Self-Sufficiency and the Community

3, 4, 5
The purpose of this lesson is to point out the character of the people in colonial times.
Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Thirty-Minute Class Period
The learner will:
  • describe the importance of self-sufficiency in the colonial experience.
  • compare and contrast modern living with colonial life on the frontier.
  • illustrate how a segment of the modern community works using Habitat for Humanity as an example.
The Oxcart Man by Donald Hall. (see Bibliographic References)

Hall, Donald. The Oxcart Man. Viking Press: 1983. ISBN: 0140504419.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Put the word "self-sufficient" on the chalkboard and ask students to talk about what it means. Ask students whether or not it is a good thing to be "self-sufficient."

  2. Put students in the time frame of the colonial period and in the location of the frontier. Using a brainstorming technique, ask students to list ideas that come to mind about what life was like at that time and place. Put these ideas on the board.
  3. Remind students that because of the wilderness around them, people's lives were centered around providing food and shelter for themselves. Most of the population was not able to go to a market to buy from those who specialized in a trade or skill. This resulted in a common folk that were extremely self-sufficient. Each family worked hard as a "mini-community" to survive. The family unit in many ways had to be self-sufficient. The many chores from dawn to dusk were carried out by all the members of the family, each doing what they could to contribute to the survival of the family unit.
  4. Ask students to name the chores that members of the family had to do to survive. These chores ranged from planting, maintaining, harvesting, and preserving the crops; cooking, making soap, washing the clothes, and cleaning the home; husbandry, that is, taking care of the farm animals; shearing, carding, spinning and weaving cloth and sewing clothing; and building furniture or other implements for use. If the family couldn't purchase what they couldn't make, they learned to do without or make do. Life was simple, yet extremely full. Of the items listed, ask students which they believed the children in the family would do.
  5. Read the story of The Oxcart Man by Donald Hall. It is a simple story that nicely portrays this rugged individualism. This story dramatically points out community in the life of a family unit. The students might conclude the family didn't need anyone else. Each member of the family had a job to do. Each completed job provided for the common good of the family. Members of the immediate family met all the needs.
  6. Talk about what it means to be self-sufficient. Is this a good thing? Are there some things that still require the larger community to get done? What do students think the expression "No man is an island" means? Putting a chart on the board, compare frontier life with modern life as each pertains to self-sufficiency and community.
  7. Habitat for Humanity is a marvelous example of a grass-roots effort taking on a serious problem or need in the country. It provides housing for those who need it but it requires them to donate hours of their own time in building the house along with an army of other volunteers. Private citizens giving of their time, talent and treasure do this work, for the most part. Ask students to research this project, especially if there is a local example of the work of the project.
  8. Invite a person who has worked on a Habitat for Humanity house to speak to the class. Another option would be to invite a recipient family. It may be possible to raise funds towards the project or to tour such a building site.
Ask students to write a letter to an imaginary friend who lives in a wilderness area in Alaska. Have the student relate what life is like here in the local community and ask questions about being self-reliant in the wilderness of Alaska. Conclude the letter with a statement about the student's preferences for his/her life or the life of the friend. To prove that students understand philanthropy and their opportunities to share private action for the common good, and as a unit assessment, have students create a timeline of their own personal philanthropic actions. They should also write a personal narrative explaining how one of their actions was philanthropic and how it contributed to the common good.
Cross Curriculum 
As a result of learning about Habitat for Humanity, students may invite a person who has worked on a Habitat for Humanity project and offer their support, in a small way, to future projects in the area.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
    2. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify common roles that families play in society.
      2. Benchmark E.2 Identify examples of families supporting giving and sharing.