13 Living Without Lights

Competencies: Social Studies, History

History 4.2: Understands and analyzes causal factors that have shaped major events in history.

CBA: Meeting Needs and Wants


Objective: Students examine objects that were used in the past as substitutes for their modern day electric devices (washboards for washing machines, stereograph for T.V. or movies, toy bank for electronic toys, rug beater for a vacuum, curling iron without plug for modern curling irons that heat electronically, hair curlers, or perms).

Materials: washboard with handmade soap and clothespin, rug beater, curling iron, stereo viewer or toy bank, Ball-Mason jar


  1. Explain to students that everyday life was very different before people had electricity.  Students name all of the devices they use each day that require electricity.
  2. Ask students, “What would you use to get your work done and to entertain yourself if you did not have electricity to power your oven, washing machine, television, lights, hair dryer, radio, computers, etc.?”
  3. Let students brainstorm any tools or objects that they know of that pioneers used in place of our modern day appliances.  Do not discuss the items that are in the history kit.
  4. Hold up the washboard, and ask students if they can guess what it was used for.  Look for clues:
    • What is it made out of?
    • Does it have a handle or place to grasp it?
    • Do you think it was used to clean, entertain, make something else?
    • Who do you think used it?
    • What do you think it was used for?
    • What modern day convenience has replaced it?
  5. Play a detective guessing game.  Allow all reasonable guesses.  Slowly provide clues that allow the children to guess the object’s actual use.   For example, with the washboard, show the students the homemade soap that would be used with the washboard.  Tell them that the lower portion of this object was usually submerged in a pan of water when it was being used.  Show them the wooden clothespin and tell them someone would use this after they used the washboard.
  6. When students have correctly guessed what the object is, discuss how life has changed with the modern replacement.
  7. Continue the detective guessing game with each of the items.
  8. In conclusion, discuss changes in values, beliefs, and attitudes that have resulted from new technology.


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