Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How We Do Salt Dough Maps

     Salt dough maps are a great way to teach geography. I have heard from many about dough that never dries. Thankfully, that has never been a problem for us.  First I mix the dry ingredients (2 cups flour and 1/2 cup salt), then add just enough water to make a moist, pliable dough.  Look for consistency similar to homemade bread or pizza dough...not too wet nor too dry. Knead the map dough until smooth.

    In preparation for salt dough map projects, I collect cardboards from old boxes of various sizes.  I usually print out a map and glue it onto the cardboard. Then I give each of the kids dough for them to start shaping on top of the land areas.  They leave the water areas alone. From their studies and a bit of research on topography, they use more dough for mountains and less for valleys. They don't need to get too scientific with this.  I prefer they get  general idea.  While the dough is damp, it is best to poke the necessary spots with a small metal skewer for labeling later.  If the project must be put aside for awhile, that is fine. We put the dough in a ziplock bag and seal it until its next use.  When the land forms are completed, we set it aside to dry and store the remaining dough in a ziplock bag and place in the freezer until the next project.

     The dough usually air dries in a day.  Then the kids paint the landforms: blue for water, green or brown for land, white for snow. When done, they cut out bits of construction paper to write names of locations. These are glued to toothpicks and then the tips are dipped in glue and placed in the premade holes for labeling.

     I must confess, sometimes we'd forget to premake the holes for labeling. Then I'd get a small nail and gently tap the proper locations for the toothpicks. This always created cracks in the land. That is okay and might even be worthy to do on purpose, allowing the cracks to represent fault lines since the earth is actually covered with fissures!   A few years ago we watched an interesting IMAX movie on earthquakes which sort of drove home the point.     

     My kids made lots of maps throughout their first year studying TOG. That was the year we studied Ancient history. They made maps of every continent. Here are some of them.

Ancient Egypt (my daughter's is on the left; my son's is on the right)...

 Ancient India (my son's is on the left; my daughter's is on the right)...


Ancient China (my daughter's is on the left; my son's is on the right)...

 North and South America (while studying the Ancient Mayans)


Ancient Greece (my daughter's is on the left; my son's is on the right)...


Ancient Rome (my son's)...

Ancient Rome (my daughter's)...

Monday, September 28, 2009

What is Revolutionary City?

     Over the last few weeks, a few ladies have contacted me for information to help them plan their time at Colonial Williamsburg during the homeschool weeks. Each of these ladies had been to CW years ago, but a lot has changed and they knew that I go quite a bit. Incidentally, their primary questions revolved around the same program, so I thought others might benefit from some of the information I shared.

      The one lady, wanting to maximize her family's time in the few days they'd be at Colonial Williamsburg, asked which programs did I think she should focus on attending. Without skipping a beat I said, "Revolutionary City".  Revolutionary City is an interactive outdoor theater program that encapsulates everything that Colonial Williamsburg represents.  For everyone, including homeschoolers, this is incredible. It is more than a synopsis of the driving force behind the Revolutionary War. It is an opportunity to see first hand the essence of what the Revolutionary War was fought for. It explores the roots of our country's history and the beginnings of our representative government. 

     Then I was asked if all of this takes place indoors. Would there be enough room in the theater for the entire family to view this. Actually Revolutionary City is outdoor theater!  The setting is on the streets of 18th century Williamsburg, when it was the seat of Virginia government. How often do we get to see a play in it's actual historic setting with a three dimensional stage? The restored colonial shops, houses, taverns, capitol and courthouse form the backdrop for the dramatic scenes. Revolutionary City is a history book come to life. Everything that the students have read and studied, are now interactive.  The students, parents and all guests can now get emotionally caught up as they see events, hopes, dreams and disappointments of the people of the 18th century unfold before their eyes.  Horsemen gallop up the Duke of Gloucester Street shouting news of the recent Battle of Lexington and Concord!  The royal governor,  Lord Dunmore, angrily arrives at the capitol in his carriage drawn by horses. During the announcement that Virginia is declaring its independence from England, cannons near the guests are fired while everyone shouts "Huzzah!"  Benedict Arnold arrives pompously on his horse and arrogantly declares the benefits of his takeover of the city, as the American flag is taken down from the capitol behind him, and the British flag is raised.    

