Lesson Plans for the Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warren, was first written in 1924 and continues to be a favorite among students today.  The dilemma presented in the book is overcome by creativity and determination, something you will discuss as the book is read aloud.  Consider the following activities to include with your lesson plans:

Personality profiles –
List the strengths and personal character traits of the following characters in the Boxcar Children story: Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny.  First consider their individual traits, then rate them as a team.  For starters, think of the following traits and give examples of how they were displayed during the story: Creativity, cooperation, determination, strength, bravery, generosity, kindness, etc.  Some characters will have more than one characteristic trait.    

Fun with arithmetic –
When the original Boxcar Children book was published, the average boxcar measured about 36 feet long by 10 feet high and 8 feet wide.  These are the dimensions to use in the following activities:

Find the area of a 36 x 8 x 10 feet space (boxcar). How does this compare to the hallway outside your classroom?  If possible, measure the hall area and visualize the size of a boxcar.  Next, measure 8 feet wide and mark it by cutting a piece of tape for each end of the boxcar and placing it on the floor.  If the ceiling in your school is at least 10 feet high, you can visualize the actual size of the Boxcar Children’s home.

Choose your “boxcar”  –
Divide students into four teams and have them draw from the following slips of paper.  On each slip, write down one of the following abandoned “boxcars” which children will design for shelter: School bus, houseboat, a small barn, and an empty tool shed. Each type of shelter will be considered to be located three miles from the nearest neighbor or town.

Student teams must discuss every aspect of surviving in their shelter: Consider rain, ice and snow, and summer’s heat.  How might they heat the home in winter and cool it in summer?  How would they secure the shelter so it won’t roll, tip over, float away or be entered at night while you sleep?  

Design your space –
Think of what you will need to put in your shelter… how will you make comfortable beds, supply storage, provide a private dressing area, etc.  What materials will you have to buy and what materials might you find abandoned or in a community landfill?  Think of comforts you would add to your boxcar home if possible. 

Think of the surrounding area outdoors, too.  You will need a place to wash up and/or bathe, a place to wash and dry clothing, to store tools, etc.  How might you earn a bit of money to purchase needed items?   What about taking in a stray dog and sharing your food with it?  Talk about how to go about learning to trust the dog and letting a dog trust you.

Creative thinking –
List as many items you can think of that might be found in a dumpster or landfill today.  Come up with different ideas of how to use these items for your own “boxcar home.”  When considering the uses, ask yourself:  

Would they need to be sterilized before using?  Discuss how the Boxcar Children sterilized these types of items.  Think of items that might be reshaped, cut, bent or even taken apart to use them to their full advantage.  What are some necessary tools that could be made with some of these items?  

As a class, brainstorm about items that might be found in a help shelter, dumpster or landfill.  The teacher may share from the following list if students are struggling to come up with throw-away items:

Boxes, buckets, rubber bands, paper clips, hangers, twist ties, Styrofoam and cardboard egg cartons, plastic milk jugs, straws, ink pens, crayon stubs, plastic bottles, old dish racks, wooden dowel rods, bricks, odd pieces of lumber, play pen or crib, clothespins, tires, jars, stones, marbles, broken mirrors, window screens, metal utensils, buttons, shoe laces, half barrel, vinyl shower curtain, plastic tablecloths, place mats, tin cans, used candles, small plastic swimming pool, wooden blocks, curtain rods, lamp shades, vases, etc. 

First design your space, then consider what you might need to fix it up. Some items listed might be useful while others are not.  Discuss with your teammates what should be rescued from the dump to set up housekeeping.  Sketch your designs and then brainstorm as a team.  Every team member should weigh in on the planning process.

Reports –
Have students finish their project by writing an overview of how the came to their decisions and what their finished shelter is like.  Present these as reports to the class, along with a display of sketches and a list of everything they used to put together a “boxcar” of their own.

The Boxcar Children story stirs the imagination of children and provides many activities for lesson plans.  As your students use creative thinking, math skills, write reports and design their space, they will learn and grow together, inspired by the original Boxcar Children.