Pioneer Day

One of the things I have most appreciated about our move to homeschooling is how it has helped me maximize on opportunities for learning. Pioneer Day seemed like one of those opportunities. I have always loved family history, I have fond memories of Sunday afternoons spent with my Dad in his downstairs office, bent over his huge 3’x3′ family group sheet. I remember the first time I saw the name Kjersten printed in his neat script and exclaimed- “Hey! That’s like my name!” I’ve felt an important link to my Danish and Swedish ancestral lines ever since. And I’ve wanted to share that passion with my boys, but have often failed to interest them.

So, today, we dedicated the whole day to Pioneering. The goal was to spend all day outside, which we largely achieved, excepting for nap time. We “hunted” ‘fished” (Wow! were the boys thrilled that their mother was allowing them to go around shooting things! Even helping them aim their bow and arrows at “rabbits.”) We washed laundry by hand and hung it to dry. (I hope I’ll never forget Anders’ enthusiasm when he checked the clothes line in the afternoon and found his shorts dry!) We ate a meager lunch of “What we could forage along the trail (as well as from our fridge), carrots, celery, and peppers with bread and butter and a small cup of pistachios. It was an odd, simple meal, but the boys didn’t complain, they loved getting to peel the carrots and cut them themselves, and loved eating plateless, on a picnic blanket- tearing off hunks of bread and smothering it liberally with butter- despite my reminder “Anders, I know you’re excited because we haven’t had butter in such a long time, but if we eat all the butter today we won’t have any tomorrow! This was a lucky trade we made to get this butter in the first place!” Scotland in particular got into the acting. He solemnly proclaimed “We’re just grateful to have something to eat.”  He kept saying things like “At that time boys my age shot guns,” or “rode horses” etc. We fetched all our water from the “stream”- hose, and gathered buckets of water for washing from the “lake”- plastic swimming pool. After lunch we headed out for the nearest trading post- Safeway to see if we could trade some goods for some cream, milk and eggs. At first Scotland recoiled- “But that’s so far, and that’s a very steep hill.” I took him by the shoulders and with the same serious “pioneer” voice I had been using all morning I said, “Scotland, you are my oldest son. I need your help. We must go to this trading post to get cream for butter.” He went off to get ready and returned with resolve, shortly later telling Anders, “Pioneers don’t complain!” We made our trek to Safeway and back with much joviality and interest. (I love walking or biking places we usually drive because we all notice new things, and it makes our neighborhood seem all the more interesting.) After nap time, the boys made their own whipped cream- by shaking cream in pint jars. (Chia even got in on the action in a baby food jar!) Then while they busied themselves with various imaginative scenarios- mostly centered around displaying physical prowess. I cooked dinner- mashed potatoes and steak (cooked outside on the grill.) We ate our third meal outside, and finished it off with vanilla cream scones topped with whipped cream and fresh blueberries- plated and served by Scotland. We then spent the evening as the pioneers would have enjoying music (Tom’s guitar), dancing, and playing outside. It was a lovely, and something we ought to repeat more often. The boys are now sleeping soundly in the tent, as I reminisce on a most successful day.

A few lessons that stand out are the realization that my boys thrive on more physical learning- washing clothes while telling stores of my ancestors, walking to the store as we talked about trade posts and how people traded goods. They were also so thrilled to be given more responsibility. Scotland prepared much of lunch. When I suggested that he prepare the dessert- he was delighted and performed his task beautifully. Too often I stifle their development and joy by not sharing the load of household responsibilities.

Once again, I was reminded of the deep learning that goes along with reenactment. It’s the part of unit studies that I think is so powerful. Anders immediately made the connection between our Japanese unit study and our current study of pioneers. I haven’t seen a more effective way to spark interest and self directed learning than by completely flooding the environment with one subject.

I’m often overwhelmed by these sorts of studies. They seem like they’ll take too much work. But beyond a bit of brainstorming, and to be fair a bunch of reading up on my pioneer ancestor’s stories last night, I did little prep for this unit. It wasn’t visually beautiful the way some of the homeschool feeds are on Instagram, I used what I had around, and added things as we went along. But, if anything, that added to the effectiveness because the kids felt like they could contribute as well- It was Anders ideas to go hunting, and Scotland wanted to forage for berries. They liked helping to define the rules for “Pioneer Day,” and delighted in the otherness of the day. It was one day out of our norm- and yes I dedicated the entire day to the cause, but I’m so glad I did, because I can tell by the warmth in my heart that this is a day that will long linger in our memories.

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