We did our first American girl history class today with 9 little girls in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade at our homeschool cooperative, Rhiannon is one of them. I am teaching this class with two wonderful ladies who also have daughters in the class. We are looking at one American girl each week and the time period and culture in which she grew up. We began this week with Felicity and her friend Elizabeth who live in Williamsburg Virginia around the start of the American Revolution.
Rhiannon actually owns both Felicity and Elizabeth and nearly their entire wardrobe thanks to the generosity of her grandparents and other family members. She brought both dolls dressed in her favorite outfits for them and laid out all the rest of the outfits with accessories on the table for the girls to see and look at the type of clothing worn during the time Felicity grew up.
After looking through these clothes and the dolls the girls gathered around a table and I began talking to them about the time period. A good friend of mine taught this class a few years ago and I was able to use some of her notes and suggestions and the book Welcome to Felicity's World is an excellent resource if you want to create a lesson for this time period.
I began by mentioning the time period and what was going on in the world. I talked a little about the history of England and the colonies and why people came here. I talked about the Loyalists and Patriots and how Felicity and Elizabeth's families were of opposing positions on these issues yet they were friends. I drew the girls in by asking them what they knew of Felicity and what was different about the time from now. Then I showed pictures from the book (as I did not have access to real artifacts which would always be preferred if you can obtain them) and talked about the way people dressed, school work, childhood responsibilities, games, cooking and entertaining. We talked about how different things were and I often pointed to the pictures and asked for the girls observations. I only spent about 10-15 minutes doing this but a lot of information was passed on and hopefully some absorbed.
My co-teachers had set up several stations for the girls to move through to actually try and experience some of the things we talked about. We divided the class into three groups and they each got a turn at a needlepoint station, a handwriting station and playing the game of graces/learning the minuet station.
For the needlepoint station three embroidery hoops were set up and each girl worked on one. They were working on the letter A. One of the teachers helped them learn how to do the stitches and helped them as they went along. We used the same hoops for all three groups letting each group work off of the group before them. The girls were pretty quiet and focused at this station.
At the handwriting station there was nice paper and envelopes, an ink bottle and quill feather pens. The teacher also had set up a candle and wax stamp for sealing the envelopes. There were sample letters there to show the style of handwriting used and each girl was given the opportunity to write what she wished using the supplies. We did not anticipate how wet the ink would be and that it would not dry in time for the girls to place the writing in the envelope and seal it with the wax. We ended up doing this at a later hour for the girls on our hour off together. Though I must confess I did not do it at all, the other wonderful ladies did.
At the station I was in charge of the girls learned how to play the game of graces. This is a two player game which involves a decorated hoop (ours was decorated with ribbons) and four sticks. Each girl had two sticks and they had to toss and catch the hoop with the sticks. Since our groups were odd in number I had two girls play the game while I taught the third the steps to the minuet. I found these in the back of a Felicity book and found a free 45 second clip of Bach's minuet online which I saved onto my computer and played in a repeating loop. After the girls had all learned the steps they took turns partnering off and doing the steps together.
We let each group spend approximately 10-15 minutes at a station and then move on to the next. This meant each girl was always having the opportunity to do something and there was very little idle or waiting time involved. This worked very well and I would highly recommend it if you have the opportunity to do a similar class.
We ended the class by letting the girls taste Sally Lunn bread, a traditional bread from the time which one of the teachers made at her house and brought in. We did make certain modification like we used Redi-whip swish in the can instead of clotted cream (which was a wise decision). The girls enjoyed the snack and it was a nice way to round off the class though I am not sure if we will cook for every class.
All the girls were delightful to have in class and it really was a lot of fun. They seemed to enjoy themselves and to engage both while we were talking about the subject and while we were doing the activities. I think they enjoyed the activities more but having talked about them beforehand gave them context and engaged them in the activities. When I was teaching the minuet several of them realized that they would have had to practice alot and how tiring it would be to dance all night as many of these dances went on until 2am! They also realized how hard they had to concentrate on the stitches and letters. I think the lessons combined to bring home what life then was like.
Of course I am a huge fan of living history and historical fiction and all the wonderful activities that go along with it. Bringing history alive for kids and making it fun is something I simply love to do and I am excited to be able to do that with these wonderful ladies and for these great girls. I am also extremely thankful that I have been paired with creative artsy ladies who are not all intimidated (as I am) of crafty things!
Future dolls and time periods we plan to study (though this may change) are Kaya, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. We also plan to present a full play based on Samantha and have a formal tea party during this 6 week session that runs until the beginning of December approximately every other week. Look for more lessons to come.