Bartering Through the Seasons
Students investigate the seasons, explore the process of wool production, and discover how trade and barter have historically allowed people to satisfy their needs and wants. Grades 3-5
- A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert (used in all activities)
Activity 1: Bartering/Economics
Activity 2: Seasons/Weather/Change Over Time
- Copies of My Seasons Book, 1 per student (print back-to-back, flipped on short edge)
- Seasons Book Map, 1 per student
- Wool Production Pictures (optional; print 1 for every 2 students)
- Seasons Book Cutouts (optional; 1 per student)
- Construction paper: red, yellow, orange, and green (optional)
- Glue and scissors
Activity 3: Wool Production/Processing
barter: to exchange things (such as products or services) for other things instead of money
domesticate: to breed a population of animals or plants to serve the purposes of human beings and to need and accept human care
free market economy: an economic system where the government does not interfere in business activity
good: a physical item that can be held in the hand (e.g., toys, food, electronics)
monetary system: the system used by a country to provide money and to control the exchange of money
money: something (such as bills or coins) used as a way to pay for goods and services and to pay people for their work
selective breeding: process by which humans control the breeding of plants or animals in order to exhibit or eliminate a particular characteristic
service: transaction in which no physical goods are transferred from the seller to the buyer; non-physical, intangible parts of an economy
supply and demand: the amount of goods and services that are available for people to buy compared to the amount of goods and services that people want to buy
Did You Know?
- Wool is naturally fire resistant.1
- Lanolin is an oil that comes from wool. It is used to make wax, lotions, and ointments.1
- Wool fabrics provide natural UV protection from the sun.2
Background Agricultural Connections
In A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert, Anna needs a new coat, but her mother has no money, and the stores are empty. The story takes place in the hard times following World War II. Without a functioning monetary system, people have to barter, directly exchanging goods or services without the use of money. Anna’s mother decides to trade the few valuables she has left for the services of a sheep farmer, a spinner, a weaver, and a tailor to produce the new coat. Today, people still barter throughout the world.
In the creation of Anna’s new coat, the production time required to go from fiber to fabric is much longer than that of today. The changing seasons in the book show the passage of time and help the reader understand how long it took to produce just one new, red coat. The story also illustrates the seasonal nature of agricultural production. When Anna and her mother ask to make a trade with the sheep farmer for wool, he tells them they must wait until spring when he can shear the sheep’s winter wool. Spring is the season for shearing sheep, and summer is the season when berries ripen. Although agricultural products may be stored for use in other seasons, they often only have one season for harvest.
Wool, like that used in Anna’s coat, is one of our oldest and most versatile fibers. Wool was used long before World War II, but before it could become a viable fabric, sheep had to be domesticated. Early in the domestication process, it was noticed that the wool on the underside of the sheep was the least brittle and easiest to prepare and spin into fiber. People began selectively breeding the sheep that had the best wool, and after thousands of years, sheep began to produce the kind of wool that we know today. Wool is a durable fabric that keeps the wearer cool in the heat of day and warm in the cold of the night, and it absorbs moisture without feeling wet. Wool textiles are used in a variety of apparel, both lightweight and heavy. Fabrics like chenille, felt, flannel, gabardine, serge, and tweed can be made from wool. Australia, China, and New Zealand produce most of the world’s wool.
Producing wool includes four major steps. The first step is the shearing of the sheep, which usually occurs once a year in the spring or early summer. In large-scale production, the wool is then graded and sorted, separating the best wool from that of lesser quality. The second major step consists of cleaning and carding. Carding is the process of passing the wool through rollers with small, thin, wire teeth that straighten the fibers so they can be spun into yarn. Third, the carded wool is spun into yarn. Wool has microscopic scales on the fibers that interlock as they are spun, helping to make the yarn strong. The yarn is then woven or knitted into the clothing we wear—the fourth major step. However, most people do not want to wear clothing that is all the same color. So, after the wool is washed, it is often dyed. Wool is very porous so when the fiber is dyed, the dye penetrates completely and doesn’t fade. This is the origin behind the phrase “dyed in the wool.”
As your students read A New Coat for Anna, have them discuss bartering, seasons, and the production, processing, spinning, and dying of wool. This discussion will help build understanding of a free market economy, the concept of supply and demand, the effect seasons have on agriculture and our lives, and the importance of wool in both historical and modern constructs.
- Prior to starting the activities, provide an opportunity for all students to view the opening picture page (war-torn village) in the book A New Coat for Anna. Other post-war pictures can be shown to the students. Explain to the students that during post-war times, some people had to rebuild their communities and homes that were destroyed during the war.
- Explain that A New Coat for Anna is based on a true story and takes place several decades ago. Read the story, and then further the discussion with the following questions:
- Do you think farmers still shear sheep the same way today?
- Do you think that wool spinners still spin wool the same way today?
- What people were needed to make the new coat? Can you name them and the goods or services they provided?
- How long did it take for all the items to be collected before the coat could be made?
