Homeschooling in 1880 :: Living History Volunteers - Eva Varga

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! 🙂


  • MooBee Mama

    September 21, 2007 at 3:43 am

    What a delightful post!

  • Sniz

    September 22, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Where does your family live…what kind of building?

  • Makita

    September 23, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    We live in Central Oregon in a typical, modern, subdivision. We volunteer as living history interpretors at a local museum. We protray an 1880s homesteading family near Prineville, Oregon. Our ‘1880s’ home is a rustic log cabin… a single room with a loft upstairs where the children sleep. I’ll try to post pictures later this week.

  • Kaboda

    September 25, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    One note on the knitting. Why not learn it together instead of teaching it to her? I would think that would give you guys a different experience as you’ll be students together. Just a thought!

    Another question on reading has she read the book I gave her a couple years back (The Phantom Tollbooth)? It is still one of my favorite and is a book I’ve been giving to all my friends children for years now. But have as of yet to hear back any information on how kids today take to the book.

  • Makita

    September 26, 2007 at 12:21 am

    B! – I started reading it to her shortly after you gave it to her but I think she was too young. We’re are going to try it again this year, though! She is starting to like listening to chapter books more and more. I’ll keep you posted on her response to it when we read it. I’ll aim to get it read by Christmas. We’re reading a couple of Little House books right now because of our work at the museum.

    Great idea about the knitting – you are absolutely right! When she and I talked about doing homeschool, this was something I explained to her, that sometimes I would be a student as well. 🙂

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