Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Frontier Culture Museum is one of '10 Places for Kids to Fall in LOVE with History'

Counselor Heidi Salatin helps summer camp participant learn how to draw water from a well at the 2013 Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia's summer camp.

In the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, take a break from the fast pace of life to haul up buckets of water from a well ... feed chickens ... help mix bread and make cheese at the English Farm. These are just a few of the hands-on activities available at the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia in the central Shenandoah Valley.

Virginia Is For Lovers, the tourism site for the Commonwealth, has included this popular museum as one of its "10 Places for Kids to Fall in LOVE with History" -- and what a great pick it is!

Listed with the likes of Williamsburg and Jamestown, the brief description includes a link to the site that gives a fuller feel of all the FCMV has to offer:
The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton features life on five different farms — German, Scots-Irish, English, American, and the newest – West African. Meet the farm animals and homesteaders living life in their Old World tradition just as they would have prior to coming to America. $10/adult; $9/student aged 13 through 18; $6 per child aged 6 to 12.

There's so much to do at the Frontier Culture Museum ... it's the Busch Gardens of history museums!

Surrounded by the natural beauty of trees and fields and mountains, the quiet of the peaceful setting is often broken by the laughter of children who scamper along the two miles of trails or dart for a nearby fence to ooh and ahh over the animals.

Spring brings lambs and piglets and chicks. Summer brings camps attended by dozens of children. Fall brings school groups and cooler temps. Winter has a special beauty as the pace slows down.

Dressing in period costumes is part of the fun for the John Lewis Society members, ages 12-16, who are assigned to one of the farms and mentor with on-site interpreters, learning to work with the animals, participate in daily activities, help with household chores, and become interpreters who interact with the museum's visitors.

The Frontier Culture Museum is unique by providing the perspective of immigrants from various cultures who traveled to colonial America to begin a new life. Beginning in the 1600s, they sailed from England, Germany, Ireland, and West Africa, bringing with them the skills and beliefs of the communities they left behind. They became American pioneers.

A one-mile loop takes in the Old Country with authentic or reproduced farms providing a wealth of hands-on opportunities for young and old alike.

In England, interpreters Sally Landes, Dick Spencer, and others explain a typical day in the life of a 1600s English farm with food demonstrations, sheep sheering, wool gathering, gardening, and even a May Pole in the springtime. Children may be asked to help cook but -- first and foremost! -- they wash their hands in the water bucket. 

Germany's garden, house, and oversized barn offer kids a chance to try an outdoor German game, walk in wooden shoes, and watch chickens peck for bugs. Interpreters may be hoeing in the garden, explaining farm equipment in the barn, or describing a day in the house. 

The Irish Farm stands out with its stone walls and pigs in the front yard. Try one of the beds in the tight quarters or help cook over the fire. Outside, a small kitchen garden supports the household and authentic cattle are in the field.

The 1700s Igbo West Africa family compound is made up of several buildings, garden, and goat pen surrounded by a fence typical of the day to keep out wild animals. 

With low, windowless thatched-roof buildings, the dark interior stays cool from the hot sun.

There's the Irish forge blacksmith shop where a step into its dark interior reveals tools, craftsmanship, and the unique thatched building itself, and the nearby creek and pond (outside the window) with ducks and quiet seating to take a break in the shade. Costumed interpreters enjoy talking with families and demonstrating life as it was at that time in history, with opportunities for children to watch, observe, and help when it's safe.
The second loop goes to the New World represented by two American farmsteads representing the 1820s and 1850s as well as a colonial school house, a one-room early American log cabin circa 1700s, and a Native American encampment. Harvesting the fields, caring for animals, carving, stockpiling wood piles, cooking, cleaning, sewing ... the list is endless of chores that were routine for pioneer families. 

In the American farm houses, children may be asked if they would like to help cook, sort eggs, sew a quilt, or play early American games.

In the one-room log cabin, there is ongoing work cutting logs, splitting fence posts and railings, and other early American survival skills. Step inside ... but don't forget to duck to miss the low overhang. Many bathrooms in today's houses are larger than the cabin. Look in the garden to see what's growing ... it could be tobacco or another cash plant.

Take a look at the barn and farm equipment and, if you're lucky, a horse team will be there cutting hay while sheep graze in the adjoining meadow.  

The Native American encampment is a work in progress, representative of all Indian nations who passed through the Shenandoah Valley. Costumed interpreters are happy to answer questions and demonstrate the work going on in that part of the museum. Feel free to step inside the shelters and check out tools.

The Frontier Culture Museum is a children's playground of wonder full of fun and exercise. But don't tell them they're learning history, geography, various cultures, and getting in some P.E. at the same time. Just let them think they're having fun.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

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