The story of Mike Mulligan and his dedicated steam shovel, fondly known as Mary Anne, are a great conversation opener for so many topics. In a bid for a contract Mike needed to prove that Mary Anne in one day was capable of doing the work of 100 hundred men in a week. As a testimony to good old hard work, Mike and Mary Anne did exactly that but created a dilemma in the process, one that has a beautiful outcome.
One of my favourite ways to use this book is to introduce the topic of technological change over time This book speaks into the history of engines and is a great starter book as you look into the industrial age right through to today’s technology, particularly the development of modern communications technology. Poor Mary Anne was in direct competition with her more modern counterparts and had to prove her worth as an engine that appeared to have been superseded.
Visits to historical museums are a must for home educators using this title. Of course, no museum is the same and each has their own key exhibits. From ‘cheese’ museums that show items that were used in historical cheese manufacture to ‘transport’ museums that look at changes in travel through to ‘pastoral’ museums that look at historical farming equipment you can choose any one to explore technological change over time or even look at several. Then, it would be complemented by a visit to a modern equivalent. Plan into your program a trip to a cheese maker, car dealer or mechanic, or a modern farm. It would make for a great research project that compares not just the technology of each era but also the impact that this technology has on daily life for those who use it.
Another great project is to get a ‘classic’ car and a late model vehicle side by side with their hoods open. Then, using someone with mechanical knowledge, explore the different components of each vehicle and discuss all the extra parts in newer vehicles and design changes that have occurred in parts such as the engine. As a spin off topic, through the exploration of accessories, there could be learning directed to safety in cars. This would include discussing how seat belts, air bags, brake assistance and stability control work in a vehicle, the purpose that they serve, their effectiveness and that they as a user of transportation can keep themselves safe.
Alternate Educational Uses
This amazing book by Virginia Lee Burton opens up so many more conversations, though, then just conversation over technological change consider the following ideas.
An interesting retrospective study for older children that can come from this is on consumerism, disposable lifestyles and the waste of resources by first world nations. It can then provide a very interesting critical thinking exercise on whether it is important to care for and preserve of our possessions. This can lead to some really great hands on exercises on how to preserve different possessions. Safe storage of the products of photography, preserving timber surfaces, reupholstering and repairing furniture rather than replacing it, and researching alternate sources of household goods that are pre-loved.
Tied to this you can pull in excursions to antique stores and restoration businesses, spending the day in tuition from an upholsterer, and learning where one can source pre-loved goods both within budget, within the house’s era and how to care for them. From there, some home or communication based projects can be initiated using the skills learned through these excursions. Polishing silver, restoring timber, repairing goods. Just imagine what your child could do in aid of an elderly neighbour!
Another fantastic idea is to discuss the importance of our history, not just national history, but also that of communities and that of families. Studying one’s own family history and learning lessons from our elders can bring a child’s life into perspective. As a teenager, many home educated children can explain why their parents are the way they are through study of the lives of their parent’s parents. This opens a door to genealogy and the lives of familial ancestors a process that will reinforce learning about national and local history for those family members.
Another totally separate thread that learning could take from this wonderful book is grounded on the dilemma that Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne faced after they completed their task. (You’ll need to read the book to find out what that dilemma was). Of course, this speaks into a skill that is highly sought in workplaces and is essential to the operation of a family home – planning! This brings in the opportunity to discuss the importance of planning, types of planning, how to plan, communicating your plan to others and how planning can assist in preventing dilemmas like the one that needed to be resolved in this book.
This book is a great book for a child of any age and is a great resource in the library of any parent. It has my own five star rating and I would recommend you check it out for yourself! This book crosses many societal barriers that many other titles introduce and creates a safe base to enter the topic of history with an open mind.