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Louisiana Unit Study

Louisiana Unit Study

Prepared by Rachel Harris

Books Used:

Bayou Lullaby by Kathi Appelt

Today is Monday in Louisiana by Johnette Downing

Feliciana Feydra LeRoux: A Cajun Tall Tale by Tynia Thomassie

Chicken Joy on Redbean Road: A Bayou Country Romp by Jacqueline Briggs Martin



Social Studies


Family Relationships
Louisiana is rich in heritage, culture, family and traditions.  Many people who live in Louisiana never leave, resulting in very close bonds between second, third, and even fourth cousins. 


What is a cousin?  This can be a complicated system with degrees and removes.  However, to keep it basic for your student you can explain it like this:  if you share a grandparent with a person, they are your first cousin, and if you share a great-grandparent, they are your second cousin.  The child of your first cousin is your first cousin once removed because there is a generation between you. 


Have your student help you draw a large tree on poster board with many branches.  Use this to display your own family tree.  Discuss with your children the different members of each side of your family and write their names on the tree.  It would also be fun to put pictures next to their name, especially for young pre-readers. 


Cajun People
Cajuns came from Acadia in Canada (this area now consists of parts of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island).  They were evicted from their homes between 1755-1763 (during the French and Indian War). While the large majority live in Louisiana, there are several pockets of Cajuns in Texas and Florida.  Most Cajuns are Catholic.  While many Cajuns speak English, many speak Cajun French and some speak their own blend between the two! 


If your child is interested, look at present day Canada and locate the regions that are now New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  Use your finger to trace the water route the Cajuns would have had to take to get to Louisiana.  It was a very long boat trip! 


Culture:  Food
Cajun food is an eclectic mixture of the best from Creole, African, and French foods.  Today is Monday in Louisiana does a very good job of listing the most popular Cajun menu items, including:

Red Beans – An old custom that is still heavily practiced is to serve red beans and rice every Monday.  The custom originated with Monday being wash day, and a pot of beans could sit on the stove and simmer all day while the women were cleaning the clothes.  I grew up having this as a meal every Monday in my own family; this custom served as a very nice family tradition and memory.  Does your family have a special day (such as Friday) designated for a special food (such as pizza?).   Try to implement this kind of tradition in your own household.

PoBoys – This would be similar to what people from the North call submarine sandwiches.  These sandwiches can come anyway you can imagine with the most popular choices being fried seafood (shrimp or oyster) and served on French bread (thick and crunchy crust with soft and airy center).   These come “dressed,” which is lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.  The origin of the name has many possibilities, but it is widely accepted that it is derived from “poor boy” sandwich, and many New Orleanians believe that it is because these were very filling sandwiches that were inexpensive, thus a great meal option for a “poor boy.”

Gumbo – This is between a stew and a soup.  It consists of a stock, meat or seafood (commonly both!) and the “holy trinity” (Catholic roots) of vegetables – celery, bell peppers, and onion.  Traditionally served over rice, but make sure there is a lot more gumbo then there is rice (this is not rice and gravy!)

Beignets – (Ben-yay!) This is a very popular breakfast or really anytime snack in New Orleans.  It is a French Doughnut that is deep fried and covered in powdered (confectioner’s) sugar.  These are very yummy, but two warnings: do not wear black while eating (you will end up looking like a zebra or cow with the dust of white covering you) and do not inhale near the doughnuts of the sugar will go up your nose!  While there are many 24 hour coffee shops that serve these, the most popular choice is Café’ Du Monde in the French Quarter.

Catfish – This was used for the Friday option due to the very common tradition in New Orleans to only eat seafood on Fridays.  As previously mentioned, the area is very populated by Cajuns, who are almost all Roman Catholics.  While hardly anyone eats meat on Fridays during Lent, it is very common to go all year not eating meat on Fridays.  This is not a hardship, however, as the area is a huge seafood market, and most Fridays you will find large groups of people having crawfish boils, a fish fry, or some other seafood event.

Crawfish – these crustaceans are called “crayfish,” “mudbugs” and “crawdads,” but a true Nawlins (New Orleans) native will only spell it “Crawfish.”  They resemble small lobsters and are closely related to them.  They are boiled in a large pot with heavy seasoning (cayenne pepper, salt, lemon, garlic, bay leaves, and other choices on personal taste) and are normally always boiled with red potatoes, corn, sausage and large cloves of garlic.  While you can certainly purchase these at restaurants, the real fun is boiling it at home with a large crowd of friends and family.

