Back to the past

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday was a day full of hands-on learning for fifth-graders from elementary schools in Freeborn County. Discover History Days is in its 13th year at the Freeborn County Historical Museum.

Juniors from Jim Haney and Kurt Barickman’s history classes at Albert Lea High School made lesson plans and presented to kids on Tuesday. They will be touring more classes on Wednesday and Thursday.

“They do as many hands-on activities as they can,” Haney said.

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The kids split into groups and get to see four different areas which included the school, church, general store, barber shop, blacksmith and agriculture among others. Sophie Lee, 17, was one junior who was teaching and had to research before making a lesson plan. Lee did most of her research at the historical society.

“We looked up tons of information in books they had here and asked people who worked here,” Lee said.

She and her partner taught kids about washing clothes before machines were used and about life in a small house on the plains.

“We had to prepare mud so they could fill in the cracks on the sides of the cabins,” Lee said.

They also had to hang a clothesline so kids could finish the laundry after washing it. The juniors all had access to mentors to help with their research. Most of the mentors who helped them are active retired people who are interested in history. One mentor was the Rev. Robert Bailey who helped teach the juniors about church life in the past.

“I always loved this museum and to go through and see our history,” Bailey said.

Bailey also thought it was fun that some in the group of juniors who presented also got to go to Discover History Day when they were in fifth grade. The mentors were there to help research and steer the juniors in the right direction. The Rev. Milt Ost helped the presenters by telling them that men couldn’t wear hats in church and women sat on one side and men sat on the other side of the church to worship.

All of the presenters had mentors, including the dairy farming section. Dan Johnson and Phil Tennis are both retired dairy farmers who helped out on Tuesday.

“We showed them the different displays here and all the separators and how to churn butter,” Johnson said.

The mentors met with the students to show them things at the museum and how to use various older machinery. They also were full of information about the present. Tennis said all farms used to have cows, but now there are mostly only large dairies. He then taught the presenters about the differences between cream and whole milk.

“We never used to think of putting milk on cereal — we always used cream,” Tennis said.

He also taught them about how cows digest and that cows have four stomachs. The agriculture group was another group with hands-on learning. Some kids even got to use an old saw.

“They taught us about the early tools they used and how they did stuff around the farm,” 11-year-old Zach Zabrocki said.

Zabrocki was with his class from Alden-Conger Elementary School. He learned about agriculture from Dyllan Engebretson and his partner, who both did research before presenting.

“We read some books and talked to our mentors,” Engebretson said.

Engebretson let the kids use an old saw to saw through large branches. When asked if he was nervous about kids using a saw he shrugged and said he was more nervous about messing up while talking in front of the kids.

“I liked the log sawing,” Engebretson said. “It was easier than everything else.”

Kids also got to shave each other at the barber shop and learn how to make rope. Another group got to guess prices of commodities at the general store.

“We did some pricing to see if they could guess prices,” Natasha Willey said.

Willey is a junior at ALHS and she and her partner, Bethany Sekora, prepared a lesson plan for the general store. She said the kids would guess that flour and sugar would be about $3 when it was around 50 cents back then. They also taught them about some of the other things in the store.

“They couldn’t figure out what the curling iron was,” Sekora said.

The girls liked talking to the kids and how curious they were about history and the daily life of pioneers. Haney likes that his students get the opportunity to research and then teach history. It brings it alive for the younger kids.

“You can taste, touch, smell, feel history, and that’s what it’s all about,” Haney said. “That’s how you learn history.”