Sunday, August 30, 2009

At Last...Meeting the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784

Finally it was time to go to Kimball Theater to meet the Marquis de Lafayette. We had not been able to see him give a full speech since the summer before when we were on vacation. Then he was in the time frame September 1781, telling us about how he had cornered Cornwallis at Yorktown and the ultimate victory the Continental Army foresaw. Well today he surprised us, changing things up! I was completely taken by surprise.

He said it was a year after the signing of the Treaty of Paris! 1784! The American Revolution was over! Therefore, we got to hear him talk about completely new things! During his speech, he talked about his role in the American Revolution. During the Q&A, he answered questions about what he had been doing since he returned to France. This was new information to hear from him! He talked about the need to help the poor in his country, about the rumblings and need for change, and his hope to keep the monarchy, yet to institute a representative government for the people. Oh, I knew exactly which question I wanted to ask! It had everything to do with this line of talk, and reflected our government studies last year. Alas, I wasn't brave enough to raise my hand. That was okay, I was having fun listening to some of the other questions and seeing his reaction. He got some funny questions from the audience and we were all laughing and laughing. The funniest seems to reflect our school year. Someone asked if he had met Napoleon! (Napoleon has been part of our previous school year, every single week of our studies of the 19th century, and even at Chincoteague this summer.) I wonder if the man who asked the question had any idea that this actor portraying Lafayette also portrays Napoleon in Europe in his free time. The reaction of the actor was classic, but he pulled off a great answer, as always! Apparently,they did bump into each other, literally, as Napoleon had his nose stuck in a book while walking down the street. But Lafayette tells the story much better than I ever could! My son kept raising his hand to ask a question, but Lafayette never saw him.He had a lot of questions to answer!

After the Q&A, the actor stepped down from the stage for more questions and pictures. We went down and my son got a chance to ask his question. My son said he knew Lafayette did great things for our country, but what was the red medal for? It was presented to Lafayette by the King of France for his service in America. It was fascinating, listening to some of the questions and hearing the answers. I would never think of some of those questions and the answers were amazing. People who were crowded around, filtered out and we found ourselves last to be with Lafayette. (gulp) Suddenly, I could not think of anything to ask. I smiled and nodded my thanks and fled. As usual, I was too shy. My daughter later told me she had a question. Why didn't she ask him? I couldn't understand it. Ahh, our children are mirrors to our own selves.

After a stop into the Palace kitchen where the kids guessed what food items were on each plate and I drooled over chocolate pudding, we went to the Palace Garden to meet with General Lafayette and Colonel Ennis about war plans at Yorktown. (It's been a year since we officially saw Lafayette last. We have to soak this in!) As the meeting neared an end and it began to sprinkle with raindrops, queries from the audience became sparse. I dared to ask a question: What did the French soldiers think of General Lafayette, a Frenchman, wearing an American uniform? His answer matched precisely what I had read, (it's good to know the Lafayette biographies I have are on the right track)but I was wondering if he had inside information I might not be aware of. I guess not. Basically, there were other Frenchmen who fought in the Continental Army and it was not seen as treason, but as an opportunity. He named several Frenchmen and their positions in the Continental Army. Our meeting abruptly ended by a thunderstorm which lasted all of 20 minutes.

After an escape from the rain in the shoemaker's shop, we went to see the review of the troops because the rain had finally ended. To our surprise, Lafayette arrived galloping across the field on his horse! We had never seen him on his horse for this scene before. Being taken by surprise, I wasn't ready for the picture. I think the horse livens up the already terrific review of the troops scene.

Before I knew it, he galloped away. Oh no! Where's the action setting on my camera? Gotta use that with Lafayette on a horse. I couldn't remember where the setting was, so I just took the picture. It's blurry but there he goes!

It was the end of another incredible day at Colonial Williamsburg. Even though we had seen all the scenes before, each one was different from what we had seen before and we learned many new things. When I told my husband about how we didn't ask Lafayette any questions, he exclaimed, "What? You've waited a year to see him and you passed up that opportunity to ask questions?" My kids and I are now brainstorming questions and writing them in the back of my blank Colonial daybook. Now I am bugged that I didn't ask one question in particular, that reflected our government studies last year.Next time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Virginia Declaration of Rights' Fiery Debate

George Mason, Richard Henry Lee and Archibald Cary were in the time period of late June 1776. They were answering questions about two important documents they had recently written with the Virginia Delegation, the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution.

Since we had studied the Virginia Declaration of Rights in preparation for meeting Thomas Jefferson last week, I knew the kids would get more out of this event than they had previously. Wow! Did we ever! We were sitting in the second row and the men were in front of the stage, and they got into a heated debate over the slavery issue. It was so realistic, I was beginning to wonder if we should move!

The kids knew it was acting and enjoyed it. Obviously, they were showing how heated the debates got, over different points in the documents during the assembly. A major point that was made, was that this representative government that they were forming, allow us to choose our representatives to voice our views.  Also, they said that debate in assembly was a good thing. The time to worry would be when everyone in congressional session agreed on everything.