     Another friend asked what year Colonial Williamsburg would be in when they arrived. I knew what she meant, because I had experienced that on previous visits before Revolutionary City began a few years ago. In 2004 we were there for a week and the time frame was the month that we were there, August, in one certain year, I think 1775.  Now that Revolutionary City is a daily event throughout the year (except winter), the time changes each day. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the day 1 program, which reenacts events from 1774-1776.  If RC is in the afternoon, as it is during the school year, and you meet Patrick Henry in the morning, he'll probably mention that there is consternation in the town and Lord Dunmore will be arriving at the capitol in the morning.  We might want to be there to hear what he says. (That is the first scene of RC on those days.)  Wed, Fri and Sun is the day 2 program, which reenacts events from 1776-1781.  If you meet townspeople in the morning, they might mention that the Declaration of Independence is going to be read at the capitol that afternoon and we might want to attend the public reading of it. That is the first scene of RC of those days.  On Mondays, there are vignettes of various people from the Revolution throughout the entire time frame.  Then there are additional scenes scattered across the historic area throughout each day.

     My friend also asked how they would be able to find the scenes. At the beginning of each RC, as the "staging" area is entered, broadsides (flyers) are distributed with the events, locations and time frame, so everyone can keep track.  Also one can't get lost, just follow the crowds. The interpreters often make transition speeches with announcements of where to go next. For example, "I hear there is a secret meeting in the garden.  Let's go down and listen!" (That's not actually a line. I don't have the script; nor do I have any of this memorized! But the transitions are done in character!)    

         The part that makes RC shine is that it is interactive!  It's fascinating to watch an excellent play; yet, it's beyond incredible to be caught up in unfolding drama! The guests are encouraged to engage with the characters, asking their opinions of events, and subsequently are free to express their own opinions.  Sometimes while walking down the Duke of Gloucester to go to the next scene, Patrick Henry himself has fallen in step next to me and another delegate has joined him.  They discuss the pressing events requiring Lord Dunmore's angry arrival.  I could jump into their discussion with my own opinions, or ask them questions about their discussions.  However, I am usually so in awe, caught in the moment from a page of history, that I can't think of anything to say. Other times one of the characters will see me and draw me out. That is really the best way to get me to talk.  One time a slave came to me before RC, while I was sitting on a doorstep, quite worried and asking if I heard that Lord Dunmore would be arriving. Another time, before the tar and feathering scene, I've been hurriedly asked if I had seen Mr. Hardcastle. Before the beginning of RC on various trips to CW, the kids and I might eat lunch or get a snack or hot cocoa from Raleigh Tavern Bakery and sit under the trees, only to be approached by one of the townspeople and asked where we are visiting from and caught up on the events of the day. The other day, while walking to the capitol to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Mason greeted me and said he remembered my family. I started talking to him about the Virginia Declaration of Rights which he had written.  My husband and son have earnestly attempted to talk Mrs. Randolph into becoming a patriot and remaining in Virginia. My husband told Mrs. Vobe that I make Peanut Soup and she suggested that we trade receipts.  While I was talking to her, she saw someone coming down the street, from whom she needed to collect money owed her. She excused herself so that she could take care of business. Then I realized that was the next scene, and I was part of it!  Each experience with Revolutionary City allows me to consider the story from different viewpoints, whether I stood next to a slave, a tory, or a patriot.   Where else can we be immersed in the history of the formation of our country?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Grand Night of Dancing

When we attended Homeschool Week at Colonial Williamsburg a few days ago, we went to the Capital for our first evening dance program! We all got to dance as 100% participation is required. I have never ever before had a chance to dance like this, with a real colonial gent. The experience greatly exceeded my hopes and dreams, of feeling oh so 18th century, dancing with a colonial gent.

Here are some of the ladies with their lovely gowns, who danced the night away with us.

I got to dance with the colonel, (shown below) who was a lot of fun! He had a thick Scottish accent, and talked in my ear, while the music was playing to either chit chat or give me direction. One of the moves we made was the gentlemen twirling the ladies! The colonel twirled me most of the time but there is one part where I get passed off to another partner who twirls me as well. All that twirling was fun and surprisingly I wasn't getting dizzy. Well the colonel kept telling me I was an excellent twirler. (I bet he says that to all the girls.) Finally he started twirling me extra, which made me a teeny bit dizzy.! But I was laughing too! This type of dizziness was fun! I said something about getting dizzy and he said, "Oh dear," held me extra tight, kept twirling me (which was even more fun, and the show must go on after all!), then passed me off and told the gentleman to be gentle in twirling me! At the end he held onto me tightly while returning me to my husband. The dance is my favorite evening event of all. I definitely want to do this again, even double twirls! Surprisingly I wasn't dizzy for too long. This is the colonel, who left before I could have my picture taken with him. I'm always too shy to ask for pictures with people, but I really wanted these pictures and my husband was busy taking lots of them.

