Students welcome colonial-era chores

Published 1:09 am Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BATH – It’s not your average classroom lesson, but Beaufort County fourth-graders are getting an education in children’s chores of colonial times during Heritage Days in Bath this week.

Starting Tuesday and ending Friday, students will visit the Historic Bath site to get hands-on experience in candle-making, hand-sawing, rope-making and crafting loofah, a natural sponge, from dried gourds grown in the garden on site.

While such endeavors may seem fun and charming to children now, 300 years ago they were likely the daily drudgery of every child’s life.

Noah Woolard, a fourth-grader at Washington Montessori Public Charter School, wields a handsaw at Heritage Days at the Historic Bath site Tuesday. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

“How many of you think it would have been fun to make candles as a chore?”  Leigh Swain, Historic Bath site manager, asked students as they completed their chore of, one by one, dipping a string tied to a stick into a black, iron cauldron filled with hot wax, building a candle one layer at a time.

A chorus of “me’s” and hands went up.

“But what if you had to make candles every day? For a bunch of hours every day?” she continued.

The question was met with silence and frowns as the children pondered the idea of having to make candles as an everyday chore.

“I think (the students) get a better idea of the trials, the hardships, along with the values of the past,” said Jen Hales, associate head of school at Washington Montessori Public Charter School.

Hales’ group was taking part in a hand-sawing demonstration, with each child stepping up to grab one end of the double-handled, metal-toothed saw, working with a partner to manually saw a chunk off a small log. Sawing wood may have been a chore, but one used for a community’s greater good — a shared task meant shared use.

Heritage Days teaches useful lessons of community outreach, which is a fundamental part of the Montessori curriculum.

“(The children) get a better sense of the community working together. This teaches children much more than they can learn from books,” Hales said.

On the lighter side of Heritage Days, volunteer Chris Smith showed an avid audience how to pluck a ribbon-bedecked hoop from the air with two sticks, a deceptively simple sounding task. The game, known as “graces,” was a colonial game designed to teach young girls “grace and poise,” though it was a likely tool in honing hand-eye coordination, too.

At another table across the quad, Amie O’Kane’s fourth-grade class received a quick lesson in quill writing, a task involving the sharpened end of a large feather dipped in a bottle of ink, an attempt to write a word with the feather and a final dusting of sand across the page to soak up ink and prevent smearing. The larger lesson was how the most basic of tasks today compare with those same tasks in colonial times.

“Heritage Days gives a view into different aspects of the colonial time period,” said Bea Latham, assistant manager of the Historic Bath site, from the site’s healthful garden plot. “It shows how much life has changed.”

More than 650 fourth-graders and their chaperones are expected to visit the Historic Bath site this week.