The scene was interrupted for a slave auction. They left to free the area for the slaves to wait for auction. Carter looked over one of the slaves, as if he was prepared to buy him. The hypocrisy was stark. The slaves proceeded to share their fears about their future. They were roughly treated in the scene (again acting). This scene is not recommended for children. The scene bitterly brings slavery to the forefront, in juxtaposition to the men who sought freedom from England.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Historic Jamestowne and our Second Home

 In 2004 we visited the living history part of Jamestown and had a lot of fun!  At that time my kids were ages 11 and 8.  There were numerous activities, perfect for that age group. They carried these memories with them when we studied Jamestown in school. Because this unit covers my favorite era in history, we read lots of extra books and spent extra weeks on the history. One week was specifically devoted to Jamestown, as we examined the causes and effects of the choices the men made.  
Recently we got to come back to Jamestown. This time we visited Historic Jamestowne, which is operated  by the National Park Service.

The Memorial Church...

Captain John Smith...

 This was the site of the fort.  Although placed stragetically for military purposes, it was extremely unpractical. Strategically, it overlooked the James River, which is near the merging of the York River, Chesepeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. The enemy by sea were the Spaniards. 

However the men who arrived were primarily interested in gold, which didn't exist in the area.  Most of the men who came were gentlemen, used to being served.  They spent their days seeking gold, going hungry due to the dwindling food supply which they lazily refused to work to replenish, drinking brakish water and getting bitten by maleria infected mosquitoes.   Most died.  To keep the American Indians from knowing how many were dying, the dead were buried within the fort.  The entire land upon which we walked is a graveyard.  Only a few are marked as graves, and even fewer marked with names.

 Although John Smith had been initially appointed as one of the leaders, the men had issues with that, imprisoning him.  In due time he assumed leadership of the colony.

Running a tight ship, he made a steadfast rule: those who don't work, don't eat.  Grudgingly, hunger drove the men to comply.  Although condidtions improved, the location continued to drive disease, leading many to death.  Furthermore, injuries from an accident sent Smith back to England. Relations with the Indians were tenuous.  When new ships arrived full of more men seeking gold, they came with few supplies and joined the seemingly hopeless task of survival.

The infamous Pilgrims, who came to the New World seeking to raise their children according to their Puritan ethics, without influence from the rest of the world, were ontracted to sail to Jamestown. However a storm blew them off course and they landed in what would become Massachusetts Bay Colony. Interesting these first two colonies assumed leadership roles in the American Revolution and our first presidents. 

 When we studied Jamestown, we concentrated a great deal on the financing of the venture.  The stockholders in England paid money to send these men to the New World, specifically to find gold. Eventually, they came to grips that there was no gold.  Instead, their fortune was to be made in tobacco. John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas, was famed for bringing a special tobacco seed to the area.  Although the Indians grew tobacco, it was bitter. Rolfe's seed produced a sweet tobacco. Thus, the British Empire established a strong foothold in the Virginia colony with the production of tobacco, enrichening the stockholders' pockets.  Since bachelors weren't fruitful, families were sent to the colony, providing stability. At last, Virginia began to be a productive colony.

 We walked around the grounds and found the foundations for many old sites. After the tobacco industry became profitable, wharfs were built for exporting to Great Britain. Jamestown became the seat of government for Virginia and the first House of Burgesses met in Jamestown. The crown required all tobacco to be shipped from this one port.  It was interesting reading about all the control.  I could faintly hear Patrick Henry in the distance, arguing about the tyrannical control of the King of England.  

 There are a lot of markers and foundations to see on the path in the park.  If your kids are young, and quickly get bored, there are plenty of paths to explore and boats to see on the river.  We saw the ferries go back and forth. Then we saw a tugboat pulling a huge boat.  Keep an eye out because someone might be watching you...

My son captured this shot of the eagle spreading his wings.  

      At the edge of the path, I noticed some people sitting in a rest area watching tv.  I heard voices that sounded familiar, so I went to take a peek. When they left, my family joined me as I panned the television across the park to certain locations. By activating buttons, we learned more about some of the sites we had walked to. After reading a bit of history and visuals of what the sites looked like, we selected videos of reenactors recreating historical stories that went with those sites.  And guess who these reenactors were?  We gave exclamations of delight as we recognized favorites from nearby Colonial Williamsburg! 

     There is an architectural dig, that was all covered up from the rains the night before. There is an archaeology museum nearby, showcasing many of the artifacts they have unearthed.  We didn't have time to see everything, so we'll be back.
We walked over a clear glass on the floor that allowed us to see the original foundations of the building that held the House of Burgesses.  Eventually, the seat of government moved to Middle Plantation, so named because it was between Jamestown and Yorktown. (Those mosquitoes finally got to them.) You and I know Middle Plantation today as, Colonial Williamsburg.   

     We went back to the Visitor Center and ate the lunch I had packed  at picnic tables nearby.  Then we toured the visitor center quickly, since we had to head home for our 2.5 hour drive.  (We'll be back.) 

 Then we went for a drive around the island on a special road. Along the way, we had to stop for a raccoon family.  I wasn't able to get a picture in time. It was a mother raccoon with several babies.

Our drive out of the park detoured to see the historic Jamestown glasshouse which is at the entrance to Historic Jamestowne.