My daughter danced with a gentleman we had met before and teased us greatly, so she wasn't sure about dancing with him. At the end she told me it went well. I told her he was being a gentleman this evening. While my son and husband were having their pictures taken with their partners, my daughter's dancing partner came to me and said that he thought he had met our family once before. "Oh yes, perhaps so," I laughed.

My son's partner...

This lady also danced with my husband...

And this lady danced with my husband...

This is my other dance partner, who also did a great job narrating for the evening. I was completely flattered that when the first dance began, he came directly to me. Then the colonel came to me to ask for a dance. Then after all that twirling, this kind gent asked me to dance a second time! I was absolutely spoiled this evening!

We each got to dance two dances, while a few more were demonstrated for us. My husband had hoped to dance with me, but I told him it was nice to dance with one of the costumed dancers, since they are trained in the steps. We've danced one other time at a historical place and it wasn't as fun because not everyone was guaranteed a partner, and some of our partners were other guests and we didn't really know what was going on. This dance at CW was extremely well organized, as always.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Through the Garden Gate

Saturday during Homeschool Week we began the day with another garden tour, Through the Garden Gate. This was another interesting tour, where we learned about architectural research to recreate the gardens with historical accuracy. We walked through a few gardens off Waller Street, land that had been owned by Mann Page! The guide was surprised to hear our exclamations of recognition! He's the man we see on the horse in Revolutionary City that made a fast and furious 100 mile horse ride from Fredericksburg to Williamsburg with pressing news, only to be asked to make a hasty return trip with new information. That night, we got to meet the lady who lives in the house with this lovely garden!

The kids had been given picture cards of various dependencies (or small buildings like the white one above) to look for on each property. We also took turns reading various quotes about the gardens. Especially funny was reading about how two gentlemen went on and on in correspondence about this particular flower. I can't think of any men today who would do that!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gardens of Gentility Tour

Friday morning we took the Gardens of Gentility Tour. This was extremely interesting. We toured the palace gardens, which represent the ultimate genteel garden.  We looked at their kitchen garden...

the orchard...

the peek-through windows...

and the symmetry of the pleasure gardens...


Being that CW is about living history, you never know who will walk by, like Patrick Henry. Incidentally, this was his home as the first governor of Virginia. 

Then we went to the Wythe garden (to represent gentility of the gardens on a smaller scale)

 and the kitchen garden behind the Geddy House to represent a middling garden.
After this wonderful tour, we were given an assignment to walk through the other gardens and pick out which type of garden it is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Colonial Williamsburg's Homeschooler Experiences

I finally made a decision about when to attend Colonial Williamsburg's Homeschooler Experiences and my husband subsequently took his first two days off from his new job. To him, it was vacation time in Colonial Williamsburg! For me it was going to be a chance to see some homeschool friends at my favorite place. Little did I know who all I would meet, and who all would remember us from previous visits! For my kids it was a chance to have fun. Always, the night before we leave for CW, my son starts humming "Yankee Doodle" and my daughter gets more fluttery and excited. When we arrived on Thursday, there was a sign greeting the homeschoolers...


After getting our homeschool passes and schedules, we set out to meet with Lady Washington in a private audience with homeschoolers.  She was absolutely wonderful in engaging with the children. When they ran out of questions, she filled the time with fascinating stories that we never would have thought to ask about, which revealed more about herself and her husband.


Immediately after her program we went to Kimball Theater for a presentation from the Marquis de Lafayette, which is always wonderful. During the Q&A, my husband told Lafayette that he (Lafayette) would one day go to Monticello and he (my husband) wanted to hear about that experience. Uh oh, the kids and I know better than to do this! Lafayette gave him a hard time (in a fun way) that he could not predict the future. In the meantime I think he did tell us something interesting from Lafayette's timeframe, but now I forget. We were laughing too hard at my husband being called a "soothsayer!" At the end, my son wanted to meet with Lafayette to ask for a picture of the medal he received from King Louis for fighting in the American Revolution. Well, I told my son he can't just ask for a picture of Lafayette's medal. After all, he is always telling us that he is a statute in search of a pedestal. He might be offended to have a picture only of his medal taken! I told him we could ask for a picture of him with Lafayette and that would be more polite. He liked that, but when he got a chance he asked Lafayette if he'd mind a picture being taken of the medal. I was surprised to hear Lafayette say that he remembered my son asking about the medal last time we had visited him and he certainly could take a picture of the medal. (He remembers my son?) In fact, he'd even purposely stand still for the picture. I thought that was an interesting statement, because we are always having trouble getting clear pictures of Lafayette because he is extremely animated. Now I'm glad my son got the picture, because the medal is gorgeous. The French really do know how to design medals. Hmmm, it doesn't show up as well here as it does in my photo program.

