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Benjamin Franklin, Battle of Saratoga, & Valley Forge Lesson

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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.


This is part 5 of a 6 part hands-on unit on the American War for Independence. Build "dragoon pistols", drill with Baron von Steuben, cook and eat firecakes, experience cold feet at Valley Forge, reenact the Battle of Saratoga, and more! My lessons are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 0-12. Use these fun lessons with your class, family, or homeschool co-op group!

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Introduction & Benjamin Franklin

*BEFORE THE CLASS/CO-OP MEETING: If you have the option of lighting a real fire, light a fire in your fireplace or fire pit. During the class/co-op, let the fire die down to embers in preparation for making firecakes.

1. Stretch & pray.

2. Discuss Psalm 18:2.

3. As you point to each colony on your map, sing 13 Colonies Song (Tune: Yankee Doodle):

Virginia, Georgia, Delaware, and North Carolina;

Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina.

Pennsylvania, New York,

New Hampshire and New Jersey,

Rhode Island and Connecticut:

These were the thirteen colonies!

TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: Words printed off for the children to read & sing along

4. Read about Benjamin Franklin: A Picture Book of Benjamin Franklin by David A. Adler.

5. Discuss facts about Benjamin Franklin. Let a child tape a miniature picture of Benjamin Franklin that's been pasted to a small square of blue construction paper to Pennsylvania on the 13 Colonies map.

More of Our Favorite Books on Benjamin Franklin

Also look for What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz, Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta, Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares by Frank Murphy, How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer, Benjamin Franklin, American Genius: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Brandon Marie Miller, The Story of Benjamin Franklin by Patricia A. Pingry (a board book for toddlers & young preschoolers), and Time For Kids: Benjamin Franklin by the Editors of TIME For Kids. *If you are looking for a chapter book on him, we enjoyed Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia (Landmark Books) by Margaret Cousins. It is a 160 page chapter book covering his entire life. It's great if you have older children. *If you would like more activities on him, try "Amazing BEN FRANKLIN Inventions: You Can Build Yourself" (Build It Yourself) by Carmella Van Vleet. It has some great project ideas that are a lot of fun! You could really do an entire unit on Benjamin Franklin, but we're not doing that right now. If you have the time to study him in more depth, check out this fun book!



Jane McCrea & Girls Back Home

6. Using dry beans, beads, or other items, show how the British army (with the addition of Hessians and Native Americans) was MUCH larger than the Continental army:

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-Use 2 containers such as a red bowl and a blue bowl. Put 2 handfuls of beads/dry beans in the red bowl. (Say, “Let’s pretend there are about 60,000 beads in this bowl.”) The Put 1 handful of beads/dry beans in the blue bowl. (Say, “Let’s pretend there are about 35,000 beads in this bowl.”) The British army was about double the size of the Continental (American) army. (You will need more beads/beans later, so don’t use them all up yet.) Tell the children that the beads represent the number of soldiers each side had.

-Hold up the 2 bowls and ask, “Just from the size, which army do you think will have a better chance at winning?” (the British)

-The Americans knew they needed more soldiers, so they sent a wise man over to a country that didn’t like the British. The wise man went to France. France had been in a war with the British a few years earlier. Which wise man do you think might have gone to France? It was Benjamin Franklin! He went to France to ask if they would help America beat England. What do you think the French said? They said, “Maybe. You’ll have to win a major battle first.”

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: dry beans, beads, or other items that you will have about 4 handfuls of and 2 containers such as a red bowl and a blue bowl

7. (If you are not limited by time) Create cross-stitch samplers using children's needles, yarn and 5-mesh canvases. This lesson includes a pattern for a cross-stitch sampler.

