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Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson for Kids

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Hands-on American History: Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson

Hands-on American History: Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson

This is the 10th lesson in a series of 27 hands-on lessons covering American History through 1865. This lesson focuses on Valley Forge and the Surrender at Yorktown during the American War for Independence. I used this plan while teaching a 45 minute history class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes a biography report, history notebook page, history song, our favorite children's books, YouTube video, a joke, & a variety of hands-on activities (cooking, painting, dramatizations, etc.) to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

Student presentation on Benjamin Franklin

Student presentation on Benjamin Franklin

Student Biography Presentation: Benjamin Franklin

1. Student biography presentation on Benjamin Franklin who spent years in France persuading them to help America during this time period

Review & Introduction to Valley Forge

2. Review: The French & Indian War was fought between which 2 countries? (English/British & French) What was the name of the king of England during this time? (King George III) What is the famous line that Patrick Henry said? ("Give me liberty or give me death") What 2 events did we learn about that happened in Boston? (Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party) Paul Revere is famous for doing what? (warning the colonists that the redcoats were coming) What was one of the first battles fought? (Battle of Lexington & Concord) Who is the main author of the Declaration of Independence? (Thomas Jefferson) Who crossed the Delaware River to sneak up on the Hessians in Trenton? (General George Washington and his troops) Which country helped America after America won at the Battle of Saratoga? (France) Who do some people say sewed the first American flag? (Betty Ross) How many stars and stripes did it have on it? (13) What did each star and stripe represent? (each colony)

3. Open your notebooks to your 13 Colonies map. Together sing 13 Colonies Song (Tune: Yankee Doodle) while pointing to each colony on your map.

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, little Delaware…
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina
South Carolina, Georgia, thirteen colonies!

4. While Benjamin Franklin was in France trying to convince them to send money, supplies, and soldiers to help us fight against the British soldiers, General George Washington was leading the Continental Amy in America. It wasn't easy. They fought for 8 years with few supplies. The winter at Valley Forge was a good example of the sacrifices they made for our freedom. Quickly summarize the winter at Valley Forge while flipping through the pages of the book Winter at Valley Forge (Graphic History) by Matt Doeden.

You will need:

  • Winter at Valley Forge (Graphic History) by Matt Doeden or other book on Valley Forge
Wrapping up feet like soldiers did during the winter at Valley Forge

Wrapping up feet like soldiers did during the winter at Valley Forge

Valley Forge Feet

5. While at Valley Forge, many of the American Continental soldiers didn’t have socks or shoes because the army didn't have enough money to buy supplies for the soldiers. What do you think they did to keep their feet warm? They wrapped strips of cloth around their feet and had to walk around in the snow with only that to keep their feet warm. Have each child take off their sock and shoes. Give each child about 2 rags to wrap around their feet. Some children will need assistance tying the strips.

You will need:

  • 2 strips of cloth per child (I used an old pillow case)
Walking on ice

Walking on ice

Walking barefoot through the snow

6. Remember that this was winter in Pennsylvania. It was cold & snowy. If there happens to be snow on the ground where you are, the children can walk through it. Otherwise, you can improvise by dumping ice in the grass. Have the children march over it a few times. Ask how they feel. Ask how they would feel if they had to do this for many months. That’s what the American soldiers had to do at Valley Forge.

You will need:

  • large bag or bucket of ice (unless you have snow on the ground)


Scroll to Continue

Meal of firecakes

7. At Valley Forge the men had very little food. They ate firecakes, which are simply flour and water cooked on a flat stone over the campfire. Have the children each sample a fire cake. No water will be offered as "drinking water is being rationed."

You will need:

  • a firecake per person (I made them by mixing whole wheat flour & water together until it was the consistency of flour. Then I baked them over a fire. You could instead bake them in an oven at 400F for 10 minutes.)

