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Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids


– Welcome: “Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids”

– Feature: “Community Service in Appalachia”

– Teacher/Parent Book Pick: “Hunter’s Horn”

– K-3 Book Pick: “When I Was Young in the Mountains”

– K-3 Book Pick: “Mama is a Miner”

– 4-6 Book Pick: “Rocket Boys; A Memoir”

– 4-6 Book Pick: “American Folktales and Songs”

– Web Discoveries: “Habitat For Humanity”

– Words of Wisdom: “Turn of the Century Kids”


WELCOME: “Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids”


daisies waving Rural Lessons for Suburban KidsDear Readers,

This month, we’re taking a trip to the country, where your children can learn by helping others. For teachers and parents who already live in the country, consider these “Rural Lessons for Rural Kids.” (-;

Our guest columnist, Deborah Killion, taught first grade for four years in New Jersey. Now she’s a full time Mom raising three children (four, if deb killion Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids you count her husband!). For three years, Deb and her family have participated in rural community service projects.

She describes her experiences with the Appalachian Service Project and Lutheran Disaster Relief. While her experiences are with Christian organizations, the concept of helping others is key to life skills lessons, and part of every major religion.  Her first-hand account fits in perfectly with our previous features on volunteerism and learning by helping.

For more ideas on this topic, please see our page on “Volunteerism: Growing by Giving”

Best regards,

Kent Davis – Editor

PS – I invite K-6 educators in the Eastern US to consider our unforgettable School Assembly Program. It includes Life Skills, Character Education and Drug Prevention concepts, and complete lesson plans for teachers and parents. Learn more at


FEATURE: “Community Service in Appalachia”
by Deborah Killion

“You want me to go where, to do what? WHEN?”

These were the words my sixteen year-old daughter spoke to me two years ago when I suggested we go to Puerto Rico to work on homes in the rain forest damaged by Hurricane Georges. Little did either one of us know how this trip would affect our lives. Forever.

Community Service.  We have all heard of the positive impact community service has on the people served – houses repaired, children read to, babies rocked, trash picked up, food distributed, pets adopted, etc.  But do we ever think of the volunteers and what good it does them?  What benefits can a family expect after spending a week together on a work project?  Why do families take vacation time to perform volunteer work?

cabin Rural Lessons for Suburban KidsAfter a positive experience in Puerto Rico, my daughter was one of the first volunteers to sign up the following year, this time to work in West Virginia.  She brought two of her friends, as well as her fifteen year-old brother.  Their fondest memories of this past summer were of the Appalachia Mountains in West Virginia, where we spent just one precious week.

Hard work – yes – but wonderful memories too!  We worked on an elderly gentleman’s home.  We built an entrance deck, important because there was no safe way in or out of his home.  We repaired gutters and spread three tons of crushed stone around the perimeter of the house.  We hauled away junk.  Sound like fun to you?  Maybe not, but I expect my two children will be among the first to sign up again this year.  Let me explain why…

“To gain perspective on life
there’s no better way to understand your blessings
than to help people in need.”

This statement is probably the best way to describe what my family gets out of volunteering.  Especially for children, it helps to see what others don’t have in order to see what you do have.  This means not only material possessions such as a warm dry place to live, but also means clean toys, stable parents, good school, caring friends, a recreational sports team to play on, etc.sunflower butterfly Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids

Families that volunteer together spend “quality time” together.  They have a common interest while working together on a worthwhile and meaningful project.  Parents and children get to know each other with new perspectives and on different terms than they ordinarily see each other.

Volunteering as a family can also change your family dynamics – try putting a teen in charge of a task from start to finish with no parental controls in place.

It is amazing what they will accomplish;
smash concrete with a sledgehammer,
load it into wheelbarrows, and then remove it?
“No problem, mom!”

Afterwards, however, I still wonder why they can’t clean their room when I ask sometimes.

