Tips for Visiting a Living Historical Farm with Kids and Learning Something in the Process

I grew up in rural, Southern Ohio, with readily available, hands-on learning opportunities from our region's past (also known as chores) and insights into the early farm life existences of our nation's settlers in the Midwest.  As a parent today, living in the Central Ohio suburbs on a city block lot of land--my girls miss most of that farm-life, hands-on experience.  Growing up, I lived with Grandparents who watched "family" shows on t.v. with which they could relate-- like Little House on the Prairie and westerns like Big Valley.  My girls, again, missed those things as Nickelodeon and the internet took over children's entertainment with SpongeBob and iCarly.  My daughters are so far removed from that part of (really very) recent history--that they really couldn't even read the Little House book series or even visualize pioneer life or late 1800's/early 1900s life without our modern conveniences.

Wow.  What could I do about that?  Well--since my family was no longer in the farming business--I opted to take the girls to living historical farm "museums" for that missing exposure to our local history!   Living history farms offer wonderful programs, opportunities and experiences for kids trying to visualize that period of history in their social studies classes!  Today, a wanted to share a few tips for visiting a living historical farm with kids and learning something in the process!

My family has visited the Slate Run Metro Park's Living Historical Farm many times over the years.  I visited as a chaperone with the classes of two of my three daughters.  I even wrote a post about what you should know about chaperoning a trip to an historical farm when I wrote a column for the Columbus Stay at Home Mom Examiner site.  That article was requested by Slate Run Metro Park for use on their school trip section of their site.  

Today--I want to share some tips for parents taking their families to Living Historical Farms--and creating a memorable learning experience.

Dress for the trip.   You are visiting a living, working, step-back-in time, historical farm.  You will be walking through fields with tree roots, dirt clods, mud--and maybe littered with a bit of animal waste from horse or cattle traffic.  Skip the flip flops and sandals.  Closed toed, comfortable, walking shoes are really best for the environment.  The farms will be "working" rain or shine as most of them truly operate as living, working, 1800's era farms with daily chores and activities.  If your trip could happen in the rain--dress appropriately and bring umbrellas.  If you are visiting in the winter--dress appropriately for the cold.  Waterproof boots or old shoes are recommended no matter the season.

Be prepared for close quarters.  Visitors to historical farms may marvel at the small rooms, low doorways and close quarters in comparison to our massive homes of today!   If your family is touring the farmhouses or other onsite buildings--expect to be ushered tightly into small, dark rooms and buildings as a part of a larger group--especially during busy tour seasons!  While living historical farms are fairly child friendly, it is still important to closely watch your children—especially when venturing into buildings with open fireplaces, or blacksmith shops, or buildings with items presenting topple/fall hazards.    If you have more rambunctious children--I would shuttle them to the rear/edges of the rooms during tour presentations and give them closer, more supervised looks at things once the crowd thins a bit.

Expect some difficult questions--and some sudden realizations.  The presenters at living historical farms really leave little doubt as to the origins of breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the farm.  Some sites may include replicas of slave housing or slave life. Hmm.  If you have sheltered the kids from some of these harsh realities--this is something for which to plan ahead with answers and explanations! Be prepared that during certain parts of the trip, it may become suddenly and maybe painfully obvious to the kids—sometimes for the first time—that the cute little baby pig that they just met, petted and expected to grow up to be farm breakfast sausage.  They may be troubled by the living conditions of slave quarters.  An historical farm is real--and represents the actions and activities of the 1800's in a given area of the U.S.

Share personal experiences with your kids.   Share some knowledge with the kids if you have any rural, farm knowledge to share! Maybe you have stories from parents or grandparents to share!  Share those stories and memories while at the historical farm.  The stories will have greater significance for your family when shared with a visual picture..  I had stories about bulls and goats and pet pigs.  I have canning and preserving knowledge and an understanding of a "summer kitchen" and an ice house. I love antiques--and love to talk about them! The farm creates a wonderful environment for the children to make real world connections and visualizations to your memories and stories.   If you have memories--share them.  It's a perfect opportunity that may go by the wayside in our busy, modern,day to day existences!  It can also be kind of cool to watch the kids' eye widen with a "you've done that before?" gaze when you share personal experiences that they are suddenly able to visualize.

Anticipate some risk--and supervise your children.  You are taking your family to active, working farms.   If your child's foot is stepped on by a horse or will be mending broken bones.  If your child dips a finger into a vat of heated tallow for candle making--you will be mending burns. Some farms even let kids shoot muskets!  (I think we all know what that risk could be!)  If your child is running through a field and trips over tree roots or runs into brambles or thorn covered vines--you may be mending some cuts and scrapes.  Farm life is not always safe and sanitized. Realize that historical farms are running, in many respects, as they ran in historical times.  Supervise your children and act accordingly to protect them (and other families) from risks that the children may not really understand with their limited farm experiences.
Locate the restrooms upon entering the farm area.  This is truly one of my #1 mom tips.  There is nothing worse than chaperoning a “potty-dancing” 5 year old with no known restroom in sight--and nobody in sight to ask! Identify the bathrooms as soon as possible--and remember that some restrooms in historical farms are of the "outhouse" variety.  If someone in your family refuses that outhouse style--you'll need to ask for a restroom location with modern amenities!

Pay attention to the farm's daily presentation schedule--and the need for activity tickets.  We were able to shoot a musket, dip candles, milk cows and tour many of the special presentation areas of Connor Prairie in Hamilton County, Indiana--but, we had to find our way to the various areas at the scheduled times.  Most historical farms offer special hands-on opportunities for families--but, you need to ask about the site's activity schedule and any additional ticket needs before you enter the farm.  Some activities require advance-purchase tickets.  There is nothing worse than finding yourself at the far side of the farm from the entry point without a ticket to a super-cool, family-desired activity!  

Talk to the Farm "Residents" during your tours.  Really.  Talk to them.  Ask them questions (even if you know the answers)--because they would love to share their farm knowledge with the kids! Don't worry about speaking up in front of other parents with your "obvious" or "silly" questions--because often the costumed guide may have many other learning opportunities available during a presentation but may only bring them up if there is interest and conversation from the crowd.

Encourage hands-on exploration when available.  Let the children play with period toys that are available for hands-on activities, let them try to milk a cow during a demonstration, encourage them to peek into cooking pots or learn how to harness a horse.  If there is an available opportunity to try something new (and learn about something from our past)--encourage the kids to take advantage of it!  Bear in mind, if the kids are a little shy or hesitant--you may need to take the lead and learn how to milk a cow or such as well to break the ice!

Make the trip a full day adventure.  Plan to eat lunch at the historical farm if the option is available or pack a picnic and blanket for a lunch on-site. Many farms also have nearby nature trails, picnic areas or even period themed dining areas for families.  

Take a lot of pictures.  I am not the best at stopping to take time for loads of pictures.  Later, I always regret that!  I have found that, not only do photos make wonderful memories of our family outings--but, the girls have frequently found uses for them in school projects and presentations in a number of classes over the years.  

I love supplementing children's learning through real-world encounters, hands on activities and sensory experiences.  Historical farms are a wonderful way to add a little more depth to those Social Studies lessons!

Tomorrow, I will share a list of my favorite living historical farms--so be sure to stop back!

Enjoy your summer!

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