Note: If you're not limited by time, you can make the firecakes together: Begin making firecakes by sitting in a circle and letting everyone pour a bit of water into a bowl of whole wheat flour (closer to the consistency of flour during that time period). Let everyone dump a small handful of whole wheat flour into a bowl. Then let everyone pour a bit of water into the bowl. Adjust the water/flour ratio so that it is the consistency of cake batter. Let everyone stir 5 times. Mention that the person cooking would not have measured out anything but simply judged by looks. Spoon out about 1/3 cup portions on a flat stone or on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. If you are able to cook them over a real fire (outdoors or in a fireplace), lay the stone or baking sheet on the embers and leave for about 10 minutes or until cooked. If you must bake them in an oven, tell the children that you are going to take them to the “campfire” to cook. Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Opening a cartridge

Opening a cartridge


8. Learn how to open a cartridge & fire a musket. While the men weren't fighting, they were making their own bullets. Do you remember how they had powder horns to hold their gun powder? It took a long time to fire just 1 shot using the powder horn. They started rolling cartridges.

  • Before soldiers could fire their muskets, they had to put a musket ball (what the bullet was called) in the barrel of the gun and then add gunpowder. In order to have plenty of bullets and gun powder ready to shoot, they would prepare cartridges (which contained the musket ball/bullet and gun powder) ahead of time.
  • Pass around a fake cartridge model.
  • At the bottom is the musket ball. Above that is gunpowder.
  • When it was time for a solider to use it, he'd just tear the tip off with his teeth, spit out the paper, dump the packet into the barrel of his rifle, & then fire off the shot because the gun powder would cause an explosion when set on fire. The explosion shoots the musket ball out of the barrel of the gun.
  • Allow one child to tear off the cartridge pack, spit out the tip of paper, & then empty out the cartridge into a pretend rifle (over a trash can)

You will need:

  • 1 cartridge or a class set if you'd like for each student to try it

To make a cartridge: Wrap a quarter sheet of paper around a dowel rod or just roll it into a cylinder shape. Fold and crimp the bottom to close it. Pull it off the dowel rod if using one. Drop a marble into the bottom of the paper. This would be the musket ball/bullet. Pour some sand (about 2 Tbsp.) into the package. (A funnel can help but isn’t necessary.) Fold it over to close it.

Military drills with Baron von Stueben

Military drills with Baron von Stueben

Military Drills with Baron von Stueben

9. Practiced military drills with Baron von Stueben. Now that everyone knows how to load their guns, we need to drill with them. At Valley Forge, a Prussian volunteer named Baron von Steuben taught the untrained American Continental soldiers how to fight like a real army. He made them practice, practice, practice. He had them drill, drill, drill. Have the children “report for training” with their “muskets.”

  • First follow drill commands and practice "loading" and "firing" muskets: Have the children pretend to pull out an imaginary cartridge, tear it open with their teeth, spit out the paper, drop the contents of their cartridge down the barrel of their muskets/guns, stab the contents down the barrel with a pretend stick, and then fire the “musket.” Do this a second time.
  • Then go through what words mean and have them follow each command while standing still in a line & marching through the classroom or outside the classroom if you need more space:
  • Definitions:

Attention - Hold musket up over shoulder
Parade rest - Hold musket down on ground in front of you
About face - Turn 180 degrees - Put one foot behind other and spin halfway around
Right face - Turn 90 degrees to the right
Left face - Turn 90 degrees to the left
Mark time mark - March to the beat ("cadence")
Forward march - March forward
By the right flank march - Follow the leader to the right
By the left flank march - Follow the leader to the left
Halt - stop

  • Orders:

About face
Right face
Forward march
By the left flank march (whenever you need to turn left)
About face
Forward march
By the right flank march (whenever you need to turn right)
Left face
Parade rest

You will need:

  • a pretend rifle for each child (sticks, toy water guns, plastic baseball bats, etc.)
Lord Cornwallis surrendering to General Washington

Lord Cornwallis surrendering to General Washington

Battle of Yorktown & Review

10. After 8 years of fighting, the British army finally gave up and agreed to let America become the United States of America. The last battle was the Battle of Yorktown. Let's reenact it.

