Living History Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Eva Varga

August 19, 20104

I have always loved learning and believe that education is a community effort.  As an elementary teacher, I continually sought out service learning projects that enabled my students to become involved in the community while simultaneously complementing our classroom lessons and skills.  As a parent, I want my children to grow up with volunteering as an integral part of their lives.

My children and I began volunteering together in the spring of 2006 when my daughter was 3 ½ years old and my son was 15 months.   We volunteered as Living History Interpreters.  We dressed as homesteaders near Prineville, Oregon in 1880 and interacted with the public as they visited our homestead.  In this role, we utilized our knowledge of the region’s history to educate the public about the past.  With the exception of the winter months, we typically volunteered one day a week for approximately 5 hours.

We also worked with the Adopt-An-Animal program, whereby donors provided financial support for the care of the animals at the museum.  In turn, we sent the donor a thank you letter and a packet of information specific to the animal they selected which included an animal fact sheet, a certificate with a color photograph of the animal, a decal, and an activity sheet.

The children helped me by finding the necessary photographs and thereby learned to identify the names of our native wildlife.  They also learned about why the animals are in our care — all were unable to survive in the wild, typically because they were injured or became dependent on humans for food. Specific needs of the animals such as diet, habitat, and medical care provided great learning opportunities as well.  We typically worked 1-3 hours a week throughout the year.

While we no longer volunteer at the museum, I continue to involve the children in a variety of activities around our community.  We collect trash and pull non-native, invasive weeds along the river when we go for walks.  We donate canned food for the local food banks.  During the holiday season, we donate gifts for children in need.  Last spring, we began a garden to grow a few organic vegetables for our table.

Each service learning endeavor helps the children to think about what it means to take care of our community, animals, and the environment.

Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what sort of volunteering made sense for young children. In selecting activities, I take into consideration the interests and concerns that each of my children have developed.

One of the least expected outcomes was recognizing how the children have discovered themselves.  When we started, my daughter was a little timid and slow to talk with adults. In a short time, she learned to interact with the staff and other volunteers as individuals, carrying on conversations and discussing her thoughts openly.  On the homestead, she was always eager to show visitors how to pump water for the garden and can easily identify the vegetables we grow.

It is already clear that their life experiences and these service learning opportunities have helped to ensure that they will be self-assured and outgoing.

November 1, 2007

The kiddos and I were at the Homestead yesterday. It was just us as the lead staff member was out ill and the other volunteer was away on vacation. All was going well… Sweetie was practicing spelling words as I spun each of them around. As they awaited their turn, they were standing on a table – the right height to give them a hug and spin. We’d done this a few times and stopped briefly as a visitor asked a question. I was standing right next to them and in my peripheral vision, I see Buddy step next to Sweetie in an attempt to hug her or tickle her as they had been doing previously. Everything happened so quickly but the next thing I know, Sweetie falls head over heels to the ground, landing on her shoulder.

She cried for a couple of minutes and I believed all was well again until I went to lift her onto the bed. In doing so, I unknowingly put pressure on her forearm and moved her shoulder up…which caused her to scream in pain. We packed up and headed home.

I tried to get in to see our pediatrician yesterday but there were no openings so we waited until this morning. During the evening, she kept it held closely to her body and didn’t want to change her clothes as it would require moving her arm. When she thought about it or if her shoulder was touched, she would cry. Otherwise, if distracted and involved in something (AquaDots, playing with a girlfriend at the Halloween party across the street, etc.) she was fine. I even caught her using her arm on occasions.

This morning, she showed me how she could lift her arms above her head and outstretch them in front of her. “I can go to Karate!” she exclaimed with excitement. She seemed to be fine – just a little tender to the touch. There isn’t even any bruising visible.

The doctor confirmed my suspicion and said to continue administering ibuprofen, occasional ice packs, and lots of love. She should be fine by Monday. She felt that the injury was mostly to her collar bone, and if in fact broken, there was nothing they could do anyway. It would heal naturally on its own. If she doesn’t feel better by Monday, then we are to give her a call and we may do x-rays then. Watching Sweetie, though, she’s been improving little by little already. I am confidant she be fine.

When I returned from the clinic, I received an email in which the Living History director has asked that we pull out of the program. I want to state that I completely understand where he is coming from. However, I have been volunteering at the museum for nearly 4 years. I would have much preferred to receive this information in person. An email is impersonal.

I am disappointed. He should have asked to speak with us in person. The kids don’t understand why they can’t continue to volunteer. Sweetie said, “I could have fallen at home, too.” It just doesn’t seem fair. My mom thought perhaps there have been concerns expressed by other volunteers or staff of which I am unaware.

We enjoy the experience so much. When I was teaching, I put so much of myself into my career… into the classroom. When Sweetie was born, it was very difficult for me to transition into a stay-at-home mom. I felt as though I lost apart of who I was as a person.