Families share a common experience that they will talk about for years to come. Kids see their parents in a work setting. Parents help foster a work ethic in their children. Kids and parents both learn new skills – like building a deck or repairing a door. While working together, there is time to share ideas on value and ethics in a setting quite different from home.

Families that work together learn about themselves.

It’s not always the parent that comes up with the solutions. Parents and children exchange ideas when confronted with a problem. Each evening before we went to sleep we would go over our work project for the following day. Each member of our project would look over the next day’s work and contribute ideas on how best to get the job done. Every member looked at the project in a different way and each one contributed ideas.

This developed confidence and independence for the people involved
and families learned to listen to one another.

We learned how to operate effectively as a work team. After all, we weren’t discussing our own problems, but trying to help someone else instead.

rocking chair Rural Lessons for Suburban KidsIn the last few days, our teens wanted to do something extra special for the elderly gentleman we were working for. These four teens decided they wanted to give him a rocking chair.  Everyone contributed $15 and we bought a rocking chair. Upon presenting this gift, the teens were so gratified because they came up with the idea themselves and this kind and gentle man would never have a rocking chair if it weren’t for them. They weren’t yet satisfied. They put two coats of stain on the rocking chair before presenting it to a teary-eyed and obviously appreciative old man. Now when we think of him, we know he’s rocking away upon his porch in the Appalachian Mountains.

In the end, I know that the children, as well as the adults, involved in this project gained many things. We are now better listeners, decision-makers, and have more confidence and independence. We’ve learned new repair skills. We also learned more about humility, compassion and resolve. I expect that my two children will be some of the first ones to sign up to volunteer again this year. Maybe they’ll each bring three friends, and they’ll bring three friends, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again. So try volunteering as a family. It’ll change your family for the better. You’ll be glad you did!



hunters horn Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids“Hunter’s Horn” by Harriette Louisa Simpson Arnow

When a major university republishes a book from another era, it’s always with good reason. Harriette Arnow’s book was first published in 1949. Writer Joyce Carol Oates called it “our most unpretentious American masterpiece.” Michigan State University Press recently reprinted this novel that captures the essence of rural life in Southern Appalachia.

The book is set in Eastern Kentucky. Readers will find lifelike portrayals of people who are born, live and die in this rural mountain setting. The book is readable and gives warm insights into the simple, independent character of America’s hill people.




When I was young Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids “When I Was Young in the Mountains”

By Cynthia Rylant

This Caldecott Honor Award winner transports children to the mountains of West Virginia. Its accurate account of life in the mountains includes important lessons about family values, morality and living within the simple beauty of nature.

Mama is a miner Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids “Mama is a Miner”
By George Ella Lyon, Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto

This book’s warm, wonderful illustrations captivate children as much as the content. As the title says, this is a book about a coal-mining Mom in Appalachia. It draws parallels between the Mother’s life at work and the child’s life at school. The most exciting quality is the flowing verse the author uses to tell the story. His poetry combines with the visuals to create a wonderful atmosphere that reminded me of Robert Frost at times.

“Mountain gold, black as night.
Some big city’s heat and light”

“Son of a quarter, daughter of a dime,
shoveling soup on the old belt line.”

NOTE: This book is out of print, but is worth seeking.  For excellent access to out-of-print books, see our web links in “Reading Skills” here:


RocketBoys Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids “Rocket Boys; A Memoir”
(also known as “October Sky”) By Homer H. Hickam, Jr.October sky video Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids

From West Virginia to outer space, this true story is an inspiration for any young reader. The 14-year-old hero lives in a coal-mining town that’s deteriorating fast. His dream is to build rockets that will one-day take men to the moon. And that’s what he does! This is the memoir of a NASA engineer who set his goals early in life and then accomplished them, seemingly against incredible odds.

The book is also available as a video by the same name (right).

American folktales Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids“American Folktales and Songs”
Edited by Richard Chase

Chase’s selections demonstrate how oral traditions have shaped lives and morals for generations in parts of the US. The selections include songs, ballads, children’s rhymes and stories.

