Classic child's poem can be used to teach about days gone by

November 05, 2004|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

Ahhh ... November.

The sound of leaves crunching underfoot. Crisp, cool autumn air. The warmth of family gatherings. A season of gratitude and thankfulness.

I love this time of year. Perhaps that is why the poetry of Lydia Maria Child seems to pull at my heartstrings. I never tire of hearing the words "Over the River and Through the Wood."

Child's classic poem first appeared in "Flowers for Children, Volume 2," in 1844 as "The Boy's Thanksgiving Day." It is sung by many a school-age child.


Some of the words and phrasing may seem odd to children today. For that reason, it's fun to take a poem such as this one and use it to teach about a different time period. Children can think about what has changed over the years and what remains the same.

How well do you know the poem?

Finish the first line: "Over the river, and through the wood, ... ."

Did you say, "to grandmother's house we go?"

You remembered it the same way I did. We're both wrong.

The original poem was written this way: "Over the river, and through the wood, to grandfather's house we go."

Grandmother is mentioned later in the poem.

Children might be surprised to learn how important horses were prior to trains, planes and automobiles.

"The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifted snow."

Modes of transportation have changed much since the mid-1800s. In those days, if you didn't use your feet, you hopped on a horse or something connected to a horse.

Today horses are mainly used for recreation, and the most common association with a sleigh is the one pulled by reindeer.

"We would not stop for doll or top, For 'tis Thanksgiving Day."

Isn't it surprising that two of the toys popular 150 years ago are still played with by children today?

"Oh, how the wind does blow! It stings the toes, and bites the nose, as over the ground we go."

The next time your car's heater takes a few minutes to warm the interior, remind your children that their ancestors rode in sleighs and carriages with little barrier to the wind.

"Over the river, and through the wood, with a clear blue winter sky, the dogs do bark, and the children hark, as we go jingling by."

The sound of sleigh bells meant that visitors were coming and bringing with them lively conversation and fellowship. Company was the main form of entertainment in the 19th century. It was an exciting time, one that made children hark - or listen carefully- to the sounds of visitors coming in the lane.

"Over the river, and through the wood, and straight through the barnyard gate. We seem to go extremely slow - It is so hard to wait!"

I think Child is stating that children back then had their own version of, "Are we there yet?" Some things never change.

"Over the river, and through the wood - when grandmother sees us come, she will say, 'Oh, dear, the children are here, bring a pie for every one.'"

Fussing over grandchildren will never go out of style.

"Over the river and through the wood - now grandmother's cap I spy! Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!"

There are three meal-related questions children never seem to tire of asking, "What are we having?" "Can I see it?" and "Is it done yet?"

As we grow older, those change to: "What can I do to help?" "Mmm, it smells good in here," and "I'd love to have that recipe."

Deep down, we're all still cheering for the pumpkin pie.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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