 Finally it was time to leave. It was close to dinner and my husband asked me where to go. Um, I don't know. I had a Williamsburg tourist booklet of restaurants but I have no idea how to get around town.  But I did know that we were on Jamestown Road and that would take us to Merchant Square in front of the College of William and Mary, bordering the CW historic area.  My husband has this thing about asking me for directions, then not following them. He told me there was another way to get to Merchant Square.  Well, yes, the long way.  Since he's driving and a longer route would mean more time in Williamsburg, I wasn't about to complain! Actually, he followed my directions and we stayed on Jamestown Road. I had never driven on this road before, nor many other roads in Williamsburg.  I was delighted. Can't my husband imagine living here?????  It is beautiful!  My husband did admit, he now considers Williamsburg our second home!    

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lanthorn Tour and Fireworks at Colonial Williamsburg

By the time we left, the rain had stopped but everything was wet and drippy. We walked through some shops at Merchant Square, then returned to the Lumber House for our evening tour, the Lanthorn Tour. Do you know why lanterns were called lanthorns? Instead of glass, they used the thin layer of cow's horn in the lantern. My son got to carry the lanthorn for the first leg of the tour.

We went to four trades: the blacksmith, the cabinetmaker, the binder and the printer. We enjoyed the tour a lot, learning a lot more than we ever do when we visit the trades, unless we get a chatty tradesperson or know which questions to ask. The tour guide modeled how tools were used, but you really want to go back the next day, armed with great questions from newly found information from this tour, to see everything in action. We liked going at night because it held a certain charm. Most interesting, as my husband said later, we got to see for ourselves precisely why tradespeople only work from dawn to dusk. There were several authentic lanthorns at each trades shop and we saw very little. Definitely, sunlight was necessary to work by.

Interestingly, during the tour, a huge fireworks show began behind the Governor's Palace. When I asked what the fireworks were for, I was told it was a special reception for the governor. Dumbfounded, I just looked at her and then asked, "For the modern governor?" She smiled and said yes. We heard more than we saw because we were either in the building or walking in the midst of town. The sky was red in the distance and smoke wafted our way. It was easy to imagine that the Battle of Yorktown was in process. In fact all the guests pretended that was the case. We really got into it. As we walked down one of the narrow side streets from the carpenter shop to the binder, I caught a glimpse of the fireworks next to the cupola of the Governor's Palace. That was a Kodak moment! I tried to take a picture but it was the wrong setting, being at night. I have a special fireworks setting, but I couldn't find it in the dark and the tour group was leaving me behind. Alas, it would have been a terrific picture!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dinner and Games at Chownings Tavern

After a rainstorm that sabotouged the final scene of Revolutionary City for the day,my husband decided we should flee the rain by having dinner at Chownings, up the road. Our waiter was great! He had a Scottish accent and took our order with dry humor. When he gave us the drink menu, he mentioned tea that had floated in from Boston. I quipped that I hoped it wasn't British tea but that fell flat. When my husband ordered tea, the waiter confirmed the order, saying he'd serve him the tea that had floated in from Boston. I got it! This time I quipped, "I hope it's not from the Boston Tea Party!" The waiter grinned and said it was fresh with a salty tang. Then my husband asked for Sweet and Low and the waiter said it looked as though someone sweet and low was sitting next to him. My husband looked at me and said something back. I forget now. But they bantered back and forth.
 There were lively colonial musicians and a magician. The magician gave us some of his equipment to inspect and that was fun, to make a big deal out of.
Chownings is the most affordable of the taverns. I'm not a fan of most of the food outside of Texas (gasp). We think that is why I've lost a lot of weight. So I just nibbled off my husband's plate. I also nibbled off my son's plate. Their cornbread is great! And I do like Virginia ham.  I wonder if there's a way to create a new plate? Anyway, I had plenty of room for their tasty peanut pie, my favorite dessert in town! We usually get two slices to share.
Then our waiter kindly gave my kids souvenir pins! Then he taught us a colonial game with dice, called Ship, Captain, and Crew. You roll the dice and get three tries to roll a 4, 5, and 6. If you get those numbers, the remaining dice are your score. The one who gets to 100 first, wins. I was in the lead until the end, when my husband edged me out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

St. George Tucker House

After leaving the museum, we went to visit the St. George Tucker House for the very first time. This is open to donors to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. (I'm only one of the minor donors.) As we entered we were immediately greeted by an extremely friendly volunteer, who made us feel quite welcome. He had me sign the register and he gave us a tour of the building. Descendants of St. George Tucker lived in the house until the 1990's, when the CWF turned it into a donor reception center. Special historical characters like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or the Marquis de Lafayette visit during the week. We were shown the library for the donors like to use at their leisure. We were given refreshments of lemonade and cookies. Then we were invited to sit and visit with the carpenter who told us about his work restoring outbuildings at the Randolph Peyton House. That was interesting, because my husband remembers a time when the outbuildings weren't there.

Obtaining an Engraving Estimate from the Silversmith

As we walked further down Duke of Gloucester Street, my son went into the Silversmith Shop. I was surprised but followed him in. He went straight to the lady at the back counter, pulled out a sheet of paper with a sketch on it, and asked her for an estimate for it to be engraved on his historic compass/sundial from CW. So that is what he was working on all week! I've been so busy running up and down and through the house, trying to tackle projects, that I keep forgetting to peek over his shoulder to see what he was drawing. Isn't it terrific?

