Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Home School Immersion- Colonial Williamsburg

Teaching your own children brings to mind the old Proverb: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."  Traveling to teach our children about history and culture doesn't ensure they will learn it; all we can do is lead them to it and hope they drink...  Case in point: Our Williamsburg Visit.

     We shuffled our three kids and two dolls out the door and headed for the Royal Governor’s mansion.
     A persnickety man assuming we were the hired help answered Emma’s timid knock on the mansion’s front door.  It seemed there was a Royal Ball that evening and he was desperate.
     “From your casual attire, I can see you are not a guest of the Governor’s tonight so you must be the new servants.  Please come in and I’ll show you around,” he said as we entered the heavily armed foyer.  Swords, scabbards, pistols, and rifles lined the walls from floor to ceiling.  He explained that this was a customary display of the power of the British government and we would be expected to dust them later.  “Let’s go through to the ballroom.  I think Mrs. Brown, the housekeeper is there and she’ll find you more suitable clothing and better explain your duties for the night.  It is going to be a grand celebration of Queen Charlotte’s birthday.”
     Greg and I smiled as we followed the enthusiastic actor through the home.  The kids were mesmerized.  Emma pulled my sleeve as we walked and asked, “Are we really going to get some clothes like his?”
     I whispered, “Sorry, darling, but I don’t think so… that would be neat though, wouldn’t it?”  She giggled to hide her disappointment.
     The historical actor stayed in character throughout our tour of the mansion.  After a while, we let ourselves slip back in time to 1775.  He referred to the recent skirmish near Concord and Lexington and held all of Boston in complete contempt for their ungrateful behavior in the past few months.
     “How could anyone disrespect our King by dumping his tea into the water?  Disgraceful!”  He was definitely a loyalist. 
     As we wandered the rooms, I discovered I couldn’t stop grinning. Greg looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
     “Are you okay?”
     “I’m great.  I’m just happy.”
     “About what?” He wasn’t a history convert yet.
     “This is it.” I waved my hand around the beautiful ballroom with its portraits of the King and Queen flanking the double doors. I pointed at the kids standing near our guide with rapt attention as he told of the grand traditions of the British and complained about upstarts like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington who took it all for granted. “This is what I dreamed about for home school,” I whispered. “I have always wanted to teach by immersion.  Go and see places in person instead of just reading about them in books.  I just can’t believe we’re here.  We are actually doing it!”
     Greg and I trailed the others out into the gardens.  Wyatt spotted a maze and raced Emma to it.  Anabel sauntered through a vine-covered pathway.  Greg and I meandered around the King’s gardens and found our way to the kitchens where a woman was demonstrating beer making. The smell knocked me back as I entered the small outbuilding.  I decided to hang by the scullery door and listen rather see close-up.  She banked her fire and stirred a large pot full of water, grain, hops and yeast.  She explained that in colonial days everyone drank beer- even the children because the water was contaminated.  Brewers made two different types: a large beer- heavy ale or porter for adults and a small beer- very weak but bacteria free for children. The local brewers were usually cooks in the kitchens of larger estates and servants were sometimes paid with a stipend of weak beer.  Imported beers were for the wealthy while most common townsfolk drank a local brew.  George Washington reportedly loved porters and Thomas Jefferson preferred lighter ales.  I couldn’t wait for our dinner in the local pub to taste both to see with which founding father I agreed.
Brewing a pint...or two.
     The remainder of our day was spent along Gloucester Street in the shopping district of Colonial Williamsburg. The kids perused the 18th century wares and bought some costumes and games with the money they earned washing golf carts on Fripp.  We toured the home where Jefferson studied law and watched the blacksmith and wheelwright’s demonstrations.  As we neared the House of Burgesses, we noticed a shift in sentiment towards the British among the reenactments.  No longer were the town’s folk spouting praises for the King.  Minutemen were marching along the streets and drilling in the courtyard.  A man stood on an expounding plank talking of freedom and the rights of men.
     Our last stop was the Virginia Capital building where a riot had recently taken place.  The Royal Governor and his advisors had left in the middle of the night leaving their food still on their plates in their private meeting room. A few months prior, Patrick Henry delivered his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech during a covert meeting to the Virginia convention in Richmond and rebellion took hold in Williamsburg.  Patrick Henry was named the new governor and the capital building was the site of the first Declaration of Rights in America.  I tried to instill the magnitude of how awe-inspiring it was to stand where our founding fathers stood. 
     “Anabel, Thomas Jefferson studied law in this building.  Wyatt, this is where the first group of people agreed that all men were created equal and free.  Emma, Patrick Henry said in this room, ‘If this be treason, make the most of it!’  Can you imagine taking such a risk?  If they had been caught by the British they would have been killed!” I gave the kids a wide-eyed look for emphasis.  They stared back at me speechless.  I had them.  They were as interested in history as I.  

     Then, Emma opened her mouth and said, “Did they have ice cream in colonial times, Mommy?”
     Wyatt turned to his sister. “Ooo!  I’d really like some ice cream!”
     Anabel shook her head as if coming back from a daze. “Are we getting ice cream? I want some.”

Oh well, I had them for a moment, which was better than never at all.

**This is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir about our family field trip year.  Check out the original blogs from our trip to Colonial Williamsburg:

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