  • The girls will be the British army this week, so pass out red jackets, sweaters, etc. to each girl.
  • Assign one girl to be Cornwallis. Have her hold a picture of an ear of corn to remind them of the name Cornwallis. Hand her a toy sword.
  • Assign one of the boys to be General George Washington. Give him at least a tricorn hat to wear and a toy sword. I also taped yellow construction paper "epaulets" to his shoulders. (They fell off while they were fighting.)
  • Everyone should still have their "rifles" from the last activity. Have 1 side get on 1 side of the table & the other be on the other side of the table. Tell everyone they can pretend to shoot at each other & say, "Bang" or whatever other noise they'd like to make. Let them pretend to battle for 15 seconds.
  • Have the girls (the British soldiers) hold up their hands. Hand 1 a white flag to wave. A white flag is a flag of surrender, meaning they give up.
  • Have Cornwallis give up the sword to General George Washington.
  • (Note: Cornwallis didn't want to face General George Washington, so he pretended like he was sick, so he sent his second in command to hand over Cornwallis' sword. George Washington, in turn, points to his second in command, who accepts Cornwallis' sword. I didn't get into these specifics with my younger students but did have my older class of children act that part out.)
  • With the help of the French soldiers, American has won the War for Independence! The Battle of Yorktown was the last major battle, and American won! America is now free from British rule! They are no longer ruled by King George III! Who do you think American picked to rule over them? [George Washington] We’ll learn about President George Washington in our next unit!

You will need:

  • a red top (jackets, sweaters, fleeces, etc.) for each girl
  • 2 toy swords
  • a picture of corn
  • at least 1 tricorn hat (such as a toy pirate hat)
  • yellow construction paper "epaulets" + tape (optional)
  • white cloth or piece of paper (we used a white pillow case)

11. Review: Where did Benjamin Franklin go to ask for help for the Americans? (France) Did the French agree to help? (Yes.) Where was the place in Pennsylvania where George Washington and his men stayed during one winter? (Valley Forge) What was it was like to stay at Valley Forge? (cold, not enough clothing, etc.) What did they eat sometimes? (Firecakes) Who came to help drill the soldiers? (Baron Von Stueben) What was the last major battle of the American War for Independence? (Battle of Yorktown) Who had to surrender to General George Washington? (Cornwallis)

12. Assign next week's student biography report on Washington Irving.

We read through many children's picture books, and these were our favorites (not including the book used in the lesson):

  • George Washington and the General's Dog (Step-Into-Reading, Step 3) by Frank Murphy
  • Valley Forge by Richard Ammon
  • What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz
  • The Winter at Valley Forge: Survival and Victory (Adventures in Colonial America) by James E. Knight
  • The Story of the Surrender at Yorktown (Cornerstones of Freedom Series) by Zachary Kent, which is a longer, factual picture book
  • George Washington: His Legacy of Faith, Character, and Courage by Demi
  • Bugle: A Puppy in Old Yorktown by Mary Evans Andrews

Liberty Kids: Valley Forge

Liberty Kids: Surrender at Yorktown

Image credit: https://www.pinterest .com/jeanee2109/snoopy~~valley-forge/

Image credit: https://www.pinterest .com/jeanee2109/snoopy~~valley-forge/

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Pilgrims Lesson
Thirteen Colonies Lesson
French and Indian War Lesson
Colonial Period & Revolution Rumblings Lesson
Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party Lesson
First Shots & Declaration of Independence Lesson
American War for Independence Battles Lesson
Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson
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President George Washington Lesson
Louisiana Purchase Lesson
War of 1812 Lesson
Monroe Doctrine Lesson
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Oregon Trail & Battle of Alamo Lesson
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Fun, Free Hands-on Unit Studies (My Lessons in All Subjects)

© 2018 Shannon


Shannon (author) from Florida on July 30, 2018:

Thank you so much!

Liz Westwood from UK on July 30, 2018:

This looks like a great lesson. I only wish history lessons were as interesting as this when I was at school.

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