Pioneer Day's hands-on lessons sink in
When early American settlers flocked to central Ohio in the early 19th century, the region was covered by a sea of trees as far as the eye could see.
Pioneers came from the eastern states and rode up the Olentangy River in flat boats to settle in the areas now known as Powell and Liberty Township.
They cleared out the land and trapped animals for their valuable fur.
This week -- 200 years later -- an Ohio historian held up a raccoon pelt during a presentation to Olentangy students.
"The fur was so valuable that many people wanted to come to the Ohio territory for it," said Liberty-Powell Historical Society member Sherry Carmichael. "If you could trap and skin animals, it would give you lots of trading power -- and lots of money."
Third-grade students from Tyler Run and Scioto Ridge elementary schools crowded into the chapel at Liberty Presbyterian Church, 7080 Olentangy River Road, on Monday, May 20, to hear Carmichael talk about Ohio life in the 1800s.
The presentation was part of Pioneer Day, an annual living-history lesson for all Olentangy third-grade students stretched over a two-week period each spring.
Students spend the entire school day on the church grounds getting a small taste of life as an American pioneer.
Pioneers always had chores to do, so students washed clothes the old-fashioned way -- with a bucket of water and a washboard -- then hung them on a clothesline to dry.
They also beat the dirt out of old rugs and brushed tangles out of the hair of real horses.
"When you were a pioneer, there was no electric power," said parent volunteer Lisa Ingram. "All your power came from your arms."
At another station, students mixed flour, salt, sugar and milk for pioneer-style biscuits and learned to make fresh-churned butter.
Then they loosened up with pioneer games such as tug-of-war and sack races. Students also took big bites of fresh watermelon slices and competed in a seed-spitting contest.
After lunch, students punched dents into tin to make decorative ornaments, stamped leather and dipped candles.
They rounded out the day with square dancing and traditional folk songs.
Students, teachers and volunteers dressed in pioneer garb for the event. Boys wore suspenders and wide-brim hats, while girls wore dresses with lace accents and bonnets.
Prior to Pioneer Day, students read historical-fiction books at school to learn about life as an early American settler.
But teacher Amy Schultz said letting students get their hands dirty outside leaves a bigger impression.
"Any time you give the kids a hands-on experience, their level of understanding deepens significantly," Schultz said.