Annual event at historical village teaches county history

Published 9:14 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fifth-graders learn about life in pioneer days at village

By Evelyn Seffinga

The Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library and Village hosted the 20th annual Discover History Days event Tuesday and Wednesday in Albert Lea.

Email newsletter signup

Discover History Days is an event in which 11th-grade Albert Lea High School students dress in period clothing and teach fifth-grade students about various aspects from the 1850s to early 1900s.

It is a collaboration between Albert Lea humanities students and fifth-grade students from eight local schools. The ALHS students started researching Freeborn County’s pioneer history in March with the help of mentors at the museum and village.

“We have been traveling to different stations and learning about our town’s history,” fifth-grade student Emma Prihoda said Wednesday about the experience.

Members of the community, or mentors, also contributed to the event. Most of the mentors helping out with the project were retired teachers in the district or business owners with particular interests in Freeborn County’s history.

Attendees of this year’s event were entertained and educated by the various high school students hosting tours through each building in the historical village. The buildings haven’t changed much over the years, mentor Vern Teras said Wednesday.

Eighteen topics were highlighted in this year’s event. Examples of those topics were school, life in a log cabin, the millstone, farming, using hardware, tools and church.

Teras, who mentored 11th-grade students in their preparation for the event, oversaw the high school students teaching about the millstone and hardware store.

“(The high school students) spend probably six weeks coming out here two or three times a week doing all of the studying and putting together ideas for their projects,” Teras said.

The event, which takes months of preparation, is put on every year to combine fun and learning through interactivity.

Discover History Days is a collaboration between Albert Lea High School humanities students and fifth-grade students from eight local schools. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Mentors like Teras give the high school students ideas about what will be interesting to the fifth-grade students.

“They do the research, and we just kind of direct them,” Teras said.

Both fifth-graders and mentors said their favorite part of the day was an activity that they participated in at the event. Some of the interactivity involved in this week’s event was rope making, churning butter,  making pancakes and watching how horseshoes were made.

“I liked learning how they lived, like we went to the log cabin and the school and I liked that because you got to do what they did,” Prihoda said.

“It’s really different,” fifth-grade student Phoebe Holst said about her experience in the log cabin.

Prihoda and Holst said they were surprised by how pioneer people used to wash their clothing.

“Watching washing technology grow, in a way, was kind of cool,” Holst said.

Two former pastors attended the event as characters in the church. The students said they thought it was interesting the pastors lived so close to the church.

Throughout the history days, teachers oversaw the event and watched their students learn more about the community they grew up in.

Fifth-grade teachers Matt Bitz and Anna Nordlocken said the event is a good review of the topics that have been covered in social studies.

“I would say this is more hands-on learning for social studies, which, we don’t have a lot of material for that back at school,” Bitz said. “So this is nice for them to see firsthand and to be able to maneuver with things and be able to see the sheep, be able to go into the school and the church — I think it is more visual for them.”

The museum and village incorporated as much visual history into its exhibits as possible, including the era-appropriate clothing the high school students wore as they taught on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I think it is meaningful because it is Freeborn County,” Nordlocken said. “Being able to visit more than one of these buildings, which they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do, is pretty cool.”

Nordlocken said having the high school students explain everything is really neat to see and the younger students love it because it is someone they look up to.

The Freeborn County Historical Museum is open all year, but the historical village is only open May through September. The organization’s regular hours are from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

For more information on the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library and Village, call 507-373-8003 or visit

Students play a game from pioneer times Wednesday during Discover History Days at the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library and Village. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

About Evelyn Seffinga

Evelyn Seffinga covers education and arts and culture for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Evelyn