13 Prairie Values for Raising Kids

By Toby Klein Greenwald

 Toby head shot wedding smiling

In the aftermath of the most daunting Israeli snowstorm of this century, last December, I dropped an e-mail to new residents of our town to invite them for Sabbath lunch. The lady asked me for directions to our house. I wrote, "Just walk up the street and when you see #38 on your left, go up the steps on your right. Wooden pergola and wooden gate, like Little House on the Prairie…Well, I don't know if they actually had a pergola, or a gate…" On the appointed day, I stood at our bay window, awaiting their arrival, and saw them crunching bravely through the snow, like genuine pre-snow-blower pioneers.

GAte in snow

Surrendering to the elements brought back memories of that show on which I raised our daughters (the boys preferred soccer), in the '80's. You've heard of the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Here are some of the values that children learned from Little House on the Prairie:

1 Listen to Mom and Dad.

Little boy on mom back

2 Be nice to your siblings.

3 Don't let people like Nellie take advantage of you.

4. If you mess up, fess up.

5 Share.

6 Have your friends' backs.

kids running

7 Be polite to everyone.

8 Dress modestly.

9 Read.

10 Get enough sleep.

11 Don't forget your lunch.

12 Pray.

13 Take good care of your pony.

Regarding that last one — when our oldest daughter, I'll call her Sara, was eleven, she asked for a pony. She said that she would share it with a friend (she had number 5 right), but they wanted to put it in our back yard. Sara could not comprehend why we said no, but went on to do science fair projects on hamsters in mazes and petrified snakes, perhaps to sublimate her pony deficit, though we did have, over the years, cats and dogs. Bottom line was she developed a comfortable relationship with animals and learned to respect all living creatures.

About number 11, my children (some of whom are already earth mothers or father in their own right) remind me occasionally of their mortification of being the only ones who brought sandwiches to school that were never white bread and chocolate spread, but whole wheat, cottage cheese and veggies, or something else healthy. No one wanted to swap with them. They've overcome that trauma by giving their own children rolls with chocolate spread once a week.

 Sandwich

Number 9: I pretended not to notice (like my parents before me) when our children read long after their bedtime, which kind of conflicts with number 10, but life is a toss-up.

About number 6, kids often have to walk the line between loyalty to friends and doing what's right. What they will discover as they grow up is that grown-ups sometimes have the same dilemmas, as they will with a few of the other items on my list.

Regarding numbers 5 and 2, those are lifelong lessons that lead to charity and good deeds.

And then there is number 3.

This is a difficult one, and I credit the original author and the TV creators of Little House for inserting a young character into the mix who always has a selfish agenda. But how do we balance number 3 with all the positive-thinking messages with which we inculcate our children?

Little House on the Prairie

We don't want to raise them to be suspicious of everyone, but reality will occasionally rise up and bite them. At some point in their lives, they may have to deal with a client who doesn't pay, an unpleasant boss, a rude bureaucrat, or people who disappoint. All of these lessons need to be personally modeled, but number 3 is the most difficult, if we are to raise children who are trusting, not cynical.

Not a bad list to live by, at any age. Like with number 1 — even now, when both my parents are gone, I can still hear their lessons.

Which kind of brings me to number 12.

The author is a mom, grandma, educator, theater director and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.

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