Thursday, October 28, 2010

Colonial Williamsburg Trip 2010

It's way past time to post this field trip and since it was such a nice one, I don't want to skip it just because life is busy as usual around here.

Although I was planning to take this trip in late October, I only discovered last minute that Colonial Williamsburg was offering a Homschool Educators Week starting 9/11/10 (another in Feb so check out the site!).  So, with no planning under my belt and only a desire that Jefferson should at least experience this piece of history (before we get too far away from his revolutionary war summer learning), I booked a hotel and ran down with he and Reagan for 4 days. It was crazy last minute for me but I feel like that stretches & grows my ability to flex (a talent that I was NOT born with - lol!).
(Her mood prior to getting a side cramp from all the walking!)
We arrived on a Saturday noon, checked in and head directly for the Colonial Williamsburg to get any needed tickets and try to catch as much in the last half of the day as possible. Having not researched our options ahead of time, it was a bit overwhelming at first.  There are evening programs, costume rentals, carriage rides, & numerous museums available in addition to the classes offered to the home schooling groups and various tours available (and even online lesson plans & maps for those of you who are better at advanced prep than I)! 

But we managed to check out an introductory video and the miniature model of the town with it's summary of the city's important part in America's colonial and revolutionary days.  Jefferson was reluctant to start taking notes, but I assured him that wondering around the town with NO background as to it's history or people would be more useless and boring than he would like! He was surprised to learn how large the Virginia Colony actual was and how important it was to the churning revolutionaries. We headed out to explore & I quickly realized that we should have pre-trained for all the walking just as if we were training for a marathon - lol!

We stopped and explored the Great Hopes Plantation first.  Wow - was there a lot to see there! It is only about a quarter of the size of the Plymouth Plantation replica in MA, but full of things to do and learn.  It consists of a smokehouse, well, slave house, kitchen house, tobacco house, master's house (not built yet), fenced in livestock areas and fields.  Jefferson and Reagan started by learning to hand dip candles from a hot cauldron full of beeswax.  It took them quite some time to make just one candle!  We next checked out the cotton field (having never seen a cotton plant before even online!).  The plants were in bloom with yellow flowers which then grow pods full of cotton.  When the pods dry, they crack open and the cotton must be picked.  After observing these plants, we talked to one of the actor 'slaves' only to find that cotton did not actually become a cash crop in Virginia until about the 1820's!  Before this, flax was used for clothing and cotton was not in as high demand as was tobacco.  We also learned that slaves could not purchase their own freedom in Virginia between the years 1720 and 1783.

On to the Colonial town - what a beautiful place!!  Many of the original buildings have been rebuilt and actors wonder around with their instruments or animals. We found many horses in pasture (belonging to the 'richer' colonialists for their carriages) and sheep & chickens.  The streets are lined with trees that would not have been there in colonial times, having been used for buildings or firewood.  Jefferson was thrilled to find a soda machine (hidden away) that accepted credit card for the water bottles ($3 EACH!) that we so much needed and I so foolishly forgot.  We found our way to the brick capital building to wait for a cannon salute.  We enjoyed an amazing fife & drum march along with a moving speech from Patrick Henry and the Governor as they took down the English flag and replaced it with an American colonial flag.  The kids REALLY enjoyed this!

And all this was only in half of a day!  We settled into our hotel that evening and I required Jefferson to journal about the day, using notes he had taken along the way. Though willing to do this for Mrs. Third Grade Teacher last year, he dragged his feet on it for me (in his typical home school style - at least it doesn't rub so hard on me this year as it did in 2nd grade: progress for this teacher momma!).  Sigh.... but I knew he'd regret it later if he didn't have a record of his thoughts so we pushed through and hashed over the events until he could formulate them into his own words.

We visited local family & friends on Sunday but hit the pavement again on Monday, heading straight for the Jamestown Settlement (also having some great home school classes).  We missed the home school classes since I didn't find out about them until 2 days before, but got take a 2-hour tour which was geared toward kids. Wow - it turned out to be nice also!  We started at the three ships (replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery) used to bring the first colonists over to the new world from England. The kids were amazed at how small they were and didn't think that they would have liked to make that journey even once!  We walked through a small replica of the Powhaten village that would have been close to the settlement and learned how they built their structures with reed woven mats and planted corn in a similar manner to the natives of Plymouth, MA (with a fish under each stalk to fertilize) as well as using fire to burnout logs for canoes (also similar to Plymouth).  Both Rae & Jefferson got to try their hand at using nearby shells to scrape the outside of a burned log and found it harder than they expected! Strangely, we did not learn anything about Pocohantas since we were just lightly touching this bit of history. But I think that the James Fort was the most interesting for the kids.  We learned a ton about how tobacco became a cash crop that saved the colony from starvation (after failed attempts at finding gold, planting corn, cutting lumber, and making green glass) and how the colony protected itself from indians & Spaniards.  We enjoyed a neat demonstration of a colonial gun and wanted to post a video clip but I don't have the patience with blogg*er. Nothing like weapons & armor to attract the kids' attention though!

So here's a tidbit summary on Jamestown Settlement.  If you visit this page, then you'll know just about as much as we do - lol!  I think Jefferson only got the idea of where it fits into history mainly due to the amount that he studied Plymouth Plantation last year.  But I thought the tour was great at summarizing and making some key points clear to the kids!

We took an "Artifacts" tour early the next morning, which turned out to be rather boring, even for me! But we did manage to learn something even though it wasn't quite geared for children. The area is rich, rich, rich with artifacts and give  historians a great view of the cross section of people who lived in colonial Williamsburg. Not only is there a ton of glassware, but planty of pipes, toys, and dinnerware. The other item that the archeologists use to learn about the period is bones! We were surprised to find that the bones of animals in different areas could tell us how well-off the owner of that area was. For instance, a poor person would not ow livestock nor eat good cuts of large animals, like cows so one wouldn't find those bones near their houses. Here are a few pics of some sample artifacts.

On our next tour we learned about daily life & clothing that the colonials wore as well as the fact that Jefferson & Reagan fit quite nicely into the stockades! :-) I think I need to get a set for my house!

The kids told me that our final tour was their favorite - horse & buggies of the period! Colonial Williamsburg keeps many horses (of the original breeds from the period) and a number of carriage replicas which are used to tour people around the city. We learned what it takes to shoe a horse and how many different breeds are kept as well as how very, very expensive the nice carriages were (thus making them much more rare than we think they were).

By the time we were finished running around and were rushing back to our shuttle, we were dead beat! I was amazed at how large the old city was and just how much there was to see and do and learn. Even after so much time and journaling, it seemed like we only just brushed the surface of all there was to see. We didn't even have time to use the hotel pool (a big disappointment to the kids but at least they got to eat at restuarants and have ice cream)!

For anyone who can, this is a trip that is definitely worth it! I think that we'll have to plan this one every few years for the rest of the kids to enjoy as well!