The lady wasn't quite sure, so she brought the machine engraver over. She wasn't quite sure, and they said the hand engraver would have to do this one, and she wasn't in that day. They gave us their business card so we could mail a revised copy for an estimate. We all agreed there was too much for one side. I suggested he design this like one of the medals he saw at the "Washington and His Generals" exhibit last week. He could do the monogram on the front and the verse on the back. He liked that idea a lot! So he is going to redo this and we'll mail it in to the Silversmith.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Carding Wool

 One never knows what surprise awaits them at Colonial Williamsburg.  One day we were walking past the printing shop where we saw a man showing the guests how to card wool. Of course my kids were naturally drawn over to see that and try for themselves! After carding and cleaning the wool, my kids to try to pull some of the cleaned wool into thread/yarn.

Courthouse Trial Reenacted at Colonial Williamsburg

Recently we attended a unique experience at the Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse. This is the first time I saw a "real" 18th century trial reenacted in the Courthouse. (We were not allowed to take any pictures inside.) 

The scene was highly dramatic!

Afterwards one of the Colonial gents from the courtroom, Benjamin Waller, walked outdoors to answer guests' questions. 

I asked him if Waller Street (behind the Capital) was named after him. Yes! 

This scene was developed from primary source documents from an actual 18th century trial. They stick as much as possible to the primary source document in the scene, and anything they need to add, they do so out of what would logically fit in the era.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Visiting the Cooper

We were prepared for a leisurely day.  My husband had been wanting to visit the cooper for some time, so that was our first stop.

We'll never forget our first visit to the cooper when we were first married. My husband's family had a tradition of making hand crank ice cream, so someone gave us an antique hand crank ice cream maker for a wedding gift. My husband thought it needed to be cleaned up, so he took it apart and freshened it up. He thought it was poorly made, because there were no nails or glue. After cleaning up the wood and staining it, he used glue to secure the staves when he reassembled it. Well, at the cooper, we found out that these barrels are designed to not need glue or nails. Pressure of the rings on the wooden staves securely hold the barrel together.
My son asked lots of questions about hogsheads today. I was impressed when even my quiet daughter asked some questions!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Meeting with Thomas Jefferson About How He Wrote the Declaration of Independence

After much hard work on the house, it was time for another weekend away. Honestly, I had 21st century overload and was more than ready for some time in the 4mph society. My husband agreed.  
 This time the big draw to Colonial Williamsburg was a special program with Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.  This is only presented certain times and I wanted to be sure we attended.  The kids and I prepared especially for this session.

     We studied the Declaration of Independence for an entire week over a year ago.  That Fourth of July we took turns reading it aloud.  Then at CW's Revolutionary City, we listened to a recitation of it and joined in on some of the parts that we remembered.  Therefore, my kids have a pretty good sense of the Declaration of Independence. I decided to bump things up a notch, in preparation for engaging with Mr. Jefferson.     

    We began with this video clip from CW.  The clip is of a little girl reading, apparently the Declaration of Independence, to her stuffed animals. (I love this commercial!) My kids quickly caught the mistakes. Actually she is reading from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, precursor to the Declaration of Independence. The two documents have similar wording. We compared the two. George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights while at the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, Virginia in May 1776. Rough drafts were sent to Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia while he attended the Second Continental Congress. Here is a copy purchased from the CW Post Office.

     Then we looked up John Locke, who wrote Two Treatises of Government in 1690, from which George Mason and Thomas Jefferson derived some of their ideas for the famous documents. A lot of these ideas of freedom are not new.  However the Declaration of Independence is the first document to put words to action.

     In fact, Colonial Williamsburg's Revolutionary City features the Virginia Declaration of Rights in one of my favorite scenes: "Resolved: Free and Independent States May 15, 1776"


The new flag is raised in celebration of Virginia's declared independence.

In celebration of independence, the cannon is fired.

Another great program, "The Challenge of Independence," is a question and answer session with the George Mason and others from the Virginia delegation who drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Meanwhile, the colonies' delegates were assembling in Philadelphia, assigning the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence to a committee comprised of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Robert Sherman.  Thomas Jefferson did the actual writing of the declaration, which was later revised in Congress.  Jefferson had written "A Summary View of the Rights of British America," which paved the way for what John Adams called "the reputation of masterly pen." I also purchased this pamphlet from the Post Office.

      Saturday, we went to Colonial Williamsburg to meet with Thomas Jefferson. There was a table center stage set with props like his writing desk and many important documents.   President Jefferson arrived and told us many wonderful stories. I think my favorite was that if we want to see the original Declaration of Independence today, go to Washington City and knock on the door of one of his cabinet members. (I forget which one.)  He'll let you in and pull out the infamous document. My kids were giggling because they knew that was true in 1809, but in 2009 one needs to stand in line at the National Archives like we did last summer, to see all the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights along with England's first freedom document, the Magna Charta.  

     One of the most prominent features we noticed about the Declaration of Independence when we saw it, was how faded it was.  Jefferson addressed that while explaining the new Declaration of Independence exhibit at the museum.  As with all significant events, the anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence brought a sweeping sense of patriotism over the country.  Marketing on the opportunity, engravers competed to produce an accurate copy of the Declaration of Independence. This is precisely the focus of the current display at the DeWitt Wallace Museum at Colonial Williamsburg.  As we looked at various copies of competing engravers a few weeks ago, we noticed a great deal of artistic license was taken.  Surprisingly, one of these artistic copies arrived in my snail mail box yesterday!  The kids and I were excited to get it!  This is the Binn version.