8. Make Tussie-Mussies (what girls and women might make for their loved ones): While brothers, daddies, husbands, grandpas, and uncles were away at war, many of the moms, sisters, and grandmas took care of the homes. Sometimes they would write encouraging notes to the soldiers. Sometimes they would make nice bouquets for their loved ones. They called these bouquets tussie-mussies. Give each child 1 flower (Chrysanthemum bud, rose bud, etc.) each about 4 inches long, a few sprigs of fresh herbs and/or greenery each about 3” long (we used rosemary sprigs & other green cuttings from our bushes), string or yarn, a paper doily, and a one-foot long ribbon. Have the children strip leaves off the very bottoms of the stems so that about 1/2" of the stems bare. Have them arrange the smallest herb sprigs around the rose. Add sprigs from smallest to largest, to frame the rose in greenery. Tie the stems together securely. Wrap the doily around the stems and tie it in place with ribbon. Tell them to give their tussie-mussies to their moms to deliver to their dads tonight.

TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: Per child: 1 rose/chrysanthemum/carnation, fresh herb sprigs and/or greenery (rosemary sprigs, herb sprigs, green cuttings from bushes, etc.), string or yarn, a paper doily, and 2 one-foot long ribbons

Dramatizing the Battle of Saratoga

Dramatizing the Battle of Saratoga

Battle of Saratoga

9. Read about Battle of Saratoga from George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer and discuss the battle.

10. (Video record this.) Reenact Battle of Saratoga using section from King George: What Was His Problem? by Steve Sheinkin:

-While General George Washington was fighting in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, other generals were fighting in other places. In New York there was a fort at Saratoga. [Have chairs or tables set in a square to create a fort.]

-Fort Saratoga had 2 American Generals. General Horatio Gates was the one who was in charge. He wore glasses. [Put glasses on the child playing Thomas Gates.] He was very cautious. People called him “Granny Gates” because of his glasses and how careful he was. When the British army came to attack Fort Saratoga, General Gates told the Continental army, “Stay in the fort!” [Have the child say that...and have the children repeat the below lines as well as described.]

-Under General Gates’ command was General Benedict Arnold. He was reckless, brave, and a little crazy. [Give Benedict Arnold a toy sword.] Benedict Arnold thought they should leave the fort, hide in the forest, and fight from the forest. He told the men, “Let’s go out of the fort and hide in the forest and fight from there!” He told General Gates, “Let’s go out of the fort! Let’s go to the forest! Let’s fight while hiding in the forest!”

-General Gates finally said, “I don’t want to, but okay.” [Have the children hide in the stacked chairs.]

-Meanwhile, the British army under General Burgoyne had been planning on wheeling their cannons up to the fort and blasting down the walks of the fort. [Give General Burgoyne a toy sword.] Have the child playing General Burgoyne say, “Let’s wheel our cannons up to the walls of the fort and blast down the fort walls!” [Put a toy gun on top of a stroller. Tell the children we’re pretending this is a cannon on a cart. Have a redcoat soldier push the stroller.]

-Were the American soldiers in the fort? No, they weren’t! Where were they? They were hiding in the forest!

-As the British approached the fort, the Continental/American Army fired at them. They fired back and forth at each other. As usual, Brave Benedict Arnold was in the front of the fight along with all the other soldiers.

-General Gates thought Benedict Arnold was too crazy, so he told Benedict Arnold, “Stop fighting and go to your tent!” [Have Benedict Arnold go to a “tent.” [You can make a tent by putting a sheet over 2 chairs.] Benedict Arnold hung his head and was sad. He had to go back to his tent and not fight, but he wanted to fight. Finally he decided to ignore General Gate’s decision. He jumped on his white horse [use a stick horse], grabbed his sword, and shouted, “Victory or death!”

-The Continental soldiers were so encouraged by Benedict Arnold’s return, they fought even harder. Benedict Arnold was shot in the leg and fell off his horse, but he continued to fight! The Continental Army fought so hard that the British surrendered! British General Burgoyne handed over his sword to General Gates as a sign that the Americans had won this battle. [Have the child playing General Burgoyne give his sword to the child playing General Gates.]

