Henry David Thoreau advised us all to "simplify, simplify."
He wrote, "Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called
comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive
hindrances to the elevation of mankind." He lived his
life according to this philosophy, and nowhere is this more
clear than in the cabin he built.
Thoreau wanted a quiet place to live where he could enjoy and
keep a journal about the wildlife and the outdoors. He built a
simple cabin with just enough room for him to be comfortable.
What kind of house would your students build? Would it have all
the modern conveniences or just the bare necessities? Would it
be bigger than their neighbor's house or just big enough to suit
their needs? Would they want to stay inside most of the day or
spend most of their time outdoors? Discuss what defines a
house with your students and why Thoreau built his modest
cabin. Then have your students design a house that is just right
for them. When they finish, have them present and explain their
designs to the class and discuss how Thoreau would react to
What was it like for Thoreau to live in a one-room house? Move
the classroom furniture to the sides of the room. Measure a
ten-by-fifteen-foot space and mark the floor with masking tape
to replicate the size of Thoreau's cabin. Using newspaper and
tape, indicate where a table, a writing desk, three chairs, and
Thoreau's bed would go, as this is what filled his house. Have
your students discuss the following questions: How many
friends could Thoreau entertain? Did he spend a lot of time
inside? What seems to be missing from his house?
Thoreau built his cabin on the banks of Walden Pond in 1845
for $28.12. Could a house be built for the same price now?
What could $28.12 buy today? With your students, put a list
together of some of the materials needed to build a house. Then
go to your local building supply store and figure out a cost estimate.
From the list, have your students calculate what they could
purchase for $28.12.
Integrate the Henry books into your math curriculum. Some
problems to solve:
Thoreau's house was ten by fifteen feet. If he started at one
end and walked around the outside of the house, how far
would he have walked?
If the floorboards for Thoreau's house were each sixinches
wide and tenfeet long, how many boards would he need to
cover the floor? How many boards would he need if they
were twelveinches wide?