My career as a Family and Consumer Sciences (Home Economics) teacher has led me to research the historical development of home life skills. One of my personal objectives is to analyze current methods of caring for home and family in hopes of offering suggestions for improvement. Studying the historical development of home life skills gives me insight into past practices but also makes me realize how much has been forgotten or ignored over time. Understanding past methods, makes me confident that many of our current practices could certainly be rethought. In a sense, it is going back to basics.
Rudimentary home skills are extraordinarily similar in today’s home and in a colonial home. A striking difference however, is the home skills of colonial times were very gender specific. Both boys and girls would learn basic skills which were sequential to performing the same tasks as the fathers’ and mothers’. Although the gender barrier has been removed, children today should also learn the basics before being able to assume adult jobs. If a child desires to be a chef or a gourmet cook, he must understand how to use the tools and equipment safely. The first step might be learning how to regulate the temperature on a stove top before simmering a sauce. If a child desires to be a seamstress, tailor or fashion designer, he must understand differences in fabrics and again, how to use the equipment safely. Step one in a sewing lesson, for a child who has never sewn, is how to thread a needle and knot the end of the thread. My interest in learning and teaching home skills of the present and past has made me realize that in any period in time, children learn these tasks by mastering each developmental step, one at a time. Significant, however, is the motivation to learn the skill, the need for the skill and, for children, how much gratification will result from the end product (in other words, is it fun?).
Another component, to teaching in the arts, is the ability to collaborate with teachers in the academic subjects by enhancing units of study with “hands-on” application. One unit, that is particularly fulfilling, is working with fifth grade students who are studying colonial America. This is the ideal point at which academic and “hands-on” synergy may be achieved. I have been able to explore some of the foods and methods of cooking, some of the games children played, and also some of the crafts or necessary skills of the past that children were required to learn. The lessons provided will give a deeper understanding of colonial children’s lives. I also recognize that much of what I do in my lessons, not only provides children with some basic home skills, but it also becomes “the fun part” of the unit as a whole. This extra creative, “hands on” component, not only augments, but hopefully helps to foster the objectives of the integrated unit.
This unit is designed to be integrated with the fifth grade Social Studies curriculum. It should be a means by which classroom teachers can tap into the resources of the specialized talents of the Family and Consumer Sciences department. It should give our New Haven students a “hands-on” dimension to learning about colonial times. Fifth grade and even younger students will be able to experience some activities that colonial children experienced, thereby achieving a greater insight into the ways of colonial living. The lessons provide instruction for younger students, by demonstration, discussion and distribution of supplies, to use their hands to create a sense of the past, and also make a tangible take-home project. This supplemental strategy will broaden the scope of the social studies unit and at the same time incorporate “hands-on” skills.
This unit will also be used to instruct seventh and eighth grade students to assist in presenting demonstrations. Concurrently it will become a means of developing leadership abilities, while improving and creating an awareness of past and present basic home skills. The older students will be able to use organizational and speaking skills to present demonstrations and help with “hands-on” activities for the younger grades. It will increase the awareness of all age groups involved, about the everyday life of the New England colonists. It will encourage educating the “whole child”. It will broaden horizons.
The period selected as a model is eighteenth century New England. Although, the colonial period begins earlier, by the eighteenth century many of the original obstacles and hardships had been resolved and the people were able to settle into more of a routine within their families and communities. It is these routines of everyday life upon which the unit will focus. Each member of a household had specific responsibilities which were integral to the success of family life. It is these tasks, skills, and responsibilities of the individual family members; men as husbands, fathers and sons, women as wives, mothers and daughters, and others within the household, which were the operating structure of the family. Who comprised the family? What were their responsibilities?