-Do you think General Gates thanked Benedict Arnold? No, he did not! He was mad that Benedict Arnold had disobeyed and come out of his tent. We’ll learn more about Benedict Arnold next week.

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: pair of glasses [can use toy ones], sheet (to use to make a tent), stick horse, stroller or wagon, 2 foam/toy swords, 3 sets of construction paper epaulets (optional), & items brought by families: costumes & toy "muskets"

11. Mention how the victory at Saratoga caused the French to agree to join the Americans in the war. -Did the American army win this battle? Yes! Now, who do you think will agree to help America beat the British? France! The Battle of Saratoga is known as the turning point of the war. Before this battle, it didn't look like the Americans would win. Now, they might have a chance! Add some beans/beads/blocks to the Continental Army side.

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: dry beans, beads, or other items (used in activity above)

Battle of Saratoga Books - (We'll read about Benedict Arnold in the next lesson.)

Making "dragoon pistols" (rubber-band shot guns)

Making "dragoon pistols" (rubber-band shot guns)

Dragoon Pistols

12. Make "dragoon pistols" (rubber-band shot guns): Each child gets a 12-inch block of wood (we pre-chiseled 2 grooves in the front). Have them "engrave" (color with markers) their pistols. As they color their blocks of wood, moms will use a hot glue gun to affix a clothespin 2/3 of the way back. Instruct the children that these are NEVER to be shot at people or animals. Give each child a rubber band. While some children finish coloring, allow the others to practice shooting at a target [such as a red jacket]. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to “fire” their “gun” a few times.

TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: 13 clothespins, 28 rubber bands, 2 hot glue guns with gluesticks for hot glue guns, red jacket or other target, & items brought by families: blocks of wood (about 12 inches pre-chiseled with 2 grooves in the front) & markers

---> (We were considering making muskets but we made pistols instead so they could take them home immediately. Directions to make muskets can be found in Let's be Early Settlers with Daniel Boon by Peggy Parish: Use 2 pieces of cardboard to make the bottom shape of the rifle. Stuff them with newspaper and tape them together. Tightly roll pieces of newspaper and tape them to make the barrel of the rifle. Slide this in between the two cardboard pieces and tape using packing tape. Papier-mache the musket. When it dries, paint the handle brown and the barrel silver. Use pipe cleaners for the trigger and trigger guard.)

Valley Forge & Firecakes

13. Read about Valley Forge: Winter at Valley Forge by Matt Doeden.

14. Show pictures of Valley Forge, Marquis de Lafayette, and Baron Von Steuben from Valley Forge by Richard Ammon and Washington at Valley Forge by Russell Freedman.

Valley Forge Books



15. Many soldiers got very sick and about 2,000 of them died at Valley Forge. Pull out a section of beads/beans from the Continental Army pile and have these be the men wintering at Valley Forge. Remove 20 percent of the blocks from the section you pulled out and say these were the men who died at Valley Forge.

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: dry beans, beads, or other items (used in activity above)

16. Begin making firecakes by sitting in a circle and letting everyone pour a bit of water into a bowl of whole wheat flour. At Valley Forge the men had very little food. They ate firecakes, which were basically flour and water cooked on a flat stone over the campfire. 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, 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.

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: whole wheat flour, pitcher for water, mixing bowl and spoon, flat stone or baking sheet and non-stick cooking spray

Wrapping their bare, cold feet just like soldiers did at Valley Forge

Wrapping their bare, cold feet just like soldiers did at Valley Forge

Valley Forge & Cold Feet

17. While at Valley Forge, many of the soldiers didn’t have socks or shoes. It was winter and snow was on the ground. 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 4 rags (such as strips cut from old onesies and old t-shirts) and help them wrap their feet. If it's really cold outside, have the children walk around outdoors. If it's not cold outside, dump some ice outside on the sidewalk. Have the children walk around on it. 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.

TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: a big bowl or a bucket to hold ice & ice (if it's not really cold outside) & items brought by families: 52 strips of rags



Rolling Cartridges

18. Roll cartridges using paper, a marble (=musket ball), and sand (=gunpowder). (This was not easy! Moms had to assist even the older children. It was a memorable experience.) If you are doing this lesson with all young children, simply demonstrate how to roll the 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. We’ll pretend the marble is a musket ball and the sand is gun powder.

-Show the children how to roll a cartridge by wrapping 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.

-Drop the marble into the bottom of the paper. This would be the musket ball/bullet.

-Then pour some sand into the package. (A funnel can help but isn’t necessary.) This is the gun powder that will cause an explosion when it gets set on fire, and the explosion will shoot the musket ball out of the barrel of the gun.

-Fold it over to close it. You had to do this for each bullet you shot, so you would have to make many cartridges.

-When you were ready to shoot your gun, you’d tear off the top of the cartridge with your teeth, spit out the bit of paper, and pour everything down the barrel of your muskets/gun. [You can tear off the top with your teeth and then pretend to dump the contents into a “musket.”]

-Have the children pretend to roll a sheet of paper, crimp it, drop a musket ball in the bottom, pour in the gun powder, crimp the top, tear it open with their teeth, and then drop it down into the barrel of their muskets/guns.

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: ¼ of a sheet of paper per child, 1 dowel rod (optional) per child, 1 marble per child, a funnel (optional), & about 2 Tbsp. of sand per child

Eating firecakes

Eating firecakes


19. Eat lunch = firecakes. No water will be offered as "drinking water is being rationed."

Drill practice with Baron von Steuben

Drill practice with Baron von Steuben

Drill Practice

20. 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 Continental/American 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.”

a.First follow drill commands and practice "loading" and "firing" muskets: Have the children pretend to pull out a 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.

b.Then go through what words mean and have them follow each command while standing still in a line:


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



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

TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: 13 "rifles" (toy guns, sticks, bats, etc.) (provided by families)

21. 5 Minute Review of what we learned: Which army was bigger: the British army or the Continental/American army? (the British) By a lot or a little? (By a lot.) How was Benjamin Franklin? Where did he go to ask for help for the Americans? (France) Did the French agree to help? (Yes, eventually, after the win at the Battle of Saratoga) Which battle is called “The Turning Point of the Revolution?” (Battle of Saratoga) Who was the main American General who was very careful? (General Gage) Who was the brave and wild general who was 2nd in command? (Benedict Arnold) Who won at the Battle of Saratoga? (The Americans) 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? What did they eat sometimes? (Firecakes) Who came to help drill the soldiers? (Baron Von Stueben) What was your favorite activity we did today?

Baron Von Steuben & Marquis de Lafayette

Also look for Lafayette - Hero of Two Nations by Brandt (a longer picture book), The Marquis de Lafayette : Bright Sword for Freedom (World Landmark Books) by Hodding Carter (a chapter book), and Lafayette : French-American Hero (A Discovery Book) by Claire Huchet Bishop (a shorter chapter book ideal for grades 2-4). You can also look for Baron Von Steuben: American General by Bruce Adelson. It's an 80 page chapter book. It's not he most exciting chapter book, but it was the best one we could find on him.

Material List for the Lesson

*Everyone needs to bring per child:

-a long toy gun

-Girls need British soldier costumes: Bring or wear to co-op: a red coat/jacket/sweater and a tricorn hat (pirate hat or tricorn hat we made). If desired, you can also include items such as a white wig, white pants, &/or long black socks such as your husband’s socks or soccer socks (to act as the black boots).

-Boys need American Colonist costumes: Bring a tricorn hat (pirate hat or tricorn hat we made). If desired, you can also bring or wear to co-op khaki pants, long white socks such as your husband’s socks or soccer socks, a button-down dress shirt, &/or a vest.

-1 block of wood, about 9-12 inches with 2 small grooves chiseled in the front (We’ll be making rubber band guns using this. The 2 small grooves in the front will hold the rubber band.)


