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This unit study includes lessons and activities based on the book Marta and the Manger Straw by Virginia Kroll.

In World War II Poland, a young girl receives straw at the Christmas Eve service to bring to her impoverished family. But on her way home, Marta meets others who are much poorer than she, and she shares her piece until there is nothing left. In spite of the lack of straw–though perhaps because of her generous heart—Marta finds riches she never expected in this tender tale of Christmas giving. 

from Marta and the Manger Straw summary at

This story of giving is the base for lessons on Poland, Christmas traditions, stray animals, WWII, fire, rhyme, onomatopoeia, fractions, and more! Grab our Marta and the Manger Straw unit study for a learning-filled adventure with your student.

Thanks to Wende for preparing this Marta and the Manger Straw unit study.

Marta and the Manger Straw Unit Study Lessons

Here is a sample of the lessons found in this Marta and the Manger Straw unit study:

Social Studies

Locate Poland on a world map. Poland is a country located on the continent of Europe. The capital is Warsaw. Most of the land is low lying, except for the mountains, which form Poland’s border with Czechoslovakia. Poland is mainly an agricultural country, with its main crops being rye, wheat, potatoes, and sugar beets, most of which is grown on state owned farmlands. Poland also has many coal mines and a large shipbuilding industry. People in Poland speak Polish, and the currency is the zloty.

Christmas Traditions in Poland – Read the Author’s Notes in the beginning of the story. For the people of Poland, the Christmas dinner begins when the first star appears in the sky on December 24th, after Fast Day. Straw is placed under the table, dishes, and tablecloth. One chair is left empty for the Holy Child. A Peace Wafer, given to the head of the household by the priest, is then broken and shared with the guests. While the wafer is being eaten, wishes for the coming year are exchanged. During the Christmas season, puppet shows called “schopka” are given depicting the Herod’s murder of Innocents. A Polish Christmas centers on the songs, which are a combination of the religious and secular sentiments of people, sung in memory of the Savior’s birth. 


This story is about the Polish Christmas traditions involving straw. Poland is an agricultural country that grows a lot of rye and wheat. Rye and wheat are cereal grasses that are cultivated and used to make flour, and for animal food. First, a reaper cuts down the stalks. A threshing machine is used to remove the grain from the cut grasses, and all the stems and stalks that are left after threshing are called straw. This straw is used in making hats, baskets, placemats, carpets, etc. It is also used for animal bedding. As interest warrants, research Cyrus McCormick and his reaping machine. His inventions during the 1800’s led to the modern day combines that can harvest, thresh and clean a field of wheat or rye in record time. 

Language Arts

Capitalization Rules
As this book contains many proper nouns, it provides a good opportunity to introduce/review some of the rules of capitalization.

Capitalize the first word in every sentence, and the first word in a direct quotation.

Capitalize nouns or pronouns that refer to the Supreme Being. Examples include God, and Jesus.

Capitalize both the first and last names of people and pets, as well as titles when they are a part of the name. Examples include Marta, Pastor Walter, Babcia, Mrs. Wolska, Mamusia, etc.

Capitalize all days of the week, months, and holidays. Examples include ChristmasMerry Christmas,

Capitalize geographical names, such as Poland or Polish.

Have your child write a good sentence, in his best handwriting, using at least three capitalized proper nouns.

To access all of the lessons in this unit study, grab an easy-to-print file at the end of this post.

How to Get Started with the Marta and Manger Straw Unit Study

Follow these simple instructions to get started with the Marta and the Manger Straw unit study:

  1. Buy a copy of the book, Marta and the Manger Straw, or borrow (or interlibrary loan) one from your local library. This book is hard to find, but it is available for Kindle.
  2. Print the Marta and the Manger Straw unit study.
  3. Choose the lessons you want to use with your student (a highlighter works great for this).
  4. Enjoy a week of book-based learning with your student.

Download Your Marta and the Manger Straw Unit Study

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Marta and the Manger Straw Unit Study

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