Many things go into the making of a colonial town. From a foundation in the pre-Columbian history of North America, to the research reading and expository writing that inform their understanding of life in the Colonies, to the design, artistic, and presentation skills, including some quilting stitches with the art teacher, that give their exhibit shape, our 3rd and 4th grade students engage just about every skillset to put it all together. The hard work of the 3rd and 4th grade students (and their teachers) pays off on Colonial Day, when they bring history alive for younger students, and on Colonial Night, when they showcase their work and accomplishments to parents, alums, and siblings–to the Ancona community.
Beginning in 3rd/4th grade, students visit a major topic/era in American history in each multiage level with an in-depth, integrated study that considers history, geography, sociology, and anthropology. They read relevant historical fiction along with many non-fiction sources to gain a solid understanding of each period they study. They learn to think like historians — utilizing a vareity of resources to deepen their understanding of the period. The Colonial Life unit builds on the work in the Native American unit of the fall–considering the peopling of this continent, who was here, who came voluntarily, and who came involuntarily. Also this year, slavery and indentured servitude are introduced, and then slavery is considered in more depth in the 5th/6th grade unit on 19th Century America and the Civil War.
In the month leading up to the Colonial Village presentation, students are immersed in informational books about the Colonial Period. A combination of independent reading, partner reading, and reading groups led by a teacher ensure that students read several books related to The Colonial Period with stamina and understanding, growing their content knowledge, but more importantly learning how to learn about any subject with which they find interest. A non-fiction reading unit is integrated with the social studies and writing units that take place at the same time. In this unit, students read non-fiction books about the Colonial Period as they research the particular colonial jobs their character will play in the Colonial Village. Students practice using non-fiction text features such as the index, table of contents, pictures, captions, maps, and diagrams in order to find information they are looking for. They also build on reading strategies they gained during their previous non-fiction unit on Native Americans and add more to their reading toolbox.
The learning experiences in this unit help students understand that people adapt to their environment and change it to meet their needs and that scarcity of resources can dictate human movement and social/political change, as well as being exposed to different perspectives about historical . The activities and experiences students engage in range from individual research to small group projects. Each student is provided with primary resources, such as a monitor written by an 18th century girl, as well as books that inform their understanding of colonial life, in order to create a colonial character and keep a journal from this character’s perspective. The teachers describe historical events for the students to journal about, describing how their characters would react to them. The journal entries they keep over the course of the next few weeks allow students to explore what everyday life would have been like in colonial times; for example, the tailor may describe his apprenticeship, but also the illness of a sibling or the struggles the family faces through a long, cold winter (they had those back then, too) and a shortage of staple foods in the pantry. As a culminating activity, students from both classrooms create a colonial village together.
The days leading up to the Colonial Day and Night are abuzz with activity in the 3rd/4th grade classrooms (and hallway!). Students sketch, paint, cut out, construct, or collect the tools and backdrops of their trades, decorate their journals, and create their costumes–from scratch and from found or borrowed pieces of clothing. There are many questions about how to make this or that, many attempts at getting the shape of a tin cup or a chisel just right, and a few spilled paint containers and tears along the way. But as the day approaches, everything from the tavern to the schoolhouse is set up and ready to go. The millers have sent the bakers a few bags of flour, and the blacksmith is preparing hoops for the cooper to use on his barrels. And everyone is rehearsing the speeches with which they will explain the tools and their trade to visitors.
Colonial Day (and Night) is one of those traditions that make Ancona a community of learners. When younger students come to visit the village, they get excited about what they will be able to do when they are older; when older students and alums look back on their earlier years, this is often a highlight of their hands-on learning experience, “At Colonial Night I had lots of fun because I had a desk to put my stuff on. Lots of people, like my mom and dad, came to my shop.” “I was a homemaker. Lots of people came to my station. I got to light a candle (with adult supervision.) I told them about basketmaking, and how soap was made, and a little about how candles were made.” When parents visit the village (once, twice, sometimes three times over the years), they witness a milestone of independence in the growth of their child(ren). Making the Colonial Town is another way Ancona students make memories along their educational journey.