     However, one copy and one copy alone was historically accurate...that of William Stone. This is the version that we are all familiar with today.   President Jefferson explained how Stone accurately made it.  Stone knocked on the door of this cabinet official who kept the famed document in his desk drawer, took a wet piece of paper, laid it over the original, pressed it firmly onto the embedded ink, then carefully lifted it up. He now had an exact copy of the original Declaration of Independence.  Unfortunately the process remove much of the ink from the original,  leaving it much faded.  From this, Stone produced the official government engraving.  Two hundred and one copies were printed and given to various government officials, including all the living signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Marquis de Lafayette.  Imagine the reaction and feelings of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette, all men who risked their lives to make this statement of freedom a reality, when they received these historic vellum copies.

      In researching this article, I found at the website Principles of Freedom, that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has one of these rare surviving vellum Stone copies of the Declaration of Independence. They have been gifted many other important documents to our country.  It is a real treasure to see our history as we meet with costumed interpreters and when we visit the museum. History is more than pages in a book and essay tests. 

     While President Jefferson talked about the writing of the Declaration of Independence, he showed us different things. He showed us how he used his writing desk. He also used the same booklets I have pictured above. After seeing how beat up his are, I don't feel so bad about how ratty mine got Saturday, enduring the rain and humidity. I had purchased them the year before on vacation and until now they had been pristinely sitting on display near my desk. Now they are getting used...and perhaps that's a good thing! When Jefferson mentioned the Virginia Declaration of Rights and held it up, I pulled out mine to show the kids, so they would remember, "Ah-ha, we talked about that the other day." When he showed us his "Summary View of Rights of British America", I held that out for the kids to see. Funny, it was almost as if he knew I had my own copies, because he would mention a certain page number and read from it and I was able to reference mine as well!   

     When it was opened for question and answer, my son queried, "I know you support freedom for slaves, yet you own your own. What do you think of freeing them and paying them for their labor?"  It was interesting listening to the reply to that, basically that the south did not have a ready cash economy. Instead it was all wrapped up in labor and product. However he did hope for freedom of slaves. Jefferson in fact worked with William Wilberforce, and with Congress finally ended the importation of slaves.  He talked about how gratifying that was at the end of his tenure as president, when he first sought it at the Continental Congress as he wrote the Declaration of Independence.  He also talked of his landmark feat as president, purchasing the Louisiana Purchase. He envisioned new states opening in that new land, that would be free to all, no matter the skin color.  Sadly that became a hotly contested battleground in Congress in the nineteenth century, arguing whether the states would enter as free or slave. 

       Afterwards, we went to meet President Jefferson. He was wonderful with my kids and made us feel as though he always knew us.  He told my kids that they were very smart and after posing for pictures... daughter asked her question, "How did he feel as he signed the Declaration of Independence?" President Jefferson said that was an excellent question, and if she had raised her hand, he would definitely have called on her. Then he qualified that by saying he must have missed her. No he didn't. She is extremely shy and this was the first time she ever asked a Founding Father a question.  She had her hand timidly raised at shoulder level during the Q&A, so of course he couldn't see that.  I told her when we waited our turn for pictures to ask him the question. The kids had formed these questions on their own ahead of time, when we prepared for this opportunity.  She is so quiet, I thought I'd have to be the one to bring his attention to her question, but I was so proud of her for speaking up! And I was truly glad that he affirmed her question.  He talked about how uncertain their future was when they signed that document, because they were committing treason and were risking their lives and fortunes. 

     It was an incredible time and definitely the highlight of our day!  We learned a lot of new things about the Declaration of Independence, America's Treasure!  

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How I Teach Geography

     Geography is incredibly important to me, though it can be as dry as the Sahara Desert.  Therefore I try to make it interesting. For some reason, my parents gave me geography flash cards for Christmas when I was in second grade.  From them I actually memorized all of the states and capitals and the countries and their capitals, along with which continent they went with.  Then they gave me a globe another Christmas, when I was in the fourth grade. This was neat as it had a little disc at the top, which helped you figure out what the time was around the world. I used this all the time when my dad was later stationed in Korea for a year. I learned about the International Date Line, and a little about latitude and longitude. When I read books about locations that were new to me, I looked them up. It was a terrific way to travel around the world, while I was growing up in San Antonio. Where was the National Geography Bee when I was growing up? 

     My daughter took after me.  That might not seem surprising, but it is to me, because she grew up with a lot of developmental delays. She needed me to hold her hand through every single school subject, except for geography. She always "got" that! I was especially impressed when we moved from Wichita Falls, Texas to San Antonio when she was seven.  After a month of driving around the city, she knew exactly where we were. That's saying a lot, because San Antonio is seventh largest city in America. 

     My son on the other hand...well let's just say his strengths lie more in deep thinking and art.  However he is getting better and I am proud of him. 

