Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Homeschool Field Trip: Conner Prairie

Living history museums are WAY more fun now that my children will consent to speak to other humans. Now they love the play-acting and joining into the spirit of the conceit that's required for one to really experience what a living history museum can offer, and they had a fabulous day at Conner Prairie.

I was the most excited for the children to experience Prairie Town, a recreation of an 1836 small Indiana town, because I considered it the culmination of our pioneer unit study. The kids had worked hard learning about Western Expansion and pioneer life, and thus had the context to make their experience here even more fun. Seriously, they inspected this covered wagon like the trail-hardened wagon engineers that they are:

I took them by the Outfitters Cart to choose a profession--Cook--and it was the best thing that we could possibly have done there, especially as our first stop. Many of the tasks that the profession card held required the kids to engage with the actors, which got them comfortable with doing so and for the rest of the day, they were able to run right up to anyone in period dress and jump right in with questions or thoughts or "help" with whatever that actor was doing:
Even though it was actively raining, like, right then, this gardener was still grateful to have some help at the pump!

carding wool for the hotel owner

and helping her spin some wool

The Cook card also required the kids to practice close observation--they had to find things in the kitchens like this book of recipes--

 --and the prices for various staple goods, including salt, sugar, and baking soda:
Note that this sign doesn't have "baking soda" on it. Can YOU find it?

I also required the kids to ask one "good" question every place we went, and this led to them learning interesting facts such as where the salt is stored, why the doctor's wife doesn't have a butter churn (the doctor gets paid in so much barter that they don't need to keep their own animals), and how much a tin cup costs at the trading post (the trader said that if Syd brought him a raccoon skin, he'd give her TWO tin cups!).

The only place that really disappointed me was the Lenape Indian Camp. There was a wetu and a skin drying and a bark boat--

--and a couple of children's games set out, but there were no Lenape. Instead, there was the trading post and another settler-type house, and when Syd asked, the trader's wife said that the place was a "trading camp"--not even a real Native American town, then! NOT a good representation of Native American life, especially considering that Indiana has a rich Native American history, some of which we actually do know.

Oh, well. We'll be visiting Prophetstown and Battle Ground later this year, and I can do my own fangirly historical interpretation there myself, if I need to. 

One of the things that I had to continually encourage the kids to do, even after all their practice at Prairetown, was to ask the actors and other historical interpreters their questions. Syd would absolutely pepper me with questions, but when I would tell her to ask this or that person instead, she'd be reluctant. Will would also have questions, but would then immediately come up with her own guesses at the answers, and be satisfied with that. I absolutely required them, however, if there was a docent in sight, to refer their question to that person, and thankfully, every single docent was always interesting and engaging, and always had an answer (that was always different from Will's guesses!). 

The kids have been interested in pottery ever since Syd's work on her Potter badge, and I've been toying with the idea of what at-home pottery we can do (pottery studio memberships aren't super pricey here, honestly, but the kids' classes always overlap extracurriculars that my kids are already involved in). I don't think that we could recreate THIS kiln, necessarily--

 --but this potter--

--was making some pretty great things on a kick wheel just like this one!

There was also map reading--

--and chicken observation-- 

--and over lunch a Come to Jesus entitled "If You Continue to Pitch This Fit, I Will Leave Your Sister with One of My Friends and Drive You Home and You Will Reimburse Me $5 for Your Admission to This Place," inspired by the fact that Will had packed only a ton of yogurt and fruit for her own lunch (and no spoon), and couldn't stand the fact that Syd had packed a giant, carefully-prepared lunch for herself. Syd even let Will borrow her plastic spoon when I asked her to, before she'd even used it herself for her own yogurt, so Will ate her own yogurt with the spoon, and then THREW THE SPOON AWAY. Syd had to spoon up her yogurt with the lid, getting it all over herself in the process, but don't worry--Will had ALSO THROWN AWAY THE WET WIPE. 

Lunch was followed by Go Play on the Playground and Don't Talk to Me for a While. Everyone cheered up at the tour of the historical home and garden, however-- 

--and Will redeemed herself by asking a million nerdy questions of the weaver, and chasing squirrels out by the cornfield and making her sister laugh.

It was almost the end of the day by the time we reached the Civil War--

--but the kids still got to muster, and witness an encounter between Confederate soldiers and some townspeople, and then we wandered into the field hospital.

It was just the three of us in the field hospital, along with the field medic, but he was stoked to set up shop and show us all of his tools and how he used them. Using Syd as his model, he described in great detail what a gunshot to the arm would look like--what it would tear, what it would shatter, how much blood would be spilled, what the level of pain would look like. He pulled out each tool that would be used and explained exactly what each one would do--this one to hold the skin flaps open, this one to clamp onto the lead bullet, this one to cut away excess tissue. He was just describing how the surgeons would simply wipe off the saw before using it to sever another limb, when Syd suddenly began to make this loud, high-pitched whining noise. We both turned to look at her, the field medic still holding her arm, just as she started to stagger in his grasp and fall over.