-4-5 strips of cloth that are about 1”x12” (I cut up some old onesies & old t-shirts. You can use any type of cloth.)

*Items to be assigned to individuals to bring for the group:

-tape & this picture of Benjamin Franklin shrunk to about 1.5”x1.5”

-dry beans, beads, or other items that you will have about 4 handfuls of and 2 containers such as a red bowl and a blue bowl

-props: pair of glasses [can use toy ones], sheet (to use to make a tent), stick horse, stroller or wagon, 2 foam/toy swords, & 3 sets of construction paper epaulets (optional)

-1 clothespin per child, 3 rubber bands per child, 2 hot glue guns with gluesticks for hot glue guns, & red jacket or other target

-whole wheat flour, pitcher for water, mixing bowl and spoon, baking sheet, & non-stick cooking spray

-a big bowl or a bucket to hold ice & ice (if it's not cold outside)

-1 flower per child (chrysanthemum, carnations, roses, etc.), a few sprigs of fresh herb sprigs and/or greenery (rosemary sprigs, herb sprigs, green cuttings from bushes, etc.) per child, 1 piece of yarn (each about 12”) per child, 1 paper doily per child, & 1 ribbon (each about 12”) per child

-wipes or other way to sanitize children’s hands

-1 set per child making a cartridge or just 1 set if simply demonstrating how to make one: 1/4 of a sheet of paper, 1 dowel rod (optional), 1 marble, a funnel (optional), & about 2 Tbsp. of sand

Singing the Declaration of Independence using a quill pen and homemade ink from Lesson 3: Lexington and Concord, Thomas Jefferson, and Declaration of Independence Lesson

Singing the Declaration of Independence using a quill pen and homemade ink from Lesson 3: Lexington and Concord, Thomas Jefferson, and Declaration of Independence Lesson

Make tricorn hats and mob caps, "brew" root beer with Samuel Adams, hold a tea party as you study the Boston Tea Party, reenact the Battles of Lexington and Concord, make ink and quill pens in order to sign the Declaration of Independence, cook hasty pudding, drill with Baron von Steuben as you study Valley Forge, write a secret code and seal it with wax as you study Benedict Arnold, present on the people of the American War for Independence, and more during this exciting unit study!

  • The Constitution and President George Washington Lesson - This a hands-on lesson plan on the Constitution and President George Washington. Dance a minuet, cook and eat Nelly's Hoecakes, go on a “fox hunt,” make a Constitution tree, and more! This lesson follows my 6 part unit on the American War for Independence.
  • Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Looking for all of my lessons and unit studies? Over the years I have posted over 30 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 140 lessons. For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at the above link.

Additional Helpful Activities and Ideas

Liberty's Kids: In Praise of Ben (Benjamin Franklin)

Liberty's Kids: The Hessians Are Coming (The Battle of Saratoga)

Liberty's Kids: Valley Forge

Konos Volume II

Konos Volume II

Konos Curriculum

Would you like to teach this way every day?

Konos Curriculum

I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!

Konos Home School Mentor

If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!

© 2011 Shannon

Leave Me a Note or Ask Me a Question - Was this lens helpful? Do you have any questions, comments, or additional ideas? Please post here!

Shannon (author) from Florida on August 19, 2013:

@laurenrich: You're welcome! Thank you for visiting!

laurenrich on August 19, 2013:

This is a great lens. It is very informative. Thanks for sharing.

Shannon (author) from Florida on July 03, 2013:

@blessedmomto7: You're welcome. Thank you for visiting!

blessedmomto7 on July 03, 2013:

I want to make firecakes in our homeschool this coming year. Thanks for the ideas!

HeatherTodd1 on May 13, 2011:

Nice lens,Benjamin franklin was Great

JanieceTobey on February 10, 2011:

Blessed, and featured on my lens, "The Best Homeschooling Resources and Lessons."

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