     When my daughter was in kindergarten and my son was three (he insisted on joining us for school), I made giant map bulletin boards.  Instead of being seriously realistic, they were cute primary maps.  I did not want them to be too detailed, overwhelming my kids. I simply wanted basic maps: a world map showing the countries in different colors and an American map showing the states in different colors. Whenever we read about a place, we'd put a push pin there to mark the location.  When we watched the Olympics we'd watch the countries' athletes march in and find them on the globe.

     Can you see the world map behind them? That's the only picture I can find.  It's a panel of primary colored fabric I had purchased from Wal Mart.

    Over my daughter's shoulder, you can see the colorful USA map. It was just a colorful poster I liked at the teacher supply store.


    For Christmas one year, my brother gave my daughter a globe with a special pen so that you can play games, identifying locations on the globe.  We all enjoyed that. Over the years my daughter collected various geography games as gifts, which were always her vote for game time.        

     In our beginning years of homeschooling, we used the A Beka curriculum. By fourth grade incredible 8x10 colorful flash cards are used to learn countries.  Then I always incorporate maps into our history studies.

     We took our first big vacation when they were 11 and 8. While traveling from Texas to Virginia, then through Virginia to see lots of historical sites, then to New York for a visit, then back to Virginia for more sites, then back to Texas, I knew there was no way that I could endure the classical question of yore, "W-h-e-r-e a-r-e w-e?"  To head off the questions, I purchased children's road atlases for them, and marked the route with a highlighter.  They learned a lot about map reading skills on that trip. Every trip since, they expected to have the route marked for them to follow. Now that we live near Washington DC, I cannot tell you how many times I've missed a turn, gotten stuck in traffic on the wrong highway, and they came to the rescue by reading the area map to try to get me rerouted.  It takes them a while and some coaching from me, but when stuck in traffic, there is a bit of time for that.  

     There are various things that we do with geography during our history studies. Some I came up with myself and some come from other sources. My kids have made pizza, that is shaped like geographical features. They have made salt dough maps. 

They've made overlay maps.

      Although my curriculum recommends that my kids find required locations for the week in a historical atlas and then write them on their paper maps, I do not have my kids do this. In short, I give them the answer key and merely have them copy the answer key. (gasp) Why do I do that????????? I'm glad you asked! ;)

     Actually, we did try to find the places in atlases and on line in the beginning. Hours later we found a couple of locations out of several we were required to label on the map. Where were these ancient places????  We were frustrated.  I spent some time weighing the cost/benefit analysis of this. My kids were already busy with their incredible read, think, write history curriculum. Why spend hours to find a handful of locations that no longer exist? Some of the locations weren't even in our reading, so we had never heard of some of the places that no longer exist.  Therefore, I devised a new plan of attack.

      I decided that I wanted the kids to spend the bulk of their time in the activities that would do the best and the most to develop their brains and understanding of history. These activities were reading, thinking, discussing and writing. I wanted them to spend time in their literature. I wanted them to have some free time to enjoy art projects of the era. I did want them to learn geography, but I wanted it to be in perspective. I marked the locations that were historically relavent and part of their reading assignments. I gave them their paper maps and had them copy the locations from my answer key. 

     Although I'd like them to neatly color the maps, whenever I have them color them it is sheer torture for all of us.  They were never the types to enjoy coloring books when they were little. They have always preferred to create their own stuff with raw materials. I decided I'd much rather they pour that coloring potential into making mosaics and freizes. My son has made a Spartan costume and swords for his other characters. My daughter enjoys making historically appropriate jewelry. In the big picture, those types of activities are more important to me.  Therefore, their maps go uncolored.

     Instead of researching locations, I quiz them on locations. Each week I print out extra maps for our weekly history topic.  For the quiz, I make a list of relevant locations I want them to locate on the map.  They take their quizzes at the end of the week. I like this because they still learn the historical locations, their time is wisely used, and I have a grade to record!

     Over the years, we have collected various historical atlases from the used book stores, to enhance our studies. When reading about an interesting location, they look it up on their own. To me that is more exciting to see as a teacher, then something that is assigned.  

     Does this work? I think so. My kids have competed well in the local level for the National Geography Bee.  While specifically preparing for the Bee, my kids like to play the geography game at the previously linked site. I've also collected preparation books for the bee, which the kids study. If it were not for my daughter's developmental delays, I think she would have easily progressed to state and even nationals.  Over the years of competition, she has been complimented for her growing sense of composure. For that I am extremely pleased!  In 2007 she placed second and my son placed third. In 2008 she placed third and my son won! That was my daughter's final year of eligibility to compete.

In 2009 my son won again!  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

George Washington and His Generals Exhibit at Mount Vernon

     Last week I took the kids to Mount Vernon, primarily to see the "George Washington and His Generals" exhibit which is only on display for one year, ending in January 2010.  I was delighted with how the kids read everything and excitedly talked about various artifacts.

   We are always saddened by one painting in particular of the Battle of Bunker's Hill near Boston June 7th, 1775. In this painting, Dr. Warren is shown dead.  If you've seen the movie Johnny Tremain, then you've seen Dr. Warren in the movie. He operates on Johnny's hand, restoring use of his fingers. He is also one of the Sons of Liberty. In addition, he died at the Battle of Bunker Hill. This was one of the first paintings we saw.    