"Oh, no!" I said. "She's going to faint! Is there somewhere she can sit?" The field medic ran outside, where there were a couple of Union soldiers killing time on the porch, and got them to drag a chair up to the porch, which I hauled Syd over to and sat her on. One of the soldiers then went inside to grab some of the field bandages to make a cold, wet compress for Syd's forehead, while I made Syd put her head between her knees and the poor field medic just kept apologizing to her, over and over, pausing only to declare that this had never happened to him before.

While the rest of us were distracted with Syd, the second Union soldier turned to Will, who was just standing there, and asked her, "Are YOU okay?"

"No," I heard her say, and then she started to fall over, too! I ditched Syd with the field medic (still patting her and apologizing), and the second Union soldier and I sort of dragged Will over to a grassy area next to the porch. I laid her down on the grass, and she immediately rolled over onto her face and just lay there, moaning.

The first Union soldier then reappeared, dripping wet linen bandages in his hands, observed the scene, and said, "NOW what happened?" We were all like, "Ummm... I don't know?" so he said, "Right, I'm calling the medic."

Syd was still woozy, so the field medic and the second Union soldier brought her over to the grass, too, and then I found myself, standing on a lawn, my two kids lying moaning at my feet, three grown men in Civil War garb standing facing me, looking absolutely horrified.

Thankfully, it took just a couple of minutes for the medic--the REAL medic--to roll up in his cart. He stepped out, asked what happened, and then the poor field medic started right in about how he was just demonstrating field surgery, and they were really interested, and this had never happened to him before, and so the medic cut him off with "What did you DO to them?"

I explained that the kids both just suddenly felt faint, and the medic, who'd clearly seemed to be expecting chloroform poisoning or something, relaxed into taking the kids' vitals and getting them to sit up, etc.

Syd's check was normal and she was feeling a little better, so I left her in the care of the first Union soldier while the second Union soldier and I helped the medic examine Will. She wasn't feeling well, of course, and strangers were looking at her and talking to her, which she does NOT like, and even though we were pretty isolated where we were, she knew for a fact that many of her friends were also at Conner Prairie that day, and who knew but that they might also be looking at her. Ten-year-old's worst nightmare, right? So let's just say that she was being... combative. The medic asked her if she was okay.

"NO!" she said.

"Okay, then how do you feel?"

"BORED!" she said.

"Can I check your pulse?"

"NO!" she said.

"What's your name?"


The medic looked up at me in concern, and I know he was thinking that she had an altered mental state, but he asked me, "This is unusual for her, right?"

And I said, "Well...". I didn't really know how to respond, actually. Does my kid *usually* act like an asshole? Mostly not. Is acting like an asshole totally out of character for her? No. Could she be acting like an asshole for absolutely no medical reason right now? Probably, but who wants to admit to a medical professional that their kid is simply just acting like an asshole? Finally, I said, "I think that she's, um, angry right now. This isn't the ideal way she wanted to spend her time in Civil War Town."

Fortunately, her vitals read as okay. No neuro consult needed!

Meanwhile, I could half hear Syd having a lovely moment with the first Union soldier. He shared with her his REAL NAME. Wonderful guy.

The medic told the kids that they needed to drink a big glass of water, eat a big dinner, and go to bed early that night, and then he offered us a ride anywhere we wanted to go. It was almost closing time, though, so I asked if he could just take us to our car.

Reader, he could.

The Union soldiers helped get us settled into the medic's buggy, the field medic came over one more time to hug each of the children and tell them that he was sorry (Geez, poor guy!), and then as we motored off, they all waved and hollered "Bye!" at us.

The kids did, indeed drink a ton more water on the way home, they did, indeed eat a big dinner, and you can bet that I did, indeed send them to bed early that night.

Later, as Matt and I hung out and ate our own dinners and watched a movie, I like to think that the field medic and I, cities apart as we were, were both self-medicating ourselves with much hard cider in solidarity from our afternoon.


Tina said...

Oh man, that sucks but how funny! I would have passed out to from the sounds of the field medic's graphic descriptions. I actually started to just skim read it. I've turned into a wimp in my old age.

I'm glad nothing seriously awful happened and this experience will be one worth sharing with the grandkids!

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that my kid acts like an a-hole sometimes.

julie said...

And on the bright side, our ride straight to the car meant that we completely bypassed the gift shop, so that was some money that I didn't spend!


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