Follow the Drinking Gourd {FIAR}

My older three have been deep in study learning about slavery and its abolition.  I thought it might be quite nice to teach one topic all together so chose a couple of the Five in a Row picture books which have the theme of slavery running through them: Follow the Drinking Gourd and Who Owns the Sun?  We will be following the FIAR suggestions for each study, but in addition to those I will be focusing our studies on one specific aspect of slavery.  For Who Owns the Sun? we studied Harriet Tubman in depth and looked at her role in helping slaves escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad.  Our Follow the Drinking Gourd study will look into the very same Underground Railroad in a little more detail.

We read the following books.  I read them aloud to B5 during some snuggling time, whilst A8 read them to herself in her newly instituted quiet time:

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We completed the FIAR Fold ‘n’ Learn on Black American History:


We also did this very comprehensive activity book (free to download, with a heap of activities and a certificate to give to your students on completion).  capture

The 22 pages took a lot longer than I had anticipated so I needed to cut out the cross word puzzle and the word search, but A8 completed everything else.  Even though this was effectively a workbook (which I usually am not too keen on), the content was really interesting and the activities very varied.  We learnt about the underground railway; the people who used it; the brave souls who ran it; what a slave might pack to run away; the best places to hide along the way and which states were free states and which were slave states.

I really recommend this as a learning tool because it most definitely isn’t just mindless filling in the blanks.  The children really had to think and put themselves in the place of a slave and imagine how life would be, how they would feel and the decisions they needed to make.

We listened to many versions of the Follow the Drinking Gourd song being sung, as well as lots of YouTube versions of the song (particularly interesting because of the pictures which accompanied the song:

And we even found one with actions for a bit of impromptu exercise, which A8 loved!

We explored the meaning of the words of the song, its origins and much much more on a website devoted to the song of the same name: Follow the Drinking Gourd

We completed the following booklet about Follow the Drinking Gourd, focusing on the Underground Railway:


As well as book learning we squeezed in a few activities also:

  • The girls played make believe, pretending to be slaves escaping using the underground railroad.  We made some lanterns to light the way, using tin cans which I had asked Gary to punch holes in it, adding a handle and a candle.  We also used them to light up a ‘safe’ house as our little slaves attempted to run away north to safety  🙂


  • The girls packed a croker sack (a long stick with a bandanna tied on the end carrying supplies they might need on the way)  The girls chose to pack some bread, a tin can for water, a bible, a cuddly toy (very essential when you are five and eight), a quilt, a lantern and some spare candles:





  • Using the croker sacks and the lanterns, we waited until dark and then attempted to reach Canada.  I had them run and hide in each room and the older ones had ten seconds to find them.  If by the end they had managed to go undetected in each room they would be officially freed (wo)men:slaves-5On the serious mission of seeking freedom from their slave masters (us):slaves-6

I had planned enough for weeks of study but really wanted to get it all fitted in to just one, and I was bowled over we managed to do it!  It was a crazy busy week but a lot of fun and I think even the little ones went away having a greater appreciation of the atrocities of slavery.

Linking up with Kris


  1. This brings back memories of when my Katie performed the song in the back of the Follow the Drinking Gourd book on piano at a talent show.

  2. Love all the costumes! Learning comes alive 🙂 Who Owns the Sun? made me cry. Such a sensitive topic.

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