INSIDE: Valuable Life Lessons to Learn from Little Women
Warm up your DVRs because Little Women is coming to PBS in May.
While we all wait patiently for this latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 150-year old masterpiece, we thought we’d remind you why the book is pretty awesome and worth reading (or listening to) with your family before the new mini-series premieres.
Valuable Life Lessons to Learn from Little Women
At first glance, Little Women appears to be the simple story of four sisters growing up in Massachusetts during the American Civil War. While navigating this uncertain time, the sisters reach a level of self-awareness and eventually find their place in the world.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple. Instead, we have a universal coming-of-age story about four sisters who recognize their own weaknesses and strengths. We see girls making choices on their journey to becoming the best versions of themselves.
The story revolves around the March family who were once prosperous, but now have reduced circumstances. The indefatigueable Mrs. March leads her four teenage daughters; Meg, Jo, Beth, and, Amy, through the rough landscape of life’s ups and downs.
The Heart of Little Women
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship. – Louisa May Alcott
At the heart of the book is the mother, Marmee, the moral center for the four March sisters. Her husband is a Chaplain for the Union army and this makes Marmee a de facto single mom. Somehow, she must navigate an uncertain world on very little money while at the same time holding her family together. She steers an emotionally charged household with four teenage daughters that she must individually guide into womanhood.
And, she still has time to help those less fortunate because she wants her daughters to appreciate all that they have.
It sounds like something a whole lot of women could relate to today.
The Wisdom of Kindness
Throughout the story there is an overarching theme seen time after time. It’s Kindness.
Whenever the March sisters encounter negative circumstances or behave less than should be expected, they eventually default to kindness.
Circumstances such as losing their fortune, loss of a loved one, disappointment, confusion, and uncertainty. All universal situations that humans encounter on life’s journey, but throughout this story these difficulties are overcome through kindness.
What to Glean from the Book
When reading (or listening) to the book there are a few things you might want to notice.
Meg: Beautiful and poised, Meg is expected to marry for money but defies convention and chooses a man of character.
Jo: Free-spirited Jo longs to have a career as a writer in an era when women were expected to become dutiful wives.
Beth: Delicate, tender-hearted Beth is so shy she cannot bring herself to attend school.
Amy: Self-absorbed and creative, Amy’s antics mask her struggles to secure a place in the family.
These are such universal family circumstances and we feel create great opportunities for discussion about the beautiful ways all human beings are different.
Create Learning Adventures with Little Women
Throughout the story, music plays an important part of the March’s daily life. It was difficult to find any sheet music references, but this soundtrack from an earlier movie version is full of instrumental music that would be a nice addition while reading aloud or alongside an audio book.
- Click here to listen to samples from the Little Women Soundtrack
During the story, Amy has an incident involving pickled limes which were a popular treat for children during this era. Try making them using this recipe and serve as a treat while reading or listening to the story. I can assure you, all children who read this story will want to know more about pickled limes!
- Click here for a recipe for Pickled Limes.
The Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress plays a role in the story and is used to inform us about each of the girls’ character flaws. Read a few passages for context.
- Click here to get Pilgrim’s Progress.
Ideas for Expanded Learning
Louisa May Alcott’s family home was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad. This explains a lot about how she could create such strong female characters.
Read about Louisa’s life here: Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott
For more information on the Underground Railroad, add these books for expanded learning.
Sewing was a big part of a girl’s life during this era. Girls learned early on how to to make quilts to keep their (future) family warm on cold nights. One exceptional Civil War era quilt is the Jane Stickle quilt which is considered a perfect example of New England Civil War quilt making as a way for women to deal with loss and separation during the war.
- Read more about this historic quilt here. As an activity, have children hand sew a couple of 4″ x 4″ fabric squares together to demonstrate how quilts like this were made. To make it more real, do this by candle light or using an oil lamp.
Reading a book like Little Women prior to watching a movie adaptation will bring greater understanding and context to the story. While it is a coming of age story about girls becoming women, it’s equally a story about people who recognize their human flaws and attempt to do better.
And that makes Little Women a perfect read for anyone.
Get the Book or Audio Book
Louisa May Alcott's classic tale of four sisters in a deluxe hardcover edition, with beautiful cover illustrations by Anna Bond, the artist behind world-renowned stationery brand Rifle Paper Co. Grown-up Meg, tomboyish Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy. The four March sisters couldn't be more different.More info →
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