In honor of the recent Pioneer Day (the Utah holiday that celebrates the arrival of the Mormon pioneers to Utah in 1847), we try to do something pioneer related each year, since my husband’s family is from Utah and it’s a part of our Mormon heritage as well. This year (to go along with Strawberry’s always kinetic learning style) we made a pool noodle covered wagon by converting our red Radio Flyer wagon!

Our pool noodle "covered wagon" was a fun way to make learning about history a movement-based activity.

In the past, we made a milk carton covered wagon and acted out pioneer scenes with it. Another time, I shared favorite pioneer books. We also learned about modern-day pioneers and interviewed family members, and we did a “scavenger hunt” in a non-fiction book to learn about using an index. I think making our pool noodle covered wagon was the most fun yet!

Reading Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails

Strawberry and I began our pioneer adventure this year by reading Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails by Verla Kay. It is my favorite preschool/kindergarten level book about pioneers.

Ms Kay does a great job of taking a complicated and detailed event from history and putting it in rhyme in a simple and memorable way for a young preschooler. Strawberry loved the common refrain of “Father, Mother, baby John.” In the story, the family travels to California. We talked about the many different places in the West that pioneers traveled along. Then we looked at the map and found the Rocky mountains. We both decided it would be pretty hard to climb over mountains to get to Oregon, California, and Utah.

Making a Pool Noodle Covered Wagon

Then of course it was time for the hands-on covered wagon building! Here are the materials we used:

The rods were necessary because packing tape does not stick to pool noodles very well! Further, the pool noodles proved to be too “bendy” to hold the plain white sheet on top of them.

The rods went inside the pool noodles about half way to keep the pool noodles going up. Then, the other half  of the rods were enough to tape to the plastic red wagon. But, because the rods were so short, the noodles still had plenty of room to bend.

I put skewers/wooden rods in the pool noodles to give the "covered wagon" a little more support (and for help attaching them to the plastic wagon!).

I put three pool noodles over our wagon for front, middle, and back. I suppose a smaller wagon may get away with two!

Strawberry was quite impatient to get riding but nine-year-old Raisin was a good help in balancing and holding the pool noodles as we constructed it!

Then, once our pool noodles were in place, I simply folded the white sheet over our wagon. Note that I did not take it down at all. Some people, if they actually wanted to go places with this, would want to find a way to tack it down. But I did not tack it on in any way. The kids got in and out many times, and I knew that my little kids’ attention spans would not last long enough to make that worthwhile! (I was right.)

Packing the Covered Wagon

Once it was created, it was time to pack our “Covered Wagon.” We talked about things that the pioneers would have needed. Here’s what we decided based on what we read.

  • food
  • dishes or pans to prepare the food
  • medicines
  • blankets to sleep on (and I pointed out that clothes and diapers for the baby would probably be needed too!)

Strawberry did not like that I went and got a big pot to put in the wagon, and a blanket too. I also got a bottle of medicine to represents any medicines the people would need on their journey. She just wanted the two types of food (pretzels and crackers). It was supposed to be a ride for her with her baby sister, who she referred to as Baby John after the baby in the book.

Once we loaded our wagon with food, medicine, blankets, and a nice cooking pot, we were running out of space for kids!

She said, “But Mom, there won’t be any room for Baby John and me to be in the wagon!”

This was a great time to mention that many times the kids did not ride along! They walked a lot of the way!

Of course, we sang “Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked.” But Strawberry and Kitty mostly rode. (And I’ve always thought, “Well, my children would have complained as they walked and walked!”)

Playing with the Covered Wagon

I was the official “ox” to pull the wagon. But I did manage to get Raisin to pull for a time to get some pictures of our wagon going up and down our yard, driveway, and surrounding areas.

Raisin was such a great sport. He dragged the girls around the yard in our pool noodle "covered wagon."
Three cheers for Raisin! He’s a great sport, even though he was too big to fit in our “Covered Wagon.”

Meanwhile, Strawberry and Baby Kitty sat inside eating the food we had packed. They, of course, loved the ride.

Raisin was not happy that he did not get to ride. The pool noodle frame was definitely not tall enough for a nine-year-old to sit down in it! Let alone myself! This is definitely a creation for the 6 and under crowd. (I gave him a ride without the “cover” on it.)

Nevertheless, the pool noodle “Covered Wagon” was definitely a hit! I imagine when we pull out the wagon next spring, that will be the first summer memory that comes to mind: playing “pioneer.”

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Use pool noodles and your own wagon to create the perfect Covered Wagon for playing "pioneers"!

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