slavery is still going on today, although perhaps not in the same state-sanctioned manner.
I have mentioned before in my post on giving on a budget that our family supports International Justice Mission, a Christian charity which investigates cases of slavery, and then takes action to free those people, and ensure that they are safe and able to enter a new life. Having been reminded of the horrors of slavery, and also having recently read an exhortation in my devotional book Praying the Names of God not to forget God’s commands in scripture to take care of the needy, I feel that this summer is an opportunity for our family to do something practical to help people in such dire circumstances.
Jesus said “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23
‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6:8
Our older children have done fundraising before for Gospel for Asia, as I talked about in Encouraging Our Children to be Outward Looking, so I will be looking for ways this summer that we can do something to help those who are currently trapped in slavery.
These are my thoughts so far on the kinds of activities and resources we will use in our Uncle Tom’s Cabin unit study this summer. Do you have any other resources to recommend? Or are you currently doing a unit study with your family? Please let me know in a comment.
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