In the end, my husband did get a picture of the kids with Lafayette.

 Later we went to the Tucker House (for donors of $100+) to meet with the crafter of the day. She used a spindle a bit different than the one I had at home. She got excited when she heard that. She said I needed wool to make it work. Um, I do have wool, although we've never used it. "Why not?" she incredulously asked. Sheepishly I explained we simply did not have her knack for spinning. The wool looks so beautiful now, but if we start pulling it apart, we'll ruin it and it won't spin well and it won't be pretty anymore. She told me to bring the wool and spindle the next time she is at the Tucker House and she'll help us with it!  

Later that afternoon we walked down Nicholson Street to Botetourt to go to Revolutionary City where we saw the Governor's carriage awaiting his arrival. 

This blog entry is going to be extremely long, so I'm doing another entry just on Revolutionary City. I'm just going to share a few tidbits of it here.

My husband was recruited to join the militia. He wasn't going to but he told me he was chitchatting with one of the actors who remembered him (one whom I had written about previously in supporting our homeschooling) and I guess this actor recruited him.


That evening we attended a special concert to celebrate Constitution Day. This event was the driving force to schedule our time in CW as we did, as there are two full weeks for the homeschool events. After much friendly chit chatting with other guests who live in the area, the program began!
Also performing was the fife and drum corps...


and General Washington! Remember that George Washington was president of the Constitutional Convention.


The presentation was wonderfully patriotic.


Before we attended another special audience for homeschoolers, we took a Gardens of Gentility Tour
Then we followed that with Gowan Pamphlet at the special audience. He had received his freedom and was a Baptist minister. He told us about the Great Awakening, which we had studied a couple of years ago. This was a great review, confirming to our kids that Mom isn't too crazy with her historical ideas. I even told Gowan Pamphlet that we had studied it and had learned that it was one of the driving forces that unified the vastly differing colonies before the American Revolution. We talked about that for a while and other homeschoolers joined us. The time was wonderful! He told us how he became a minister and I asked him where he learned to read. He started talking about the Bray School and his teacher Ann Wager. Of course, I had forgotten. I told him we had met her and she had mentioned him. He was delighted to hear that!

Then we watched the end of The Challenge of Independence, about the Virginia delegation who had written the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

 Their scene was interrupted for the poignant "What Holds the Future?"

After a cheerful lunch watching all the busy colonial city experience on the Duke of Gloucester Street, we went to the playhouse and watched a few skits, common to the era.

The cast of characters included a doctor named Dr. Gargle and a man in love called Lovewell. These are the only names I remember, played by the man on the left, in two different plays. As they told us, characters were named according to who they were.  The next day we had lunch outside the fence. We don't normally eat lunch here but my blood sugar had just crashed and I had to eat immediately. This was a nice place, and just in time for the fife and drum corps to march up the street. Then the plays here started, and they were different. I asked one of the actors about it and he said they always change them up!  How terrific! There's always new stuff to do here. We quickly finished lunch and went in to see another play which recieved yells of "Encore!".   

Afterwards we went to the shoemaker, who is great! He works industriously (I guess he doesn't have any elves in the night to help him.) and speaks about anything we ask. I like seeing the trades and seeing the various stages of the various projects. We had visited him a few weeks ago and told him how my son had made his own boots for costumes. This time he told my son to pick up the cut out leather waiting to become a shoe. This is the top part of the shoe...

which when folded up...

looks like this.

We did Revolutionary City again, covering a different era of history. We had had fun the two days with RC. As much as we see it, we saw lots of new tidbits this time that had been thrown in. They do a terrific job. In fact, while walking to one of the scenes, one of the gentlemen looked down and smiled at me and welcomed me, remembering our family. (I remembered him too! I'm glad my husband got this picture of him talking to me.) Was he George Mason? Yes!We talked about the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which he wrote, and Gunston Hall, about an hour from where we live!

My husband was quite vocal against Benedict Arnold, and so was this citizen from Williamsburg who stood in front of me...

After meeting with Lafayette who reviewed the troops,

I met up with some homeschool friends I met online through a yahoo homeschool group!

 With our kids...I have the smallest family!

That night we attended a musical concert at the Capitol with the Governor's Musick, surrounded by candlelight. The Viola de Gamba was featured, while accompanied by the harpsichord. The music was beatiful. We cannot take pictures inside at night, but isn't the walkway inviting? My son took this terrific picture!

