Johnny Appleseed Background Information for Teachers and Parents
This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Johnny Appleseed, historical figures and tall tales. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Johnny Appleseed. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.
Johnny Appleseed is a historical figure and the subject of many tall tales. Help your children distinguish between fact and fiction surrounding his life. This is a great opportunity for children to learn about tall tales and how they can take on a life of their own to grow and change until they are far from the truth.
Johnny Appleseed was born John Chapman in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. When he was older, Johnny worked at an orchard, where he learned how to grow apple trees. Review with your children that an orchard is a place where fruit or nut trees are grown. Then, at eighteen years old, Johnny began to travel around the country. He began apple tree nurseries in several places. Remind your children that a nursery is a safe place to grow and raise young plants or animals. Johnny sold his apples, which were often used to make cider, as well as apple tree saplings and seeds. People gave him the nickname Johnny Appleseed. He often bartered, or traded, his plants for items he needed such as food and clothing. More often than not, he gave away his plants or sold his plants on credit, but rarely collected payment.
Johnny Appleseed believed that all living things should be treated with respect. He treated Native Americans with respect during a time when most settlers mistreated them. He also cared about animals and was a vegetarian. There are stories about him buying old horses and saving them from being put down by their owners. He allegedly put the horses out to pasture and let them live out their days in peace. There is also a story about how he put out his campfire because the smoke and flames harmed insects.
Johnny Appleseed believed that people should only get use what they really need. He often wore old clothes, preferring to barter newer clothes instead, and he often went barefoot in the summer to save shoe leather. He was a wanderer, and moved from place to place, living a minimalist life. Above all, Johnny Appleseed believed people should live peaceful and simple lives.
Brainstorm different stories heard about Johnny Appleseed. Some stories describe him as wearing a burlap sack with holes cut out for his head and arms, and wearing a pot on his head as a hat. It is unlikely that he wore a pot on his head–he probably carried his pot. Another story maintains that a snake tried to bite him on the foot, but failed because his skin was so tough. Other stories describe his love for animals and how he kept a wolf as a pet or played with a family of bears. Help your children realize that some stories are not true, but rather tall tales. Review with your children that a tall tale is a story that is told as being true, but it is exaggerated and hard to believe. It is possible that Johnny Appleseed saved a wolf from a trap, but it is highly unlikely he kept the wolf as a pet. As people recount stories, they might add their own details or exaggerate them to push the stories beyond the truth. Share some other tall tales with your children.
Help your children realize that Johnny Appleseed was an important figure because he helped spread apple trees around the country. He often talked to people and encouraged them to respect all living things. He warned against excess and encouraged people to live close to nature. We can all take a lesson from his life.