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  • Writer's pictureJenny Penland

Hear/See/Read/Do ‣ Unit One: Little Women

Intro - These entries are going to seem crazy long when scrolling with a phone, but I've included the entire lesson plan herein, which is broken up into the following categories:

1. Hear for the audio book

2. See for movies

3. Read for online reading materials/articles

4. Do for activities and crafts

Our first distance learning unit is on Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." A couple of weeks ago, when school first got cancelled, I told Kennedy we'd just have to form our own "Busy Bee Society" - She didn't get the reference, and alas, the first novel of #coronapocalypse was selected.


Book - Little Women

Time to Complete - One week to five weeks (self-paced)

Suggested Age Range - 8+

What to Know - Strong feminist protagonist (especially considering the date of publishing). Religious references, but not overwhelming. Description of gender roles are appropriate with the societal norms, but quite a lot of push back against them from the characters (somehow still amazingly relevant). Death of a character. Aspects of a romantic love story, but nothing kids haven't seen or heard from your average Disney movie.

Generally when utilizing audiobooks, I would suggest having children listen and read along on print - and one plus side of Coronavirus is a lot of online library resources are now free. We just signed up on Open Library, and they have just about everything. I also have used Audible for about six years and they too will be offering a bunch of free books (and your entire first month free) in light of the pandemic.

Hear: We listened to the version narrated by Laura Dern, which I would highly recommend.

It's also on Open Library for free, with written print and audio:

The audio book is about 23 hours long and it took us four or five days to finish. You and your child can set your own pace - which means you could stretch this unit out for a month or so, if you wanted, and maybe even check the accidental-homeschooling box off in one fell swoop.


Novel Review: Upon competition, I had Kennedy answer the following questions.

1. Which of the sisters, or which combination of the sisters, do you most relate with or feel your most like? Why?

2. How do you feel the sisters are similar or different from Marmee, Mr. March, and Aunt March? Describe those relationships which you felt were most significant or influential. For instance, consider their absences or time apart. How do you think this affected the storyline, or character development between the sisters?

3. Did you find the dynamic between the sisters, or other characters realistic?

4. Why do you believe Alcott alternates story lines, rather than writing a story about just one of the sisters? What does each sister represent? What does this say about the roles women play in society? If Jo wasn’t the central character and it was a different sister, instead (or Laurie, for instance) how would that have changed the story?

5. Did you notice Alcott never addresses the Civil War, specifically? How do you think the Civil War influenced how Alcott wrote “Little Women,” given when it was written and published? In considering women’s role in society, especially during war time, why do you think the Civil War was in the background, rather than being the foreground of the plot?

6. The book was originally released as a two part series. The first was titled “Little Women,” and the second was titled “Good Wives.” Why do you think that is? How do you feel the tone, structure, and representation of characters altered from the beginning half to the later?

7. Does Little Women accept or challenge stereotypes? Answer this both in the context of the time it was written and modern times.

8. What would a modern version of this story look like? Would anything need to change to keep the “spirit” of the book alive?

9. Find the passage when Mr. March instructs the girls to “fight their bosom enemies bravely.” What did he mean? What is YOUR bosom enemy? How do you fight it?

10. Find the passage when Beth compares each of the sisters to different birds. Do you agree with her characterization? What bird would you be? What bird would I be? Why?

11. Do you think the characters ended up with the right men or made the right selections in their companions? Explain. What qualities did you like or dislike in the men in their lives?

12. Consider these quotes from the book and then discuss the “theme” and “spirit” of the book. Pick three quotes and describe what you take from them in your own words:

a. “Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”

b. “Love is a great beautifier.”

c. “If he is old enough to ask the question he is old enough to receive true answers. I am not putting the thoughts into his head, but helping him unfold those already there. These children are wiser than we are...”

d. “The sincere wish to be good is half the battle.”

e. “Money is a needful and precious thing,—and, when well used, a noble thing,—but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self- respect and peace.”

f. “I am lonely, sometimes, but I dare say it’s good for me.”

g. “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

h. “I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.”

i. “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”

j. “I like good strong words that mean something.”

k. “If I didn’t care about doing right and didn’t feel uncomfortable doing wrong, I should get on capitally.”

l. “Don’t cry so bitterly, but remember this day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know another like it.”

m. “Conceit spoils the finest genius.”

