By Lisa O. Monroe
Homeschool families and groups from as far away as Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri will explore the Revolutionary City during a special event created just for homeschoolers each year.
It’s an event that has attracted kids and parents for years: For many reasons, Colonial Williamsburg and homeschooling make a good match.
“In the 90s, when the homeschooling movement was growing, there was increasing demand for programming for homeschoolers,” said Bill White, a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation vice president, explaining why Colonial Williamsburg first began holding homeschool events 16 years ago.
Some of the buildings and programs open to traditional classroom students on field trips were not open to individual homeschool families visiting the Historic Area, he said, and there was a growing need.
The Benjamin Powell House, for example, is occasionally open to homeschoolers during their special events. Students can touch and move objects, set the table and air the mattresses. Through the home’s reproductions, students can see how households actually worked in the 18th century.
“We give them the opportunity to get that live, hands-on experience that not every school student gets,” said White. But more importantly, Colonial Williamsburg helps these students to open their imaginations.
There aren’t many places where you can actually live history, White said. “But Colonial Williamsburg is one of those places where you can imagine that it’s really possible to step into the past.”
John Thurmond of Fort Meade, Md., attended last fall’s homeschool event with his family — his wife, mother-in-law who was visiting from Australia, and three children.
“I think it was definitely appropriate for the homeschool curriculum, and you get a perspective of what life was like,” Thurmond said.
The family learned how court proceedings worked at the colonial Capitol, and visited the armory to watch the militia march and fire their guns. “That’s always pretty neat and a good segue into the Revolutionary War,” he said.
A family from New Jersey enjoyed the spring event because “it allowed us to be up close with the re-enactors because there were fewer visitors than summer,” said mom Angie. “We enjoyed being on tour groups with like-minded families.”
Daughter Hannah especially enjoyed listening to Marquis de Lafayette. “He made me feel like I was back in history with him,” said Hannah, 9.
A field trip, electronically
For homeschool families who can’t make the trip to Williamsburg or simply want more immersion, Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trip is the answer. The EFTs are broadcast to up to 450 homeschools each season, said Dale Van Eck, manager education outreach.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation formed an agreement with the Homeschool Buyers Co-op in 2010 to provide the award-winning broadcasts to homeschool families across the U.S. at reduced prices, he said.
“While we did not develop the EFTs specifically for homeschoolers, it is a good fit: high-quality American history resources online on-demand 24/7 for a full year and including a live broadcast component that they can choose to participate in each broadcast day,” he said.
“Since our objective is to bring quality history education to as many students across the USA as possible, connecting to a large number of them being educated at home made sense.”
The foundation’s educational resources including Hands on History kits, books, lesson plans and more “are also a good fit for many homeschoolers,” he said.
“We have enjoyed Colonial Williamsburg for three years now,” said homeschooler parent Jill Wolters. “It has been so fun to watch each episode.”
Hilare Moniz, another homeschooler parent, said, “As a family we love our participation in the Colonial Williamsburg program. The children look forward to the broadcasts, print out the paperwork and watch the many videos associated with membership on the website.
“The historical information, perspective, and experience are immensely valuable in helping our children see who they are…as Americans, what it cost others to provide us with such privilege, and what is our responsibility to defend and preserve liberty for those that will follow us.”
The upcoming March event has been moved from February in the hopes of warmer weather. The autumn event, also set for a warm month, will be Sept. 6-21.
Participants typically come from across the country, and are often in family groups which include parents, children and extended family members, according to Renée White-Clark, a senior sales manager who is planning for around 2,500 homeschool attendees in March.
Many families who come from out of state make it a vacation, she said, while those from nearby typically plan a day trip.
Homeschooler event highlights
“Planting the Seeds of Citizenship,” a 30-minute program, will kick off the event, which takes place March 15. Program developer Kristen Spivey, portraying the Colonial character Mrs. Powell, will educate parents and students on becoming inhabitants of the Revolutionary City, the courtesies they should use when interacting with Colonial people, and how to get the most out of their visit.
“Mrs. Annabelle Powell was the wife of prominent builder Benjamin Powell, who was a member of the Common Hall of the City. She knows Williamsburg well as a long-time resident and is eager to share her knowledge with anyone who needs her assistance,” said Spivey.
As Mrs. Powell, she will answer questions during the kickoff, which is offered at 10, 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. on March 15 at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.
Families then will have the weekend to explore on their own. The highlights include:
- A kid’s adventure map helps students navigate to the historic buildings and sites they want to explore. They can also earn a keepsake pin for visiting certain sites listed on the map, as well as a free dessert at HUZZAH! Restaurant.
- Two special museum programs are being held during the homeschool event. In “Spycraft” from 1:30-3 p.m. March 15, students can learn about reading and writing in code and how it was used in the Revolutionary War. At 3 p.m. March 16, they can participate in a one-hour guided tour of the museums in search of depictions of children in art in “Kids in Art.” They’ll also get to create their own artwork to take home.
- In addition to these special programs, there are many other daily programs taking place, as well as special programming for Women’s History Month that homeschool children and families can enjoy. In “An Uncommon Soldier,” visitors can meet a female soldier from the Revolutionary War, and in “Her Enduring Spirit,” they get the perspective of a freed slave, Edith Cumbo. They’ll observe Cumbo as she conducts her daily life and talks about the active role that women played in Williamsburg and nearby cities in the 1700s.
There’s something for everyone, said Susan Gilliam, group interpretation supervisor.
“They can visit the rare breeds of animals, learn about domestic life, go to the Colonial Capitol if interested in government, or the stocks and pillories,” she said. “If they want to focus on math or science, the trade shops are a good place to go.”
Those interested in attending Homeschooler Weekend are invited to register in advance, but may also purchase tickets upon arrival.
Lisa O. Monroe is a Richmond-based freelance writer.