Jambalaya – Creole dish made in one pot with meat (common choices are ham, sausage, chicken or shrimp) and vegetables, stock and rice.  While there are many recipes, many Cajuns also use the boxed version ( Zatarains).  This would be a great option for your family if you are interested in trying a taste of New Orleans (just add cut up ham or hot sausage!)

King Cake.- While this was not included in the book, King Cake is a very popular New Orleans food choice.  This is eaten throughout the Carnival season of Mardi Gras which usually lasts for several weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.  It is a ring of twisted bread, somewhat resembling in taste to a cinnamon roll, topped with icing or sugar (the best ones have both!), and the sugar is the colors of the season – purple, green and gold.  You can get them “filled” or plain.  They all come with a small plastic baby hidden inside.  The person who gets the piece with the baby inside is said to have to buy the next one (and commonly, throw another party to go with it)!

Muffaletta – A very popular sandwich of choice in New Orleans, served on Italian bread loaf and made with ham, salami, provolone cheese and garnished with olive relish.

While doing this unit, why not try out some of these dishes?  Look up recipes or even buy the ready made versions of Zatarains dishes that are now becoming very popular is most grocery stores. 

Culture:  Traditions
Louisianians do not need an excuse for a party!  Parties are a common occurrence, and almost all center around food of some sort!  The guest list always includes a large amount of family (again, second, third and fourth cousins are common) and lots of friends and neighbors gathering.  Common parties include: Crawfish boil, Crab boil, Fish Fry, and King Cake parties for Mardi Gras.  Another Cajun party would be a Fais Do-Do.  A Fais Do-Do is a Cajun dance party! Filled with great food, great Cajun Music, and lots of Cajun dancing, these parties are not to be missed! 


Activity – why not look up some online samples of Cajun music, try a few of the dishes listed above and have your own Fais Do-Do?!


In Chicken Joy, Miss Cleoma goes to find the “finest fiddler in St. Cecilia Parish.”  Louisiana does not have “counties” like most other states in America.  Instead, Louisiana consists of 64 parishes which were created when it was still a territory of the Spanish and French empires, both of which were Roman Catholic.  In the Catholic religion, churches are considered to be “parishes.”


A few interesting things to note that are unique to Louisiana
What most other cities call “Medians,” New Orleans natives call “Neutral Ground"
What most other cities call an “inspection sticker,” New Orleans natives call a “brake tag”
What most other cities call a “snow cone,” New Orleans natives call a “snowball”   


Located in the southern region of the United States, it is shaped like a “boot” and is in the middle of Texas and Mississippi.  The Capital of Louisiana is Baton Rouge and the largest city is New Orleans.  It is the only state divided into parishes.  New Orleans is actually 8 feet below sea level!  It was named after King Louis XIV of France.   Look at a map and have your student find the state that looks like a giant boot!


Language Arts

Author Study
Jacqueline Briggs Martin, the author of Chicken Joy on Redbean Road: A Bayou Country Romp, also wrote Snowflake Bentley and The Finest Horse in Town (both FIAR selections!).   Have you read these books with your child?  If so, can they find any similarities in style?  What differences are there? 



Pirogue- a small flat bottomed boat, light an small enough easily taken onto land and easy to navigate through very shallow water

Swamp – A wetland featuring large areas of land with shallow bodies of water.  Can be fresh water or salt water. 

Bayou – small, slow moving stream or creek that lies in an abandoned channel of a stream.  Usually located in flat, low lying areas.  Home of crawfish, shrimp, other shellfish and catfish!

Mardi Gras – French for “Fat Tuesday.” Day before Ash Wednesday in the Roman Catholic Calendar, it is the final day of the Carnival season.  Ash Wednesday is typically one of fasting in the Catholic faith, as is the entire Lenten season, so many New Orleans natives use this day as a “last chance” to eat all the really fattening food they won’t be able to for another 40+ days.


Traditionally, this is the formation of a new word from one or more individual words. The term contraction is also used to define the shortening of a word, syllable or word groups by omitting one or more of the letters.  An example of this would be the sandwich “Po’Boy.”  This is a contraction of the two words, Poor and Boy.


Compound Words
 A compound word is made when two words are joined to form a new word.  In Bayou Lullaby, a memorable character is the Bullfog.  Can your child think of any other compound words?