13. What is your favorite quote from the book (doesn’t have to be from the list above)? What does it mean to you? Why?


See: After she finished the Novel Review, we watched A BUNCH of versions of the film.

I'll let you know that I went into this having only read the book and watched the 1994 version (like, literally, in 1994), and I fully assumed that Kennedy (and myself) would be bored out of our mind by movie two. Surprisingly, we weren't. By the end of the unit, we had watched the 1933 version with Katherine Hepburn, the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, the 2019 version with Saoirse Ronan, and the 2018 modernized take which was painfully teeny-bopper at times, but still enjoyable. (Ironically, I wrote question number eight before knowing it existed, so it was fun to compare and contrast our answers with their take).

Last, we found a couple documentaries on Louisa May Alcott (free on Prime and YouTube). The first was directed in a manner similar to visiting a living history museum (a la, "I'm Louisa May Alcott, I was born in such and such and died in such and such...) The second, was a setup as a YouTube fun ten fact review (about 40 minutes long) and we both preferred that one (plus, it's totally free!)

1933: Available for rent on Amazon for $2.99

1994: Available for rent on Amazon for $3.99 (or you can use a Showtime subscription to watch for free).

2019: Available for purchased on Amazon for $14.99

Available for rent on Amazon for $3.99

2019 (Fun Facts): Free on YouTube

After each video, I asked Kennedy to consider the similarities and differences between the book and respective movie. At first, her answers were very shallow - The dog never died, it didn't show Marmee's birthday, it started in this part instead of that part... But this was ultimately where our richest conversations bore from. The biggest thing we contemplated was the portrayal of Laurie and Jo's relationship. How did the time of release affect this? Would it be acceptable, as written, to occur that way today? How did social norms or fashions influence each of the productions?

And one of the coolest things about using an eBook is it's so easy to explain what gets scrapped on the cutting room floor. "Well, the book was 23 hours long, the movies are each about two hours; What parts were taken out simply because it wasn't necessary for the plot?" (Kennedy debated me on a few of these points. She clutched her pearls over a few taken liberties, and she looks forward to sharing her disgust of same with you, in her corner).

Then, I had her read this article on Louisa May Alcott:

When she was finished, I asked - having read the book and learned so much more about the writer, which movie was most “true” to the plot line? Which one was most “true” to the spirit and theme - which best represented Alcott? Which medium did you like the most? Which medium did you like the least? Why? And, how were the movies different or similar from what you pictured in your head?


Do: Finally we did some activities and interactive crafts that tied into the story and time period:

1. Complete the BuzzFeed Test: Discuss your results, compared to what you stated in question one.

2. Consider the Girls' “Pickwick Club” (where did this originate from?) and the “Busy Bee Society” then create your own sign and paper. What are the rules, who is allowed in?

3. Review these hairstyles on Pinterest:

Save a few of your favorite to your “Little Women” board and practice of yourself and your American Girl dolls.

4. Research your favorite Civil War Styles for home and attire onto the board. Draw an outfit of your own and home of your own, then make up your own best civil war attire out of your clothes and mine (carefully!)

5. Vocabulary: blithely, capital, irascible, mar, pensive, prim, rapturous, trifle, warble (definition, use in a sentence, picture depiction, write five times in plain text, write five times in cursive, etcetera - I made a worksheet for her vocabulary lessons back in second grade - I'll post it up for download soon).

And that was it for our first unit of distance learning! If your kiddos enjoy this sort of thing and would be interested in some sort of virtual bookclub, lemme know! We're finally getting a handle on Zoom thing and I know Kennedy would love to add a few bookworms to her Busy Bee... cough, cough, I mean Prosperous Penguins Society - so feel free to drop us a line through the contact page or on Instagram @twinairsigns.


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