You knew I was saving the best for last. But you can’t blame me. It’s not my fault Dickens did his first U.S. public reading in December and gave me an excuse to highlight one of his many brilliant books.
That’s totally on him.
Oliver Twist wasn’t the first Dickens the boys and I read together, but it was one of the most enjoyable. Maybe because it was about a young boy and they could relate to it. Maybe because it showcases such a clear delineation between good and bad and proves that those labels have nothing to do with class.
Maybe because we did so many fun activities while we read.
Oliver Twist Activities
Like all of Dickens’ books, Twist offers up tons of educational activities. If I remember right, I had 4-6 lined up for each chapter, each teaching a different subject. Fortunately for me, it usually takes us 2 days to get through one of Dickens’ chapters, so we took our time reading the book and gleaning every bit of knowledge we could from it. Here a a few of our favorites.
Research workhouses in the 19th century.
The Angel at Islington is used as a geographical reference many times in the novel. Learn what the Angel is and the history of the spot.
Research 19th century apprenticeships. Knowing that Dickens wrote the often dark truth about such agreements, how does that color your kids’ opinions of the practice? Have them think about the differences between a good master/apprentice relationship and a bad one. If they have read other books about apprentices, such as Johnny Tremain, have them compare those stories with Oliver’s.
For a while, Oliver apprentices under Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker. Do a unit on forensic science.
Study 19th century medicine and compare it to today’s medical practices.
Oliver leaves the undertaker and follows a footpath back the way he first came to the workhouse from the farm. Using what you have learned about the town and the locations of the farm, the workhouse, and the undertaker’s shop, draw a simple map showing Oliver how to get out of town.
Look at a map of England. Knowing the distance to London from Oliver’s ‘hometown,’ and that he and Dodger arrived in London through Islington, try to guess the town in which the workhouse stood.
Find a street map of London and follow some of the paths Oliver took.
Learn about 19th century British money: pounds, shillings, pence, and crowns. What are they worth today?
Cemeteries figure prominently in Oliver Twist. Before he goes to London, Oliver works for an undertaker and helps with funerals. Some very vivid scenes are described in the book. Creating a cemetery like the one where Oliver worked will help your kids visualize the scene better. This is a project with many steps, so you can do it all in one day or over several days, depending on your schedule.
What you need:
- Lit Mama’s Oliver Twist Cemetery Tombstone Templates
- 20×30 Readi-Board foam board, cut into 2 20×15 pieces
- 50-ish Craft sticks
- Brown chenille stems (at least 15, but as many as you want)
- Craft paint in black, brown oxide, English ivy green, pewter grey, and medium grey
- Paintbrushes in various sizes
What you do:
- Lay down newspaper to protect your work surface
- Paint one entire side of one piece of Readi-Board with English Ivy Green including edges (fair warning–you will be ah-MAZed at how the Readi-Board soaks up the paint)
- Go over parts with oxide brown paint to imply dirt
- Set aside to dry
- While your cemetery ground is drying, cut your craft sticks into fence pieces
- Cut each craft stick in half, then cut off rounded ends into pointed pickets
- Paint both sides black
- Set aside to dry
- Print and cut out Templates
- Trace templates onto other half of Readi-board and cut out (create as many tombstones as you want to–we made 18 so our cemetery would look full)
- Paint tombstones grey
- Add black details to tombstones (we made it more educational by adding character’s names)
- Cut 5 chenille stems in half and line up in a group
- Starting about 1 inch from bottom, twist stems together to make tree trunk, leaving 2-3 inches at top
- Spread out bottom stems to make roots
- Twist together 2 of the 10 stems and bend ends to make them look more root-like
- Spread roots out so tree will stand up
- Repeat with tops of stems, twisting 2 together to make thick branches and bending ends to look like twigs
- Arrange branches however you want
- Put fence around outer edge of cemetery by pushing flat end of fence posts into Readi-Board about 1/4 inch in
- If they give you any trouble, add a drop of glue
- Glue trees inside fence
- Break toothpicks in half
- For each tombstone, push broken end of toothpick into foam at bottom of stone leaving point out
- Push point into cemetery ground to hold in place
How cool is that? I’m crushing hard!
If you didn’t catch the activities for January-November, check out:
- Winnie-the-Pooh’s Very Useful Pot
- Black Beauty’s Felt Childhood Meadow
- Little House on the Prairie’s Craft Stick Log Cabin
- Robinson Crusoe’s Island Journal
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s Craft Stick Characters
- The Wind in the Willows Summer/Winter Riverside Art Project
- To Kill a Mockingbird Boo Radley Knothole Tree
- Mary Poppins’ Mrs. Corry’s Gingerbread
- Lord of the Flies’ Tissue Paper Parachute
- Peter Pan’s Croc clock Paper Bag Puppet
- Treasure Island’s Treasure Map