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The Orphan Trains (image map with 3 selections)

Teacher's Guide


Subjects: social history

Thinking skills: chronological thinking, historical analysis and interpretation, historical research

Time period: 1853-1929

Photo of poster, reading "Wanted Homes for
Orphan Children" The Orphan Trains follows the story of the New York Children's Aid Society, created in 1853 to provide thousands of street children with homes in rural communities in the American midwest. This forerunner of modern foster care forever changed the lives of poor urban children--sometimes providing them with great opportunity, sometimes bringing heartbreak and disappointment.


Before Watching
1. Ask students how children are generally viewed in our culture. How has this view changed over time?

2. As students watch the program, ask them to write down Charles Loring Brace's reasons for developing the Children's Aid Society. Have them also note the strengths and weaknesses of his organization.


After Watching
1. Discuss whether or not the Children's Aid Society child placement program would be appropriate today. What must people consider when designing a foster care program? Brainstorm a list of goals for such programs.

2. Ask students if the first-hand accounts in the program affected how they viewed the whole story. Who didn't they hear from directly? If they had heard from these other people, how do they think it might have affected their view?

3. Have students research the history of foster care in the United States. Ask them to consider how changes in this system have reflected changes in society's view of children. After students finish their research, have them work in small groups to outline a successful foster care program, then present their ideas to the class.

4. Ask students to imagine life as a homeless child in the 1800s living on New York City's streets, taking an orphan train, then living with a family in rural America. Have them write a story or poem about the experience.


program transcript | web and photo credits

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