Students explore colonial times through hands-on tasks

sbarr@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

— Elementary school students last week faced an unusual chore list when they showed up at a farmhouse tucked away down a dirt road in Franklin County.

The students split wood, scrubbed laundry against a washboard and watered the plants in a kitchen garden from a hollowed-out gourd as part of Colonial Hearth Day, a two-day event designed to show how families would have lived centuries ago.

In the kitchen garden, volunteer Sharon Billings explained how carefully people would have had to tend their plants then, to make sure no insects or other creatures did lasting damage.

And if a worm or two did make it into the dinner pot?

“Are we going to throw it away?” she asked.

“Yep!” cheered the students.

“Nope!” she replied. If the students truly lived in colonial times, tossing less than perfect food wouldn’t be an option. The students nodded, starting to grasp just how different life would have been for them.

Hundreds of fourth graders and a handful of fifth-grade volunteers from Louisburg, Franklinton and Laurel Mill elementary schools attended the event organized by the Ben Franklin Society, a nonprofit focused on education, scientific and literary projects.

Now in its second year, the program is designed to reach schools where many students may not be able to visit places such as Williamsburg, Va., or Old Salem in Winston-Salem because of the cost. Fourth-graders in North Carolina study the state’s history.

Peggy McGhee, a retired Franklinton superintendent and member of the society, hosts the event on her farm. She hopes the event encourages students to put down their cellphones and video games and think about how the world has changed but also the lessons that history continues to hold for today.

“I hope they learn something about the past that will help in the future,” she said.

Evan Ivey, a fifth-grader at Franklinton who visited the farm last year, was stationed at the blacksmithing station last week helping to showcase various metalworking techniques.

“I’m just loving it,” he said, clad in black rolled pants, a white button-down shirt and black, brimmed hat. He said blacksmithing is fascinating because it’s “creating something new out of metal.”

Michelle McGhee, who teaches in the academically gifted program at Franklinton, said the program has been a big hit with students.

“They were amazed,” she said. “This really brings social studies to life.”

Barr: 919-836-4952

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