When I started volunteering (initially at South Slough Estuarine Reserve before we moved and most recently at the museum), I reclaimed that part of me. I became rejuvenated. The fact that I have been able to do it with the kids has made it even more special, more memorable.

It is very important to me that the children grow to appreciate the sacrifices that our ancestors made. That they grow up with an understanding of how our country has been built by strong men and women who have fought for their beliefs… who set out to create a better life for themselves and their children.

In today’s society, children frequently lack exposure to the outdoors, to a more sustainable way of life. Parents are not comfortable giving their children the freedom to walk a few miles away from home to buy penny candy at the local Mom & Pop or ride their bikes across town to a friend’s house. There are just too many dangers these days. Children seldom get the opportunity to explore the neighborhood woods, undertaking spur of the moment scientific inquiry. Questioning. Exploring. Learning.

This is one of the biggest reasons I chose to home-school. I want to provide that for my children. I am just so sad to lose this learning opportunity. I’ll just need to remember that when a door opens, another is frequently opened. When the time is right, if we are ready and open to change, new opportunities will become available.

** Edited 8th November 2007.

September 19, 20076

Shortly after we made the decision to homeschool, we started volunteering at the High Desert Museum as living history interpreters.  It was an easy decision for I had volunteered there weekly before my second was born.  I have always been fascinated by history and was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer with my children in historical costume.

We volunteer once a week – generally from 10 – 3p.m.  We thereby pack a lunch that I carefully wrap in a piece of muslin and place into a basket.  I also toss in a few historic books and games to keep us occupied – but I seldom use them as the kids enjoy being there and always find a chore or task they love doing.

service learning

My Journal Entry – Sept 19th, 1880

It was a relatively slow day at the homestead today. As the weather gets cooler, there are fewer visitors. There are fewer chores to do as the garden vegetables have been harvested and the kiddos are no longer occupied with pumping water and watering the crops. It provides ample opportunity for us to work on schooling, learning our letters and numbers. We also have more time for crafts. Sweetie would love to learn to knit but I’ll need to acquire that skill myself before I can begin to teach her.

I wanted to work with the speller book to do some copywork and spelling but she wasn’t interested. I am beginning to believe her strengths are science and math as well as the arts. It is sometime difficult to get her excited about writing tasks and doing the mundane reading drills. She will learn to read and write in time, I am confidant. I don’t want to force her and thereby kill her interest and desire.

Instead, Sweetie and I worked on numbers for a while on the slate. She can do single-digit addition with ease and so I threw in some single-digit mulitiplication. 3×5, 2×3, 2×4, etc. After my example, she drew little groups of dots to help her to visualize the problems. For 2×4, she drew 2 groups of 4 dots. I tried to trick her later with 4×2. She drew the 4 groups of 2 dots and then proclaimed with glee, “It’s the same!” I then showed her how a number mulitiplied by 1 will always be that number. 2×1 is 1. 5×1 is 5. 12×1 is 12. 100×1 is 100. She caught on to that immediately.

service learningI then introduced her to double-digit addition; 23+12, 15+4, etc. Her initial response was, “Oh! That’s too hard.” I insisted it wasn’t as difficult as it looked and showed her how to add each column (carrying and borrowing haven’t yet been introduced). She worked through a few of them with relative comfort as well before becoming distracted by the activities of her little brother.  So, while she made mud pies with her brother, I read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems aloud. She enjoyed this very much and requested another when I concluded each poem.

Reflections on Living History Interpretation

It is fun to interact with the visitors. It is becoming easier to answer their questions and remain in character. In the beginning, I was stumped by these frequent questions,

“Why do you … / What made you choose this lifestyle?”
“Do you volunteer here or are you paid staff?”
“How often do you do this?”
“Do your children attend school?”

I try my best to respond in a way that answers their question but at the same time, maintains the appearance that they are traveling through time. For example,

“I don’t know any other lifestyle. Unless of course, you mean living in the city. I am not much of a city girl myself. But Mrs. Blair – she’s from Eugene City – she is always going into Prineville to shop and visit with friends.”

“We chose to homestead here. It can be difficult with the dry climate and all but in time our efforts will reap rewards. We make do. There are some hired hands here on the Blair place. But typically we take care of our own and look after one another. Being so far from family, we open our doors to neighbors and friends.”

“My children and I come to call on the Blair’s about once a week. We have family that lives down the road and we always stop by for a visit as we return home. Our homestead is a few miles closer to Prineville so it makes for a convenient place to rest while we enjoy our dinner.”

“There aren’t enough school children in these parts just now for a school. We are hoping more young families settle here so that the community can build a school and hire a school marm. I therefore school my children at home. They do quite well.”

Sometimes, it takes a few additional questions before the visitor understands. It is fun to hear Sweetie interact with the visitors. I occasionally overhear snippets of her conversations and can’t help but smile. Children are such sponges! 🙂