Learning doesn't take vacation for kids at historical society camp
Published 12:51 pm, Friday, April 20, 2012
"Staycation" program it may have been, but kids at a Westport Historical Society school vacation activity Tuesday did everything but stay in one place.
The historical society put together an eclectic series of activities over a four-day period at its Avery Place headquarters, with a focus on what children did for fun 100 years ago.
"Our program takes an unplugged direction this week," said leader Elizabeth DeVoll. "Yesterday started with classic games like jacks, marbles and cup-and-ball. Today, we'll play hide-the-thimble while also learning from a special visitor about how people got milk delivered before Stop & Shop. Around that, we'll create folk art with milk paint, which is an old type of paint that actually contained milk."
DeVoll said the general idea was to have a visitor each day provide a locally relevant historical context for childhood before technology and to build crafts and activities around that information.
"Tomorrow, a woman whose grandmother worked in a button factory in Saugatuck will talk about what that was like," said DeVoll. "The woman was 15 when she started working there. Kids often worked in those days."
On Thursday, DeVoll planned to have classic car collector George Dragone visit with a vintage vehicle as the cap to the vacation week activities.
"Anything to get the historic education in is a good thing," said DeVoll. "We're also giving a nod to this weekend's Earth Day."
On an environmental theme, youngsters at the workshop began the session making butterflies out of paper and pipe cleaners. Then they all gathered to watch as historical researcher Aaron Wakeley was examining a piano dating to the 1860s. Children had a peak inside and Wakeley showed them an old song book.
From there, it was out to the porch to hear from local historian Barbara Van Orden, who showed the children a milk box and milk bottle. "A long time ago when I was your age, we'd put this box on the porch and the milkman would bring us bottles of milk," she told the youngsters. "We were outside playing one day and heard the milk wagon, pulled by a horse. They had to go down a hill and the wagon went faster than the horse and came down on the horse. The horse was OK, but can you imagine?"
A game of Red Light/Green Light and a pretzel snack followed on the daffodil-dotted lawn, before the pack headed to the property's Bradley-Wheeler cobblestone barn. There, the children looked at a model of the town at the turn of the century, a model railroad in the loft area and the root cellar.
Standing at the door to the root cellar, DeVoll explained, "People didn't have refrigerators back then, so they stored food here. You'd also go in there if there was a bad storm."
Seven-year-old Abbie Millman found all of this fascinating. "I like to learn about history in a fun way," she said. "They don't just say what happened back then. They have things to show us and stuff for us to do, so it's exciting."
Mike Lauterborn is a freelance writer.