The school where I teach, Worthington Hooker in New Haven, has a strong middle class population. The children, often from Yale-connected families, come from all over the world. They are often sophisticated travellers and museum-hoppers. They do not, however, know much about New Haven, and they have only a dim perception of what the lives of families and children were like in New Haven’s lively historic past. I intend this unit to remedy this lack, using the many “artifacts” which still abound in our city. I think it could be used in schools with less experienced students as well, and hope it will be more effective than textbook materials. I teach fourth grade, but the unit could be used up to sixth grade.
Since the past is present all around us in the form of relics of former cultures and the people who lived here before us, it should be possible through the examination of those artifacts to help the students have more direct experience with that past. I propose to try to make that experience more relevant by focusing on family life, especially children’s roles in it, and where possible, the products children made and used. With close study, those products, whether buildings, tools, furniture, toys, or pictures, can help us deduce and to some extent share what the family and its enveloping culture experienced. Literature, clothes, household items, all are stamped with the influence of the producing culture, and a study of them ought to give an immediacy to the task of learning about the culture. All of these things reflect the changing attitudes and relationships of family life.
Products of a culture are dictated not just by attitudes, but by environment as well. Geography, natural resources, climate, and available skills all influence the culture and its products. It should be possible, then, by working backward from the object to discover the nature of the culture that created it, and since the family, itself a unit of production, created so much of what it required in pre-industrial times, the study of weapons, tools, etc., should reveal a good deal about life in the past.
Children love to make things, and this unit will be used to fit in with activities of our Art Supervisor, Penny Snow, who has written a companion unit that will give the students a chance to experience making some of the kinds of things pre-industrial children might have made—samplers, quilts, toys—as part of their art program, You may wish to look up her unit:
Changing Images of Childhood in America: Colonial
Federal and Modern New England