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Bartering/Economics
- Discuss with the students what the word barter means. Bartering is the direct trading of goods, services, and resources without using money. Remind the students that they barter for items all the time—think of candy on Halloween or trading movies and music with friends. Bartering can be a way of getting what we want, but it can also be inefficient. A successful barter occurs when both parties receive what they want. However, an exact match of wants does not always happen in a bartering situation. Bartering is complicated when the value of the goods, services, or resources being traded does not match. Establishing a measurement of value is the difficult part when it comes to a successful barter.
- After reading A New Coat for Anna, create a flow chart to discuss the bartering that Anna’s mother did to get Anna’s coat made. See Flow Chart Facts for Kids for information about flow charts and how to make them.
- Discuss the first trade and to whom it was made, the second trade, the third trade, and the last trade. Ask the students if they feel the trades were successful and both parties received what they wanted.
- Divide students into groups of five and provide each group with a set of Have/Want Cards. Have the groups pass out one Have Card and one Want Card to every member in their group. Ask the students to barter with the others in their group to see if they can accomplish a successful trade.
- Create a problem/solution chart with the class to describe some of the problems they experienced in the bartering activity and possible solutions (e.g., nobody wanted what I had to trade; the person who had what I wanted did not want what I had to offer). See Problem-Solution Chart for information about problem-solution charts and how to make them.
- Explain to the students that as economic systems developed throughout history, the need for a more efficient way to exchange goods, services, and resources grew. Ask the students what system began to replace the barter system. Discuss the concept of a medium of exchange, and ask students what medium we use today to exchange goods, services, or resources.
Activity 2: Seasons/Weather/Change Over Time
- Read A New Coat for Anna, and discuss how the changing seasons influence some of the events in the book and affect the people, plants, and animals. For example, you may discuss what happens to the sheep, the weather, and the plants, or the experience of the seasons for Anna and her mother.
- Review the order of events in the story and have the students fill out the Seasons Book Map with the students.
- Pass out one copy of the My Seasons Book to each student along with the optional Seasons Book Cutouts, Wool Production Pictures, and colored construction paper. The book includes sections for winter, spring, summer, and fall.
- Under each heading, have students draw, write, or use the included pictures to show the wool production steps needed to make Anna’s coat. The trades and seasons in the story can help you remember the steps: 1) traded a gold watch for the wool in spring; 2) traded a lamp for the spinning of the yarn and picked berries to color the yarn red in summer; 3) traded a garnet necklace for the weaving of the cloth in the fall; and 4) traded a teapot to the tailor for the sewing of the coat in early winter. On the side of each season page where the tree trunk is, students can write, draw, or use the Seasons Book Cutouts pictures and construction paper to show what is happening during each season with the weather, people, plants, and animals.
Activity 3: Wool Production/Processing
- Read the book, A New Coat for Anna, and discuss the steps that were necessary to produce Anna’s new coat.
- Use a T-chart to discuss how the process of making Anna’s new coat compares to the process and time involved in producing a new coat today. On one side of the T-chart, write Long Ago, and on the other side write Today.
- With the students, go through the procedures for making a coat. First, list all of the steps that Anna and her mother went through to get her coat made.
- Next, use websites and other resources to learn about how sheep are sheared; how wool is graded, sorted, and carded; and the spinning, weaving, and dyeing of wool. List on the Today side of the T-chart the newer processes used to make a coat. You could also discuss with your students how some people may still use the steps shown in the book, A New Coat for Anna, to create a coat (in some places people may not have access to modern equipment and some artisans still use these techniques to preserve tradition and create unique products).
- Consider ordering the Wool Spinning Kit for a hands-on wool spinning activity.
Watch the 26-minute America's Heartland episode, Wild and Wooly Roundup to learn more about sheep, shearing, and wool.
Watch Wool Ewe Keep Me Warm? This is a 27-minute video geared toward children to teach about sheep and wool.
Visit the Interactive Map Project website and view the map representing Sheep Production in the United States. Identify some of the states who raise the most sheep, then find where your state ranks for sheep production.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Supply and demand principles apply to the production and purchase costs of goods produced on a farm.
- Sheep are raised for meat and wool. Wool is used to make clothing such as sweaters, coats, and socks.
- Methods of manufacturing a wool coat have changed over the years.
Recommended Companion Resources
- Hands-On With Wool
- A New Coat for Anna
- A Year on the Farm: with Casey & Friends
- A Young Shepherd
- Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs
- Charlie Needs a Cloak
- Farm Animals: Sheep
- From Sheep to Sweater
- Growing Seasons
- Homespun Sarah
- I Can Read About Seasons
- If You Want to Knit Some Mittens
- Sheep on the Farm
- Sleep Tight Farm
- The Shepherd's Trail
- The Surprise
- Unraveling Fibers
- Warm as Wool
- Weaving the Rainbow
- Where Did My Clothes Come From?
- Wild Rose's Weaving
- Wool Samples
- Wool Spinning Kit
- America's Heartland: Bachelor Sheep Ranch
- America's Heartland: Wild & Wooly Roundup
- From Fiber to Fabric... Wool's a Natural
- How It's Made: Wool
- Wool Ewe Keep Me Warm? Video
- Sheep 101
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