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        Iowa | Activity 3.3: Homesteading Supplies

        Students watch a video about homesteading. They learn the costs of homesteading “free land,” and sort costs into categories for "Farming," "Health," "Daily Life," and "Luxuries."

        Lesson Summary

        Students watch a video about homesteading. They learn the costs of homesteading “free land,” and sort costs into categories for "Farming," "Health," "Daily Life," and "Luxuries."

        This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa | Unit 3: Explorers and Settlers." In this unit, students will learn about the various incentives and events that drew European explorers and early settlers to the American West.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        FL.SS.3.16: Describe how people take risks to improve their family income through education, career changes, and moving to new places. 

        FL.SS.5.17: Give examples of financial risks that individuals and households face. (21st century skills)



        1. Explain to students that the Homestead Act of 1862 opened up the lands of the Great Plains and the Midwest to new settlers. The Act gave 160 acres to each homesteader who agreed to live on the land and maintain it for five years, when the land would then become available for purchase to the homesteader at $1.25 an acre. Although a lot of Iowa’s land was already owned at the time, nearly 9,000 homesteads in Iowa were recorded by the federal government as a result of the Homestead Act.

        1. Although the land was a bargain, there were many costs to homesteading. People had to bring or purchase all the supplies they’d need to start a successful homestead, feed their families, and build a home in a new place. Tell students they will sort supplies into categories after watching a video that further explains the “costs” of homesteading.

        1. Play the video, Homesteading – Cost of Homesteading. [1:52]

        1. Ask students:

          • “What goods and materials were mentioned in the video?” [Horses, oxen, boards for barns and wells]

          • “What was the average cost to start a homestead?” [$2,500]

        1. Explain that homesteaders in Iowa generally faced easier conditions than the people in the video. Iowa was believed to have the best soil of the nation and many homesteaders found success due to abundant timber for fuel and construction, and clean water for drinking and farming. The land had much agricultural potential.

        1. To conclude the lesson, engage students in an activity that will help familiarize them with daily life on a homestead. On a blackboard or chalkboard, make a chart with four columns: Farming, Health, Daily Life, and Luxuries. Introduce the types of items that would fall into each category.

          • Farming needs would include items such as seeds to grow corn. Health would be items such as medicine.

          • Food staples included flour, sugar, coffee, and dried goods.

          • Daily life includes items such as tin plates.

          • Explain that some items common in daily life today would have been considered luxuries to homesteaders in the 1800s. Anything that did not serve a necessary function could have been considered a luxury. For example, tin mugs and plates were usually considered necessary, but china or porcelain plates were a luxury. Houses were simple: one-room cabins made of sod, bricks, or wood (if lumber was available). Windows were the most expensive part of a house because they were difficult to install, and hardly ever had glass in them.

        1. Read through the following list of items that were common needs for homesteaders and ask students to suggest in which column each item belongs. It is okay if an item fits in more than one column:

          • Horses, oxen, seed corn, plow, blankets, pots and pans, medicine, shingles, harnesses, hammer and nails, furniture, water, plates and dishes, windowpane glass, wagons, tarps, lanterns, buckets, curtains, food, and butter churn.

        Answer Key:




        Daily Life


        Seed Corn






        Pots and Pans

        Hammer and Nails



        Plates and Dishes





        Windowpane Glass







        Butter Churn




        Hammer and Nails

        Butter Churn



        Plates and Dishes





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