List Making
This is a fun activity.  Read from Today is Monday in Louisiana and have your child make a list (verbal or written) of the different menu items each day!  If you decide to try one of these dishes at home, have them help you make a list of the ingredients you need for your shopping list!


French Words

Cajun French is full of French words and sayings that make their way into everyday language!  It is very common to hear the following three words and expressions used in everyday conversations around New Orleans:

-          Laissez le bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll!

-          Beaucoup – (one of my personal favorites) An abundance or a lot.

-          Lagniappe – traditionally means an extra or unexpected gift of benefit.  New Orleans natives also often use it to mean “free.”


Bayou Lullaby is a very nice bedtime rhyming story.  A rhyme is a repetition of the same or similar sounds in two or more different words.  Read this story with your child and then have fun create your own rhyming story!  You can do this several ways.  An older student can create their own story, possibly loosely based on Bayou Lullaby and making it fit his own geographical region.  Younger students can create one with your assistance, perhaps with you starting and having them come up with a sentence to match.  This could make for a funny memory, and one that might make for a good book!  For even younger students, perhaps you can write the story, leaving out the last word that needs to be rhymed in each sentence.  Have them choose a word either from a suggested list given by you or come up with their own!


Similes and Metaphors

 A simile is a comparison between two things, usually with the words “as” or “like.”  An example would be from Feliciana Feydra LeRoux: A Cajun Tall Tale--  “She sat perched alert AS an owl.” 

A metaphor compares to items directly.  An example would be from Chicken Joy on Redbean Road: A Bayou Country Romp-- Music was quilt and pillow to that boy.”  In the second example, there was no need for the words “like” or “as,” the music simply was a quilt and pillow.


Tall Tale – Feliciana Feydra LeRoux

What is a tall tale?  This type of story telling was very popular in the early 1800s.  Characters in these stories are “larger-than-life” and the stories are embellished with many exaggerations, metaphors, similes and vivid descriptions.  Some of the more popular tall tales appear to be based on real people, but the events and even the characters in the stories have since been exaggerated beyond the realm of possibility.  Examples are Paul Bunyan (chopped down a whole forest with one strike of his ax), and Pecos Bill (cowboy who wrestled a tornado). 


The following characteristics are required for a Tall Tale:

-          The story has many exaggerations in it.

-          The main character has a problem to solve

-          The main character is bigger than life and has super-human abilities

-          The plot of the story is funny and impossible

-          In the end, the main character solves a problem, overcomes an obstacle and/or defeats a “bad guy.”

-          The story includes lots of action.


Using the above list, and using Feliciana Feydra LeRoux as an example, create your own tall tale with your child.  Use a story from your own childhood or your child’s experiences and add lots of exaggerations, wild events and outlandish possibilities. . . have fun!


In Today is Monday, the author uses a popular refrain “All you lucky children, come and eat it Up, Come and eat it up!”  This brings continuity to the story and by the end (or even middle!) of the story, your child will be able to sing along!  What other stories can your child think of that uses repetition?  Bring out some of your child’s favorite picture books and stories that use repetition and add this as a choice into your notebook for “Choices an Author can make” if you are keeping one.


Art & Music

Cajun Music
Cajun music has many influences.  Early music was originated in France and was influenced by the French people's experiences with British settlers and Native Americans when they first migrated to Louisiana in the mid 1700s.  The earliest songs would be sung either with a fiddle for accompaniment, or a cappela with clapping and stomping providing the rhythm for dancing.  In the 19th century, Cajun music was additionally influenced by African rhythms and blues, as well as a few ballads from Anglo-American sources. 


Zydeco is considered Creole music.  Creoles are “people of mixed French, African, Spanish and Native American ancestry, most of who reside in or have familial ties to Louisiana.”  “Creole” usually describes music that is performed in the Creole language with a fiddle as accompaniment.  A popular example of Zydeco would be Rockin’ Sidney Semien’s “My Toot Toot,” that won a Grammy in 1984 and sold over a milLion copies. 


Swamp Pop—In the 1950s, with the popularity of Rock and Roll, Louisiana musicians began to use the influence of popular music and incorporating it into Cajun music.  The result became what we call “Swamp Pop” today.  This new style is a unique blend of Cajun music, rock and roll, blues and country music.


In 2008, the Grammy Association added a new category for the Best Zydeco or Cajun Album!  The first winners of this award were Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience. 


