Boxcar Children Activities

A train with boxcars.
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"The Boxcar Children," by Gertrude Chandler Warner, is a 12-part children's mystery series. The main characters, four siblings, live in an abandoned train car, navigating day-to-day challenges without parents under the not-so-close supervision of their grandfather. The books help children imagine a life without adults -- a life of adventure, making a home in a train.

1 Imagining a World Without Adults

Before reading the books, ask students to imagine what it would be like to take care of themselves with just the help of their siblings or other children. Take care to present the idea as an adventure rather than as one of missing their parents. Have students decide where they would want to live with their siblings and what they would need to take care of without adults around. For example, they should figure out how they will feed themselves and how they will get to school.

2 Choosing a Favorite Character

After reading the book, ask students which of the four characters -- Henry, Jessie, Violet or Benny -- they liked the most. Have students develop a written description of the character they have chosen by compiling a list of the character's physical attributes and scenes that highlight the character's personality. Ask students to list their character's favorites, things the character says and how the character interacts with his siblings and other people. To finish the project, ask students why the character they have chosen is their favorite.

3 Creating Fan Fiction

Once third- or fourth-grade students have finished reading one of "The Boxcar Children" books, have them use the characters to create their own stories. Ask students to think about where a modern family of children would live if they could not find an abandoned train. Then, have students figure out how the characters would find furnishings for their new home and where they would find food. Students should also consider where a responsible adult -- such as the grandfather in the Boxcar series -- who looks out for them might live and what role he would play in the story.

4 Problems of Everyday Living

In the book, the four siblings often have to create their own solutions and find utensils to cook with and ways to clean up. Ask students to think about how they might cook food safely without their parents, and how they might take a shower or bath. Have students brainstorm what they might use for plates and cups if they did not have their dishes and cutlery.

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.