One reviewer observed, “It is a quality overview of American folklore. It will set a yearning in your soul and make you wax nostalgic for lemonade and Tom Sawyer. This is a small chunk of what it means to be American.”

grandfathers tales Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids“The Grandfather Tales”
Edited by Richard Chase

Here’s a bonus book by the same author. It gives fun insights into mountain and rural traditions and explores the roots of mountain culture. The editor collected these 24 tales in the 1940’s, mostly in North Carolina and Virginia. Linguistically fascinating, you’ll also discover the country version of many popular children’s tales. As with all folktales, they are full of simple but valuable moral lessons for readers.

WEB DISCOVERIES: for teachers, parents & kids


NOTE: Our guest columnist recommended these links to Christian organizations because she has personal experience with them. For links to government and non-denominational groups, please visit our page on “Volunteerism: Growing by Giving”

111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids Habitat for Humanity on roof Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids

Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian housing organization. They welcome all people to join them in building simple, decent, affordable, houses in partnership with those in need of adequate shelter. Since 1976, Habitat has built more than 100,000 houses in 60 countries, including 30,000 houses across the United States. Former US President Jimmy Carter is extremely active with this group. You’ll find reports on his accomplishments and projects around the world here: To find the project nearest to your home or school, just enter your zip code on this page:

gardener plant Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids The Appalachia Service Project

Founded in 1969, the Appalachia Service Project is a home repair/home building ministry. ASP organizes volunteers and staff to repair and build homes for low-income families in rural Central Appalachia. They invite volunteers of all ages and skill levels to join them. They have summer programs for high school youth groups and adult advisors. They also have year-round service opportunities for college groups, family groups, individuals, and couples.

111008 1851 kdcutandpas26 Rural Lessons for Suburban Kids LCMS World Relief

This is the group that organized the Puerto Rico hurricane relief project Deb mentions in her article above.  LCMS World Relief offers hope through disaster response on behalf of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  A map on their webpage shows on-going projects. In the US, they are now assisting victims of wild fires in California.  Free Teaching Materials: Their Resource Packet lists nearly 100 relevant disaster resources and materials, from children’s newsletters to brochures to videos–all at no cost.

WORDS OF WISDOM: “Turn of the Century Kids”
by Dr. Ralph W. Mendelson

Not the turn of *this* century . . . the last one!

siamdance Rural Lessons for Suburban KidsDespite being born in rural North Dakota in 1888, Dr. Ralph W. Mendelson went on to a medical career that spanned the globe. He worked in Europe with the Red Cross during WWI.

In the late 1920’s, he and his family moved to Siam to practice medicine until retiring in 1951. He wrote the passage below in 1964. His observations about growing up in the early 1900’s are quite interesting! By today’s standards, he might be regarded as an abusive parent . . . or a genius! You decide.

“In those days we did not have motor cars to distract us, we were not given an allowance and movies were unknown. It was considered quite normal to work at odd jobs to earn spending money.

“Obedience was not considered old fashioned and self-determination on the part of the younger generation had not yet taken the country by storm. The psychiatric treatment of the belligerent youngster was carried out in the old fashioned woodshed with, I believe, superior results to those obtained in this day and age.

“Drinking on the part of high school students was practically unheard of and smoking on the part of girls was unknown.

“It was also considered a normal feat of mental gymnastics to be able to write a grammatically correct letter, solve simple arithmetic problems, and enjoy reading good books by the time one graduated. I do not recall that the funny papers were considered essential to one’s mental development.

“Girls dressed as girls and the boys appeared reasonably presentable in class.

“All in all, it was not a bad system. It developed a pretty hardy race of Americans that did not have to be wet-nursed in the years to come . . . Americans who were anxious to work for a living and considered patriotism a privilege and not a duty.”

Posted in Adults Helping Children, Social Action for Children, Teaching Children to Teach. Tagged with , , , .

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