To Read and Write and Cipher

by | Dec 15, 2014

To Read and Write and Cipher

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura is reluctant to go to school for the first time, but Pa tells her she should appreciate the opportunity: “…it isn’t everybody that gets a chance to learn to read and write and cipher,” he says. Pa explains that education is important to the family. “Your Ma was a school-teacher when we met, and when she came West with me I promised that our girls would have a chance to get book learning. That’s why we stopped here, so close to a town that has a school.

Class with teacher

The emphasis Laura Ingalls Wilder gave to education throughout the Little House books sprang directly from the value she and her family placed on education. In reality, for example, she began attending Barry Corner School in Pepin County, Wisconsin, at the tender age of four, but taught herself to read before becoming a student there.

Deadman Valley School, Stanley County P115

Courtesy of State Archives of The South Dakota State Historical Society

Caroline Ingalls had been a schoolteacher and tutored her children at home. As Wilder recalled in Pioneer Girl, when she couldn’t memorize her multiplication tables, Ma temporarily took her out of school so she could learn them at home.

Charles Ingalls served on the De Smet school board; Wilder’s sister Mary went to college and graduated from the Iowa College of the Blind in 1889; and although Wilder herself didn’t graduate from high school, she went on to become a school teacher in Dakota Territory. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder Desk

Courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association; Mansfield, Missouri 

Wilder’s Little House books themselves provide a foundation for ongoing study in language arts, literature, and American history for students of all ages. But they also supply educational source material for studies exploring American culture and society, music, math, geography, environmental science, and much more.

Be sure to check out the Learning section for a variety of educational resources for all ages. This section uses Wilder’s Little House books as learning tools for students attending school as well as those educated at home.

To learn more about Laura Ingalls Wilder, check out the documentary “Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder” and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

Pamela Smith Hill is the author of Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life and the editor of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. She has taught writing and literature classes at several universities, including a massive open online course on Wilder for Missouri State University. She is also the author of three Young Adult novels.


  1. Karen

    I am also wondering what actual resources Laura was using. McGuffey? Elson? Free and Treadwell? I know CC Long had a geography book that was popular about that time, he also had a grammar book. I know a lot of folks using Charlotte Mason Method for homeschool, Ruth Beechick’s books are pretty popular and also seek to go back to a time before progressivism and secular humanist influence in education. A simpler form of schooling. I’d be interested to know what kinds of actual books were in use.

  2. Amy

    Did mary actually graduate a hs to go to college? Never realized laura become a teacher before actually getting a diploma but never got one. But times were different then. Today a teacher needs a teaching certificate.

  3. Peggyhealy

    Ii love the Little House books and especially the Little House on the Prarie show. I brought my son up watching it also. The best values and compassion and love all in one show.The very best.

  4. Skylar

    This website is so awesome!!

    • Leighana

      Love y’all

  5. Skylar

    I think that this has some pretty good information about Laura Ingalls Wilder. But the people who made this app/site should put more good information and more good and interesting facts about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Thank you. Also I think that this app/site needs more information. Bye.

  6. Claire Burkhalter

    This is a really good site. It helps me with things I need about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve read every book and have watched every Little House episode.

  7. Elizabeth

    Little House on the Prarie books are really fun and interesting to read. I grew up reading them, and loved hearing about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I really enjoy the books, and wish that she had written more. My favorite book of hers is The First Four Years. I appreciate that she took the time to write the books, just for people’s enjoyment.

  8. Ginger Moore

    Is theteb a way to find out the names of the school books Laura used as a child

    • Wendy L Hardy

      I’m willing to bet that Laura–like thousands of other schoolchildren–used McGuffey Readers, which you can find copies of online in PDF form. Interesting to look at.

      I’m a HUGE fan of the books, have been since 1969 when I read “Little House in the Big Woods.” My parents eventually bought me the series in hardback (no paperback versions then), I still have them but they’re falling apart. Believe it or not, I never read “Farmer Boy,” until a few years ago. I was just never really interested in Almanzo’s life, but now I’m very fond of the book. I lost my copy of “On the Way Home,” hard to find except online.

      And, believe it or not, I’ve NEVER seen a whole episode of “Little House,” the series could never hold a candle to the books. My oldest child loved the shows & watched them in syndication in the 1980s, but she’s never read the books. None of my children showed any interest in the Little House books. Broke my heart! I loved the books so much that after about the 3rd reading of “On the banks of Plum Creek,” I sat down & wrote a letter to LIW, telling her how much I loved her books, not knowing that she had died before I was born.

      In 1980 I traveled to Laura’s home in Missouri. It’s always been my dream to visit the other sites, but I live in NC–way too far away. Maybe some day!

  9. susan

    Love Laura lngalls have some of her booka and some of the little house movies

  10. Freda Raines

    Love little still read her stories

  11. Tammy peterson


  12. Sandra Phair

    I really love the book series and that Laura shared her stories. My kids grew up reading about her life. The book series.

  13. Dianna Stephany

    `Are there any audio stories on The little house era, or with Laura speaking? This would be so great, as I don’t always have time to read, but could listen to the stories when driving, or traveling. Long ago I listened to the Donner party stories being read , and the reader was an actor reading as though she was right there as it was happening. This would be so great for the Little house stories as well.

    • Hannah Kegel

      No. There are, however, DVDs.


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