Jazz – New Orleans had a major influence on the creation of early Jazz music.  From the many clubs in the area to the extravagant jazz funerals in the French Quarter, Jazz has a very rich history in New Orleans. The first jazz arrangement “Jelly Roll Blues,” was printed in 1915 by Jelly Roll Morton, who began his career in New Orleans.  Louis Armstrong is probably New Orleans’ best known jazz trumpeter and singer.  Armstrong was a major influence on jazz and music today.  His version of “What a Wonderful World” from 1967 can still be heard at most weddings, at least in the New Orleans area.


Common Instruments
Accordion – a “hand-held bellows-driven free reed aerophone” instrument.  It is played by compressing or expanding its bellows, while pressing buttons or keys to allow air to flow across reeds, thereby producing sound. 

Fiddle – according to wikipedia, the term fiddle refers to a violin.  Fiddle playing is a style of music.  Any violin may be informally called a fiddle!  The different term refers to the style – classical music would be a violin, folk music would be commonly called a fiddle. 

Spoons – another fun and common Cajun instrument, the sound is made by holding two spoons together and beating them on your leg in a rhythmic pattern. 

Washboard and thimble—Commonly used to hand wash clothing in early 20th century, this quickly became a common sound in Cajun music.  It is a rectangular wooden frame with ridges for rubbing clothing, and later thimbles for producing music.  Once made of wood, the ridges changed to metal and then galvanized steel by the early 21st century.     


Today is Monday is full of yummy drawings and pictures of the food listed in the story.  Have your child draw pictures of their favorite foods!  If you choose to make up your own “Today is” song with your child (see below), you can use these drawings as your illustrations and have a very fun--and easy--book of your own!


Write Your Own Song
In Today is Monday, the book is a song listing the favorite and most common foods eaten, listed by day of the week.  Try writing your own “Today is” song with your child.  If you have a menu that is repeated frequently, you can use that or make a song listing all of your child’s favorite foods. 

Go-along book
Today is Monday by Eric Carle
Battle song of New Orleans – This is a fun way to learn American and Louisiana history, via song!




Calendar/ Days of the Week

Today is Monday in Louisiana is a wonderful jumping off point for you to discuss the Days of the Week with your child.  Calendar skills is a common inclusion in early math programs.  Take out a calendar or draw your own and point to the days of the week while reading the story aloud.  If your younger child still needs help remembering the days of the week, another great choice would be to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Measurement- Distance
Have an older student determine the distance between his home and Louisiana.



Animals in Louisiana

~a small mammal known for his bony armor shell
~armadillo is Spanish for “little armored one.” 
~great diggers with sharp claws
~live in self made burrows in moist soil near water
~mostly eats insects
~have poor vision but are not blind
~can remain underwater for as long as six minutes.

~insect with scaled wings, slender body and long legs
~can fly for 1-4 continuous hours
~most are nocturnal and rest in cool places in the heat of the day

~mollusk living in marine habitat
~shell consists of two valves surrounding a soft body
~several different types of oysters, with some that are widely eaten and others, like the pearl oysters, which are not widely eaten but do make beautiful gem quality pearls!
~all oysters can make “pearls,”  but the ones that form in edible oysters are unattractive. 

Crocodiles and alligators are not the same animal; they are from different families of crocodilians.  Crocodiles have very long narrow V-shaped snouts while alligators snouts are wider and U-shaped.  Crocodiles have a lighter olive brown color, while alligators appear blackish.  Crocodiles tend to live in freshwater habitats like rivers, lakes, and wetlands; they eat mostly vertebrates like fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.  The crocodile's streamlined body enables them to swim swiftly along with their webbed feet.  Crocodiles have sharp claws and powerful jaws-- the strongest bite of any animal!  The largest crocodiles can reach over 16 ft long and weigh over 2,600 pounds!  Alligators grow to an average length of 13 feet and weight of 800 pounds.  Alligators live in freshwater areas like ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes and swamps. 


Character Study

Obedience and Rules
Feliciana’s grandfather refuses to allow her to go alligator hunting with him, yet she chooses to sneak out anyway.  This is a great opportunity to talk about character, obedience and the reason for rules with your child.  Ask them the following questions and really listen to their response.  Enter into an easy, but very important, discussion with your child:

Why do you think her grandfather refused to let Feliciana go with them? 

Do you think he wanted her to miss out on the fun, was that why?

What should Feliciana have done?

Even though it turned out alright in the end, do you think it was right for her to sneak out?

What could have happened?

Why do you think parents and grandparents come up with rules? 

What are some rules that Mommy and Daddy have for you?

Why do you think we have those rules?