The next morning we took a Through the Garden Gage Tour.  Towards the end of it we met a man who takes care of the pigeons. He came over to show us one up close! Lancelot was incredibly gentle and soft.

We learned a lot about pigeons. I thought this horse was funny, looking into the pigeon coop! We went over to pet him and he kept sniffing us for food and even sniffed my totebag for food! We didn't feed him because that is not allowed, but he was fun.

Later that morning  we went to a private audience for homeschoolers, Patrick Henry. He was homeschooled himself, so I asked about that. His father had a small Latin school at home for the area children. I had not known that. He was asked to give his famous speech, "Give me Liberty or Death!" Well, that wouldn't happen until the future, but he is always willing to delve into the future, so he told us what he might say! It was great! He always says he can talk to us about anything in the future, because history repeats itself. On many an occasion, I've heard contemporary questions asked, that Henry can answer, using stories from his era.

Then we went on a special 75th anniversary tour of the Governor's Palace. This tour is all about the archaeology and restoration of the palace. We toured with my friend who has ten children. Afterwards, her children and mine had fun playing in the palace gardens which has a maze and many "hidden" trails, surrounded by all boxwood. They also played along the canal.

That afternoon we went to Basset Hall, which was the colonial home of the Rockefellers who provided the finances to restore the historic area. They lived there every April and October and had the gardens specially designed for those bloom periods. The gardens continue to reflect that, so I told the family we need to tour the house again in those months to see the gardens.

That evening we went to the Capital to dance! We all got to dance as 100% participation is required.

The next day we got to attend another private audience for homeschoolers with General Washington! He is very difficult to think of questions for, because he does an excellent job portraying General Washington, a stoic, private man who only spoke about public things. It really makes us realize how many private things we want to know! My daughter asked Washington if new ideas or philosophies come out, does he like to read about them? Washington said he prefers to stick to the old, proven philosophies. After answering several questions as Washington, he stepped out of character so he could answer any question. He asked if we knew who Cincinatus was and my kids and I acknowledged that we did. We learned all about him when we studied Ancient Rome a few years ago!  He seemed surprised that we knew about Cinncinatus, but he told the story of this Roman general who returned to the plow for the others. That was great because it's an interesting story everyone should know.  We did learn something new about Cinncinatus. We didn't know he was originally from Spain! Washington often refers to Senaca so I asked who he was. He was a Greek stoic philosopher, opposite an epicurean philosopher. He gave exellent comparisons of the stoic Washington to the epicurean Jefferson. We learned a lot that morning.

Then we took the 75th anniversary tour of the Capitol, again about the archaeology and restoration. I got into a discussion with the tour guide about the different monarchs of England. We had studied them, but they all sort of blur together. He gave extra information I did not remember studying. We learned a lot.

Squeezed into our busy day we had to visit to one of my favorite places, the milliner. We actually talked with the tailor and I analyzed, as usual, the garment he was sewing. My son told him I needed to make a new costume for him, since he's outgrown the old one. (He's grown 5" since moving to VA!) Then my husband told him I needed to make one for him. I was getting worried about all of the ideas the tailor was offering. Fancy buttons, fancy vest, yikes! I made a mental note to visit the tailor without the guys next time!

After some refreshment, my son borrowed some hoops from the Kings Arms Tavern and played up and down the Duke of Gloucester Street. Then he asked me to participate. How can I say no? I had never played this before, but it was fun. Then my daughter got into it and the three of us were hitting hoops up and down the street.

Then we went to the Geddy House to tour the home and his Silversmith shop. In the backyard are games like mancala, ring toss, hoops and nine pins.

Once again, you never know who might come by...General Washington!

The last two days we spent time at the weaver's. On Saturday he spun thread, gave samples to the kids, and told stories that had the kids mesmerized. Did you know the red dye comes from a bug called a kocheneil (sp?) bug? I learned that on my first trip to CW years ago. This time I learned that it is the secret ingredient to various popular items and I couldn't take it. He was having a lot of fun with my reactions!

On Sunday he demonstrated weaving. He also told an interesting story, referring to my daughter's costume which has a flounce below her elbow. In that era, a lady did not expose her elbows. (In fact, one of the coachman has teased me about not being properly dressed and not covering my elbows. Apparently, elbows are a big deal!) The weaver was saying that men back then must have had a thing for elbows, because the flounce was to tease a man, that they might get a peak at the elbow, but of course they wouldn't. I never knew that about the flounce.

Well, it was another incredible time in CW. On the way back to the visitor center, my husband remarked at how subdued we all were. We're looking forward to another trip back.