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        Idaho | Activity 5.3: Family Life as a Homesteader

        Unit 5: Westward Expansion

        This Unit will introduce students to the period of Westward Expansion, when people lived much differently than they do today. In spite of these differences, pioneer families struggled with how to obtain food and shelter, how to define the roles of each family member, and how to balance risk and opportunity—much like families in modern day Idaho.


        Lesson Summary

        Students will learn about the Homestead Act of 1862, which spurred settlement of western lands by selling tracts of land to families for a small fee and the promise to reside for five years. After watching a video about homesteading and viewing actual documents from the National Archives, students will answer questions about what people went through to acquire land through the Homestead Act.

        Standards: 4.SS.1.2.1 Identify the major groups and significant individuals and their motives in the western expansion and settlement in Idaho.

        4.SS.5.1.2 Discuss the challenges experienced by people from various cultural, racial, and religious groups that settled in Idaho from various parts of the world.

        Time Allotment

        15-20 minutes



        1. Explain to students that the will be watching a video about the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave so-called “free” land to pioneers willing to move out west.

          Play the video, The Cost of Homesteading & The Homestead Act [1:52].

        2. Project or handout these three documents. These are the application, proof of improvements, and certificate of eligibility for homesteader Daniel Freeman.

          (Image: Daniel Freeman's Homestead Application)

          (Image: Daniel Freeman's Proof of Improvements)

          (Image: Daniel Freeman's Certificate of Eligibility)


        3. Have your students answer the following questions:

          1. How much land did Daniel Freeman acquire through the Homestead Act?

          2. Who was with Daniel Freeman on his homestead in Nebraska?

          3. What improvements did Daniel Freeman and his family make to their piece of land?

        4. If time permits, ask your students whether they would like to have gotten 80 or 160 acres of land through the Homestead Act. Ask them for their reasons why or why not. If they would have liked to take advantage of this opportunity, where in the West would they have liked it to be? Ask what would they have done with the land?


        Answer Key

        1. 160 acres

        2. Wife and two children

        3. Built a log home, stable, sheep shed, and a corn crib; grew crops on 35 acres including planting 40 apple and 400 peach trees


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