Just Plain Fancy - An Amish Unit Study

We are a homeschooling family of four living in Indiana. I have two girls who became intrigued with the Amish after seeing one drive through our neighborhood in a buggy (not a common sight in our part of suburbia). This fixation stayed with them and we decided to do a unit study on the Amish. I like to tie in character studies with our units. With this one we focused on family, equality and envy.

The unit study lasted about a week. Admittedly ignorant on the history of the Amish I began to gather some information. I found that the Amish religion began after a man named Jakob Ammann separated from the Anabaptist faith in Germany in 1693. Ammann and the leaders of the Anabaptist church disagreed on the practice of shunning and communion. Ammann supported shunning and also the washing of feet during communion. The Amish became persecuted in Europe. They decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean to live life in freedom. They settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1737. Today, ! the Amish live in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Ontario, Canada. Please forgive my ignorance if I have gotten any of this history wrong. This is my best understanding of it after only a short period of study.

Our first goal was to live as the Amish did for a week. We decided to still use our stove since the Amish use gas stoves. We also used our washing machine and air conditioning (we are too pampered to go back). We discussed that Amish don’t believe that all new inventions are bad, just unnecessary. For example, they don’t watch TV because they believe there’s nothing good on to watch. Do you agree? Some Amish do have pay phones on their property to use to call for supplies and for 911 as needed. They believe that gossip is hurtful an! d prefer to talk and visit in person. Not a bad idea. We discussed why gossip could be hurtful as part of our character study. We did allow the liberty to use the phone only for necessary calls and then we had to pay $0.35. We agreed to no TV, computer or lights. I must admit that we only lasted one day. The children enjoyed it and I loved the peace, quiet and family time, but then nighttime came. The girls went to bed and my husband and I snuck down to the basement for a little Fox news. I turned on a light to better see my way down. My daughter who was supposed to be sleeping two stories above called out “Who turned on a ! light? Pay $0.35 (our agreed penalty).” Then we turned on the TV. Again came the voice “Who turned on the TV?” After an hour I was sure she must be asleep, so I turned on the Internet with the familiar alien phone noise. “Who’s on the computer? Pay $0.35.” To avoid modeling hypocrisy to our children we decided to call off our simple living. Obviously we weren’t cut out for this.

To tie in geography, the girls found Switzerland (Ammon’s birthplace) and Germany on the map. We also traced the route the Amish may have possibly used to come to America. Then to throw in a little math, we calculated how many years ago the Amish arrived.

For vocabulary we found the meaning of faith, envy, equality and persecuted. The best historical background information I could come up with is to tell them the story myself. We discussed why the Amish all dress alike. They believe that no man should be held higher than another. After all, they are all created equal in the eyes of God. If people were to dress in fancy clothes, envy would occur. It would not be right if one were proud because they had a fancier dress. The soldiers in Europe who had persecuted them wore uniforms with bright brass buttons and mustaches. For thi! s reason, the Amish don’t use buttons. The men wear a beard after they’re married but no mustache.

For language arts we read The Peacock and the Crane from Aesop’s Fables. The girls narrated the story back to me. Then they wrote the moral of the story as their handwriting lesson. Then we discussed how this story reflected the Amish’s beliefs regarding dress. I asked them if they thought dressing alike would be better. Later we read The Fox and the Grape from Aesop along with “Madame Rhinoceros and Her Dress” from Arnold Lobel’s Fables. To tie in the envy theme we read A Bargain for Frances. Snow White and Cinderella woul! d also be good choices.

For science we read a book called Farming Today, Yesterday’s Way by Cheryl Bellville. We discussed the different shape of the draft horse’s body as compared to a race-horse. Simple machines could also be studied.

For math the girls went on-line to an Amish General store (at www.lehmans.com). They had $300 to spend on supplies for the week. This turned out to be very inadequate as a wooden wagon cost upwards of $150.

We found many delicious recipes by searching under Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch recipes at www.about.com. We made sour cream corn bread, chicken and dumplings and friendship bread.

The Amish don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, but they do sing “This Land is Your Land” everyday at the beginning of school. We used this for our music lesson each week, opening our school day with it too.

We really enjoyed our week. The perfect field trip of course would be to visit an Amish community. They are growing in numbers and may live in your state.

The following is a list of books we read throughout the week:

An Amish Year by Richard Ammon

An Amish Wedding by Richard Ammon

An Amish Christmas by Richard Ammon

Down Buttermilk Lane by Barbara Mitchell

Just Plain Fancy by Patricia Polacco (a don’t miss!)

Farming Today Yesterday’s Way by Cheryl Bellville


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