All Aboard the Orphan Trains
Can the orphan train movement help us understand the challenges of children today?

It’s hard to describe what a traditional family looks like today. Many children find themselves in what used to be non-traditional family structures. Nearly every classroom includes children who have experienced step-parenting, adoption, or foster care. Children today must also deal with social issues like scarcity, sickness, or separation. This project allows students to examine the lives of children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They will learn that children from this era experienced some of the same hardships they or their peers have experienced. By examining the conditions of the orphan train children and their adult lives, students will learn that change can often lead to closer relationships and difficult circumstances can build strength and determination in individuals.


Students will learn about the orphan train movement of the 19th and 20th centuries and create a multi-media project to communicate their learning.

Core Understandings


  • Economic scarcity can have a dramatic impact on the lives of children.
  • Understanding how social practices began can help us to appreciate the social practices that exist today.


Learning Objectives
  • Students will research information on orphan trains and orphan train riders.
  • Students will analyze why orphan trains were started.
  • Students will create a multi-media project to communicate their learning on orphan trains and orphan train riders.
  • Students will describe how the orphan train movement was beneficial for children and how it may have been harmful to children.
Orphan trains
orphan trains
Focus Content Area:
History/Social Science

Secondary Content Area:
Grade Level: