Monday, November 19, 2012

Teaching the History of Thanksgiving

While preparing for teaching about Thanksgiving last November, I'm pretty sure I did more research and with more enthusiasm than I ever had in any month of my life, even as a PhD student. Something about feeling solely responsible for my children's education motivated me to get my facts straight before passing it on to them. It was also my first month homeschooling too, so I was just plain freaking out.

When it comes to teaching social studies and history, I generally feel incompetent and underprepared, perhaps because as compared to other subjects, I am more critical about what and how I was taught it in school. For my own children's education, I definitely want to provide more context and also emphasize more about social justice, cultural studies, diversity, inclusivity, tolerance, and the link to our Christian faith (whether that paints Christians in a positive or negative light).

Below I review some resources that helped me and my children think more critically about the historical event that we've come to know of as a first Thanksgiving.

For ease and accessibility, I recommend anything by Plimoth Plantation. Plimoth Plantation located in Massachusetts is a museum/recreation of what the first colony of the same name would have looked like in 1627. For those of us in Central Illinois who are not close enough the take a field trip there, their online resources are fantastic. Children will especially enjoy the video game (I use that term loosely) "You are the Historian", where they will virtually explore the Plantation, investigate one of only two only primary sources of information about the first harvest feast, and hear about the Wampanoag people and their culture, particular their traditions of giving thanks. Last year, my 5 year old learned and remembered a lot from these online videos and from another one that we checked out from the library.
Bean's drawing of The Warrior Counselor of the Wampanoag, Habbamok
after watching some videos last year
Everything I've encountered so far by Plimoth Plantation attempts to teach history by encouraging asking questions, investigating primary sources and considering multiple perspectives while respecting cultural differences. These are great foundations to lay for students. It prepares them to investigate the complexities of American history, which is not always to peaceful, friendly, and neighborly as the stories of the first Thanksgiving would have us believe. In addition to the Plimoth Plantation materials, I just piece-mealed what I taught about colonists, Native Americans and Thanksgiving.

I used some basic guiding principles that I read about in this article called "Teaching Young Children about Native Americans." While I don't think it is a comprehensive list of what to do and what not to do, it really got me starting to think about how the history and culture of Native Americans are generally taught. If my child were in regular school too, I think this would help me guide (be it supplement or challenge) what my children are learning outside my home about America's native peoples.

For a more Native perpective on the holiday, "The Real Story of Thankgiving" on the the Manataka American Indian Council website is informative and heart-wrenching. The first two sections are difficult to read, mostly because they are so full of violence, (but isn't our history?). The final section "The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story" however, is geared toward children and tame enough for young and/or sensitive students to read. This should be required reading, really!

"Thanksgiving on the Net: Roast Bull and Cranberry Sauce"can be read on the website for the Society of the Descendants of the Mayflower (I didn't even know there was such a group). It attempts to set the record straight about common myths surrounding Thanksgiving by reviewing over 200 websites. It is cumbersome read at times, but well worth the read if you have the time and interest. If nothing else, I'd skim the main headings and some text. It certainly helped me identify some myths that I incorrectly assumed to be true. As with the previous reference, knowing the bias of the author is important in assessing the value of the piece, and a good lesson to pass on to the kids too!

As we approached Thanksgiving week this year, my husband commented that we haven't really "taught" anything about it yet. No, we have not done any formal lessons on the historical event and national holiday like we did last year. Instead, we have focused on truly being thankful and reflecting on what we are thankful for, as a family and as individuals. It has become part of our daily discussions and prayers. It's so simple I almost feel guilty about it, but it has set a great tone in our household that is so needed to replace the usual hecticness that generally surrounds our winter holidays.

While we may never know the exact and full historical truth about what happened in 1621 that lead to the holiday that we celebrate this week, we certainly can start writing our own stories about what this holiday means or could mean for each of our families. Lately I've been feeling challenged to rethink the deeper meanings of each holiday instead of just going with the flow of what everyone else does. This also includes delving deeper into the history of the holiday and tying that into our current traditions. It just seems that we've gotten too far from that with every holiday on the calendar. I'm completely convinced that having kids is the perfect opportunity to tweak our holiday celebrations if need be so we can better pass on the culture and traditions that are most dear to us. Which are most dear to you? How do they pass on your family history or stray from it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bean has "The Jesus Talk" with Tey

It's almost Bean a year since Bean's been baptized and I still really haven't blogged our our faith journey. I'll get to it eventually.

Today he had a great conversation with Tey about inviting Jesus into your heart and I was sneaky enough to get it on camera. I can't believe my camera happened to be within reach, charged, and had memory left on it (like that ever happens with me!). I uploaded here onto YouTube, because I can't figure out how to embed it.

*Heart melts*

How awesome is that? I'll keep you updated about if/how this progresses. In the meantime, please join me in prayer that Tey continues to ask questions and grows in his faith. And that Bean continues to be contagious Christian and not a scary, judgemental, beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-Bible-Christian.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Not so Scary Halloween 2012

 It's November 10th and my kids have yet to ask about their Halloween candy.

It's a good thing too because I've already eaten all but a handful of their loot. 100 Grands are first to go. Thankfully there's none of that cheap, nasty nougat stuff wrapped in orange or black wax paper. Who actually likes that?

My kids have never eaten their Halloween candy, nor asked about it. Clearly they can live without it. I could too. We never buy candy so I rarely eat it, but it's here, so I eat it. I have stellar self-control for not buying stuff, but not for not eating it once it's in my house. Everyone has their weaknesses.

I hate to sound like the scrooge of Halloween, but I was actually a little relieved to learn from the previous owners of house that no one trick-or-treats in our neighborhood. I'd rather kick it old school where you trick-or-treat at a few neighbors' or close friends' houses and have a homemade treat or cider or something and then spend a little time visiting.

We have a second best thing going to Bo's work. We already know everyone there. The treats aren't homemade, but at least it's decent candy. The kids had a blast going from cube to cube and it was indoors (no braving Illinois fall evening weather). They also provided pizza and other food, so it was a fun party.

This being our first year no in preschool/daycare, I was solely responsible for my kids' costumes. I wasn't thrilled with the prospect. Tey wanted to be a skeleton and Bean initially wanted to be a lion, but then changed his mind to a raccoon because he wanted to be something nocturnal. He also said that instead of taking candy, he was going to tell people facts about raccoons. That idea fell through as soon as he spotted the colorful candy wrappers.

Anyway, Good Will proved to be a lifesaver for Tey's costume. I really didn't want to buy a new costume and the kids' consignment stores didn't have skeletons. While we were there, we spotted the most adorable tiger costume for Mei. It fit her perfectly and she even wore it around the store spreading Halloween cheer to everyone who laid eyes on her. I figured that it would come in handy when she played animal games with her brothers. Everyone once in a while I can get her to growl, "I ma-mo" (I'm an animal).

Bean's costume was a little more challenging, not even because he changed it at last minute (I hadn't even thought about it or planned it until a day or two before anyway). The greater challenge is that I'm cheap, didn't want to buy it new, and probably couldn't find it used, which leaves making a homemade costume.  Great...I am totally not creative in the craftiness sort of way.

On the day of Halloween, between an eye doctor appointment, Tae Kwon Do, and picking up the younger two kids from my in-laws, Bean and I pulled this awesome raccoon costume together. Go team work and focusing on a task (we're really working on honing those two skills)! We got the eye mask (I cut it to shape), nose, and ears at Dallas & Co. and the long gloves are mine. The clothes and raccoon slippers are his, with a pair of long underwear stuffed with plastic shopping bags and tucked in his pants for a tail. He has Ringo, his raccoon baby, pinned to his back so it can ride on him when he's on all fours....or should I say, "ride on her"?

Yes, my son went as a female, mother raccoon and I couldn't be prouder. He knows that only females can have babies and its the momma who takes care of the little ones. I'm so glad he sees such a value in that (and to the extent which most kids his age admire the strength of a super hero, or the beauty of a princess), that he wants to embody it for Halloween.

I don't know what I was so afraid of for Halloween. I guess I imagined that we'd feel the pressure to spend a lot of money on candy or costumes or whatever, my kids' costume demands being over the top and them not being satisfied with what we could pull off, them getting wound up on sugar, and
hyper, thankless kids grabbing candy from my candy bowl when they trick-or-treated at my house. Next year, I know that Halloween doesn't have to be that scary. We can keep it simple and not rob it of all it's fun getting bogged down with details and spending a lot of money...but isn't that the way it is for every holiday?