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Hypothermia in the Little House

Science in Children’s Literature: Among the cornerstones of science are careful observation and accurate description. Like scientists, authors must also be careful observers. Mrs. Wilder’s book presents a fine example in her depiction of the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia. Every time I read it I am more impressed with her scientific accuracy. It is worth starting early to develop skills at noticing what happens around you and at describing what you see.

I have used this example with very young students as an introduction to preparing for outdoor winter activity. I read a few sentences or paragraphs, and then break the narrative to ask questions and begin discussion. By the time Laura and Carrie stumble back into the house, I am stopping at almost every sentence. I emphasize to my students that dressing correctly and eating properly will preserve health and enhance enjoyment of the outdoors. I can also envision using this example within a general unit on health and the human body, or even as an introduction to a writing assignment on observations. I leave it to the individual teachers to incorporate this example into their own curriculums at the appropriate level for their classes.

Grade Level: Primary (K-2)
Curriculum Topic Benchmarks: S11.3.1, S11.3.4, S15.1.1, S4.1.1, S7.2.1, S7.2.2
Subject Keywords: Observation, Description, Reading, Biology, Human body, Cold, Science in literature, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Warm blooded, Frostbite, Heat transfer

Author(s): Lorraine Remer
PUMAS ID: 12_14_98_1
Date Received: 1998-12-14
Date Revised: 1999-01-26
Date Accepted: 1999-02-05

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Comment by Julie Sharp on February 1, 2003
"One additional point of interest:
On Page 94 - Ma makes ginger tea. You comment that warm food and drink are other sources of external heat. That is true, but what is omitted is that Ginger tea is also a source of internal heat. Ginger has long been used in eastern medicine as a “warming” medicine. I do not know the biological mechanism that causes this, but it very definitely has a different effect on the body than drinking water or black tea of the same temperature. Laura's mother was probably knowledgeable about the use of herbal medicine. I have read the books many times since childhood, but was not myself at all knowledgeable about the use of medicinal herbs until the last 10 years. I am encouraged to go back and see if there are other herbal remedies mentioned that I overlooked! Thank you."

Comment by Hamolsky Moni on January 4, 2000
"This contribution is imaginative, careful and most useful. Thank you very much for your efforts on all our behalf. As you can imagine, we here in Switzerland take seasonal variations in weather and their effects - very seriously. I look forward to using this text with my students."

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