Sunday, October 26, 2008

Topic of the Month: Jamestown

I grew up near Richmond, Virginia, and my grandfather loved to take day trips with the family to various local historic locations like Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English colony. Years ago the museum was free, so when I discovered they now charge admission, I was disappointed. However since I have traveled there with my children, I would happily pay that fee. What they created is a hands-on living-history experience for all ages .

At our last visit, the special exhibit was the Jamestown Settlement Artifact Odyssey, which includes images of nature, artifacts, and people John White painted as he visited the Algonquian Indians in North Carolina in 1580. I found these images fascinating, but my 6 and 3 year olds were quite bored. A permanent exhibit in the Galleries demonstrates the English, African, and Powhatan cultures meeting with artifacts, life-size dioramas, and full-scale structures.

My children, however, could not wait to get outside to the hands-on engaging history experience that awaited them. While guided tours are available, my children explored and learned on their own in the Powhatan Indian Village that included houses for sleeping and storage. Children can touch the beds, walls, and items in the houses. They can also grind corn, tan hides, and visit with the museum volunteers in costume. From there, they ran down to the riverfront where they climbed aboard replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery where they tried the sailor’s bunks and were taught to raise the anchor and steer the craft with a tiller. Then we moved on to recreation of the 1610-1614 James Fort . They explored the homes, church, and storehouse. A cannon is shot off every so often, so be prepared to hear that noise as well as learn how colonists used matchlock muskets. Emily found the colonial armor very heavy and couldn't imagine walking around in it often.

At Jamestown historical facts collides with cultural legends about Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and John Smith. While I can not capture the hands-on experience that I would like all my students and their families to have, I do offer my students the option of traveling to and reporting on a museum experience in replace of a homework assignment.

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