Students learn about pioneer life from museum volunteers

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Dearborn Historical Museum volunteer Moe Sion (right) explains how Native Americans farmers grew corn, beans and pumpkins together while Maples Elementary second-graders Lara Basma (left), Malike Elsaghir, parent chaperone Ghada Elsaghir, Fatima Haidar, Fatima Alnadawi, Nada Hachem and teacher Julie Spence plant similar seeds in pots to take home to grow.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Learning about Michigan pioneer life before cell phones, supermarkets and indoor plumbing from Dearborn Historical Museum McFadden-Ross House volunteers was an eye-opening experience for Maples Elementary second-graders May 28.

Museum employee Marguerite Baumgardner said 1,500 second-graders in Dearborn schools, visit the museum, at 915 S. Brady, for the morning programs that teach about local pioneer life.

Students split into groups as they get off the bus, and rotate through learning sessions at the Gardner House, the Annex, and the kitchen and basement of the McFadden-Ross House.

The Gardner House, built almost 200 years ago near Warren Avenue and Southfield Road, and moved behind the McFadden-Ross House, is not a log cabin, but a post and beam house with finished walls and a second floor sleeping loft for the family’s children.

Museum volunteer Kathryn Preiss said students are excited to learn how Michigan pioneers lived.

“You know, it is funny when you hear them first walking up” Preiss said. “They are all, ‘Are there going to be dinosaurs?’ You are, ‘No. It is not that type of a museum,’ but they still enjoy it.”

She said the Gardner House fascinates them, especially when they hear 10 children slept in the upstairs sleeping loft. The outdoor plumbing and privy amaze them as well.

She said she explains the games they played, like tag and ring-around-the-rosy, in an era before electronic hand-held devices.

The presenters tell students how pioneer children did many chores, like fetching water, milking cows, picking vegetables and bringing in firewood.

To learn more about the vegetables families grew and relied on, museum volunteers in the Annex help children plant bean, corn or pumpkin seeds in small pots while explaining how Native Americans would combine crops so that bean and pumpkin vines could wind around the cornstalks for support.

Annex horticulture volunteer Moe Sion taught in Dearborn Public Schools for 39 years at Maples, Woodworth Middle School, Howe Trainable Center and Montessori, and Fordson High School.

He said second-graders most enjoy hands-on experience, like planting a seed, when learning.

“I try to make it entertaining, with a little song or something,” Sion said. “Sometimes I will see kids in the community and I’ll ask them, ‘Did your seed grow?’ and they’re, ‘Yeah! It grew so tall – and then it died!” or some of them say, ‘Mine got corn on it!’ They get excited about it.”

Students learned that in addition to growing vegetables, pioneers raised livestock, and used the cream from cow’s milk to churn into butter.

In the McFarland-Ross kitchen, students took turns churning cream into butter, then sampling some on a cracker.

Volunteer Shirley Barrick, who oversaw butter churning Wednesday, said she enjoys seeing the students’ interest in the pioneer farm, and said their teachers prepare them well for the field trip.

“I think we always need to remember how things were done in the past so we appreciate what we have today and be
grateful,” Barrick said.

One-room pioneer schoolroom volunteer Tara Gnau said she enjoys the interaction between her and the children, and teaching the children something new and different.

She said sharing everything from a desk to a schoolbook is one of the most difficult concepts for modern students to embrace.

“What we hope they catch is the differences between their modern life in 2014 and the way the pioneers would have lived almost 200 years ago,” Gnau said.

She said the volunteers enjoy doing the program and seeing students from mid-March to the end of May each school year.

“We greatly enjoy the interaction with the kids and the teachers and the parents and we are hoping that we continue to support Dearborn’s history,” Gnau said.

Jerry Olson, who also volunteers in the pioneer schoolroom, looks forward to sharing with students what life was like in early Dearborn.

As a re-enactor for 35 years, he said he likes to tell children what it is actually like to try to live in the manner of a different era and learning from the experience.

“If we can pass some of that on to the children and possibly spark a little interest in history, if they go on and study it further, we have accomplished our task,” Olson said.

He said the museum plays an important role in presenting the artifacts local descendants have donated over the years, and
urges continued support for local historical societies.

“Sharing that with the communities, especially the children, is important for the community,” he said. “We need to maintain (the museum) and continue to do what we are doing, presenting history, and specifically Dearborn history.”