     There were medals with Latin inscriptions that the kids tried to translate.  They'd call me over to help them when they got stuck.  Amazingly, my son discovered that one of the medals, Washington Before Boston, had the wrong date. Written in Roman numerals, the one for Washington's first victory that took place in Boston at Dorchester Heights said 1275 instead of 1775. Oops!  There was also a copy of a play about Bunker Hill, written about controversial John Burke, which I had blogged about last year.  It was great seeing lots of things we had learned about. 

          Later my son called me over to a giant painting of Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth and he asked, "Hey Mom, is that Lafayette and Hamilton?" "Yes," I smiled.  He asked more questions so I told him to read the sign that went with it.  He would discover he was on the right track. (The link will take you not only to the painting, but to Steuben Society of America, as in Baron von Steubon, a German who came to America to help in our war. He trained the troops at Valley Forge. If you scroll further down, you'll get some German history from my part of Texas, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, with Prince Carl Solms and Baron von Meusebach who formed the only lasting peace treaty with the Comanche.) 

     I was excited to see a cannon thought to have been one that was transported from Fort Ticonderoga, over the mountains in the winter, to the bluffs overlooking Boston.  This led to General Washington's first victory as the British yielded Boston and fled, all according to Knox's bold plan. We read all about it in our studies. I have been to Fort William Henry which is at the southern end of Lake George. Fort Ticonderoga is at the northern end and I can appreciate the difficulty it took to transport these cannons. Quite impressive! (The resulting victory is the one featured by the medal that had the wrong date.)   

     Last summer while touring this museum, I learned about the Society of the Cincinnati and saw their emblem on some Washington china. Historians are going to groan, but I was wondering why???  I thought it had something to do with Cincinnati, Ohio, except that didn't make sense either, because I was certain that the city had not been established yet. (In my defense, last summer's display had no history of the Society of the Cincinnati.) This particular morning while touring the mansion, I noticed a relief of hmmmm, who is that? Not Julius Caesar?  I asked the tour guide, who said it was Cincinnatus. Ohhhhhh. I knew him! We read about him in our studies too. He was the ancient Roman, who while plowing his field, was called upon to defend his country. After the victory, he returned to his plow instead of assuming leadership/dictatorship like other caesars before him had done. The actor who portrays Washington at Colonial Williamsburg mentions Cincinnatus whenever guests ask him if he plans to run the country after the American Revolution.  I thought that was the actor adding that info for us, because Washington was just like Cincinnatus. Washington did not seek to lead our country, but returned home to manage his estate after the war.  I asked the tour guide if that relief had been hung on the wall by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association?  No, General Washington put it there.  Wow, General Washington knew about Cincinnatus?  Washington never got a full education like many of his peers like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and the Marquis de Lafayette.  As a young boy, his future held a formal education in England, like his older half-brothers had. Unfortunately, his father died while he was young and Washington had to go to work. Nevertheless, he continued to educate himself.  I knew that Washington had educated himself. However I didn't know to what extent he took his education. As a teacher, I was impressed!  There is truely no limits to education for one who truely wants to learn!

      In the "George Washington and His Generals" exhibit, there is a Society of the Cincinnati display and I finally got it.  (Note to Historians...there is hope for me yet!) After the victory at Yorktown in 1781, peace talks lagged for two more years and tempers grew short, causing two of the generals to threaten mutiny. Washington's infamous words, "I have grown grey in your service," reestablished loyalty among the men.  In response, Henry Knox designed the Society of Cincinnati to encourage esprit de corps and support veterans.  Of course, the Society of Cincinnati was derived from the Roman Cincinnatus who returned to his plow after leading his country to military victories.  (In fact, I have since learned that the town of Cincinnati, Ohio was established after the American Revolution and was eventually given the name Cincinnati to honor the Roman hero Cincinnatus and the Society of Cincinnati.)

     In the exhibit, medals for the society were displayed. Washington designed his own, as president of the society. However it was not needed. The French naval officers designed a stunning one for him encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.  This has only been worn by Washington and succeeding presidents of the society.   

     When Lafayette came to America on his Grand Tour of 1824, George Washington's step-granddaughter gave the simpler one that Washington had designed to Lafayette. There is a painting of Lafayette wearing it.  When my son was done reading everything, and we were waiting for my daughter, I made sure he knew about the medals and the simpler one. He had no idea who else, besides Washington had owned it. I told him a painting in the room shows someone wearing it. He grinned and said he took that as a challenge. He found a Society of Cincinnati medal on General Kosciuszko from Poland. No, that medal is on the other side of the display case. My son finally figured out that Lafayette was wearing it. About that time a docent came over and told us that that medal, that Washington designed and that was given to Lafayette, had recently arrived for display at the museum a few weeks before! We were glad we didn't come earlier!  In fact he said it has rarely been on display at all!  I think this is only the second showing of it!  

     The "Generals" exhibit was extremely interesting and it was fun to watch my kids' enthusiasm at finding various things. My daughter found a set of calipers donated by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and called us over to see. 

     As interesting as everything was, there was one huge disappointment. There were displays on Dr. Warren, Henry Knox, Nathaniel Green, Benedict Arnold, Mad Anthony Wayne, Baron von Steubon, and many, many more. But the only mention of Lafayette was his likeness in two paintings. Lafayette was so important, why wasn't there a significant display for him like all the others had?  In reading the tour guide book, the organizers admitted they had to narrow down the display due to space, from Washington's 81 generals. I understand that, but to not have more on Lafayette? Perhaps its because they had a special exhibit a couple of years ago centering completely on Washington and Lafayette. Well, I didn't get to see that one. We were in Texas back then.  At least we did get to see the Washington/Lafayette Society of Cincinnati medal!  And we did do the house tour earlier, where again we got to see the key to the Bastille that Lafayette sent to General Washington.  That key is what first sent me on a path to discover Lafayette.     

    After we had completed the tour, we went to the gift shop so I could purchase the corresponding tour guide book.  With most of the artifacts behind glass and in the dark lighting, I could barely see details on any of the artifacts. The book goes into detail both in words and in pictures. It's nice to see the engravings of the various pieces up close and especially to see the beautiful Society of Cincinnati medal the French gave to Washington.  I was going through the book today and stopped at one of my favorite American Revolution paintings, Washington's Farewell to His Officers by Alonzo Chappel. Today I noticed an usual looking soldier in the painting. He looks a lot like the British dragoon, Banastre Tarleton in his short green coat and bushy helmet. My son and I were wondering who it really represented in this painting.  

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Assateague Island

     After a gorgeous day visiting Chincoteague and Misty's home, we stayed in a gorgeous hotel at Chincoteague for free.  Because we had stayed for a month at an extended stay hotel while waiting for our house to close in April, I had enough points to enjoy one night somewhere, so we decided to spend the points where we could get a wow!

We had views like this from the room's balcony...

These are the hotel flowers. I wish my hyndrangea would bloom.

      Being a $200 room, we're going to have to look for something much cheaper on a return trip. I have a friend who highly recommends Dove Winds in the off season.  It won't have the views but she told me that the rooms are clean and you get several rooms and a kitchen.

     Then we headed for Assateauge Island.  You drive across Chincoteague to the bridge, which connects to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

 When we got to the island, our first adventure was a short hike to the Assateague Lighthouse.

Then it was a thigh burning climb to the top. The views were worth it. Can you find any of the Assateague wild ponies? 


     Well, that wasn't so hard after all, was it?  LOL  I forgot I had labeled the pictures when I uploaded them so I wouldn't forget!  Here is the closest shot we could get of them from the lighthouse...

     While at the lighthouse, we learned that each one has distinctive markings and light flashings to aid sailors. This continues to be a working lighthouse.  Although there are other lighthouses with the same coloring, this is the only one with this specific pattern. Even though gps is popular these days, at times when they fail, the sailor can navigate the old fashioned way with his charts and lighthouse information.

    After the lighthouse, my husband wanted us to take a three mile hike to the beach. "Uh, dear, it is sweltering hot here. And the bugs are atrocious."  Summer is the worst time to hike in the words due to the bugs.  As it is, my husband is recovering from a nasty attack of the chiggers he got while we all went hiking in the woods along the run (creek) behind our house. He can't understand why he got chiggers and we didn't. Well, he insisted we had to hike. I was looking at the park map and elatedly said we could drive to the beach! Then we could walk up the beach away from the crowds. I love to walk along the beach!  No, we had to do the hike, because he wanted to show us the nature he saw when he was there a year ago in April.  (April is a great month to do the nature trails!)  So we loaded on our deet bug repellant, on top of sun screen, and got our beach bags, lunch, beach mats and my new beach umbrella (I'm not supposed to be in the sun too long).  We hiked and my husband is the one who got eaten up by the bugs!  Oh well.       

     I didn't think we'd see any wild life in the sweltering heat, because we never do in Texas. But I was wrong. We saw a deer...

an egret...

and my son pointed out the Archimedes' Screw that we learned about in our unit of Ancient Greece. He made his own Archimedes' Screw. Last summer we got to work a real one at a pond at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. For him to identify this so quickly was a proud teacher moment!

Ahhh, then we saw a Great Blue Heron. I could have stood here all day...except for the roasting sun and no shade. Had it been April I'd have suggested we eat lunch right here and quietly watch!

We watched him catch a fish and eat it.  You can see a fish in his bill in the above picture.  

      We could have stayed quite some time but it was hot, so we continued hiking to the beach. I was beginning to doubt that there was an Atlantic Ocean. Finally, at long last, there it was...

     We spent several hours here. The ocean was cold! I was never able to get all the way in. I've only been to the Gulf of Mexico (from Texas islands) and the Pacific (from when I lived in Hawaii) and this is the coldest ocean I've ever been in.  The water must have been 60-70 degrees. Probably comfortable for most people! ;)  The kids had fun playing in the surf and collecting sea shells and interesting sea weed.  My son grabbed some of our empty water bottles, used his pocket knife to cut off the top, and used them for building a sandcastle.  The kids also found an old horseshoe crab shell.  This bird tried to find some food on my daughter's beach mat but he couldn't find anything.

Finally we packed up to go and when we got back to the car, we drove around and found more ponies!

Sometimes there are egrets on the backs of the ponies.  The egrets eat the bugs from the pony's back.

Here is the lighthouse from the Atlantic side.

     After a few more stops to the Refuge museum, a few shops and another seafood dinner that we shared, we took the long drive home.  This was a great weekend vacation.  Not that I've been to Virginia Beach yet, but whereas that beach is more modern, Chincoteague is a step back in time.