Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Let them eat dirt! -or-How I’m Raising a Reenactor

Let them eat dirt! Well- not really. But let them experience it. At events (both 18th & 19th Century) I often hear how well our daughter behaves and interacts with the environment full of visitors, fires, and loud guns. I often attribute it to the fact that she is being raised going to events. Her first outing was at seven weeks old when we day tripped to an event where she slept most of the day- even through the battle. Now, that she is three, my husband and I have learned a lot and are usually armed with tactics to keep her entertained at events.

Use Familiar Items

We have a small basket trunk that is filled with various items depending on the period of the interpretation. These items range from simple pasteboard boxes, to a china tea-set. Our daughter plays with these items in her daily life, not just in reenacting scenarios. On an average Civil War weekend, her trunk will contain: a cloth doll, doll quilt, slate & pencil, copper measuring cups, wooden spoons, wooden bowl, small sword, and a tea cup. We include her wooden kitchen items with her play kitchen at home so that she uses them often, just like many of the items in my own kitchen which play double-duty. She discovered her cloth doll at about eight-months old and would drag her all over the house with her. Her chosen souvenir on a recent vacation was a wooden spoon that she chose herself. She drinks tea, yes, hot black tea, almost every day and even has her own reproduction tea set that sits on our kitchen shelf (this we did splurge on).
Another familiar item, dirt and water. I have entertained my child for hours with a bucket of water and a towel or spoon. Extra points if you are near dirt. She daily wants to go play outside, mostly because there is a spot in our yard where the grass does not grow, and she can “garden” as she calls it, bringing up clumps of black earth with her hands. Don’t be afraid to let them get dirty. They can be washed off, and so can their clothes (this is why multiple pinafores are our friends).

Use real items
            Our daughter is one who usually wants to have the same thing you have and to help with the task at hand, so we provide her with her own versions of what we have, mostly. She does not have many reproduction toys in the traditional sense. You will not usually her with a yo-yo or expensive reproduction games, she will usually be digging in the dirt. In that dirt with her you will find wooden spoons, copper measuring cups, and a small stoneware pitcher (we do keep her actual eating utensils clean).  She can look up from her pile of dirt and see me using the same items, just in larger form, and that makes her happy.
Bowls & wooden spoon with leftover mud
            I find myself not wanting to lay down many dollars for something that will not last. We often find pottery, baskets, and other pieces at discount prices from local shops and we snag it up. Since we usually portray a working-class family in North Carolina, I think having multiple “fancy” toys would be a little odd for our impression. So, by handing my child a duplicate item like the one I have in my hand (ie. Wooden bowl) it makes her feel more included in what we are doing. She knows which items are hers too! She has her own basket which often gets filled with wildflowers or a rock collection on weekends.

Keep them Involved in Interpretation
The cutest flower seller! 
            One recommendation I make above almost everything else, is to keep children involved. Years ago, before I had my own child, we brought my niece to events with us. I would lay down a blanket and hand her some toys and other items, and left her there. We always use the “see you” rule- we must maintain site of each other regardless of what we are doing. Soon, we over heard her talking about using items as substitutes and how children would help on the farm. It made me smile to realize how much she had listened to myself and others around her. From that moment, I promised myself to not shuffle the children off from a demonstration. Look at period images of women performing their daily tasks such as laundry, cooking, etc. many of these images include children playing at their mother’s feet or climbed up in chairs to have a closer look.
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, child, drink and outdoor
Little Laundry Helper! 
Last year, during a school day, there was a photo taken of me with my toddler on my hip, a laundry paddle in one hand, and boiling kettle in front of me talking to school children. In that one photo, I found a sense of real. I did not stop what I was doing, instead, I hoisted my sleepy child up in my arms and kept moving. She was there, in the middle of everything, just as she is every other day. Moments later she would be in the middle of a crowd of student playing hoop-and-stick with them, her laugh ringing out over the hum of play.

These learning experiences are what I strive for. To get her hands dirty while going knee-deep in history, though to her she is just playing. I hope that one day, she will look back and be thankful for the days that I let her eat dirt. 
Leave plenty of time for exploration, free play, and rest! 

1 comment: