Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Nathan Hale Homestead Tour

Unlike some other homeschooling families, I tend to shy away from a lot of outside activities. I prefer to keep my time available for schoolwork or just to keep the little one at home. It is difficult to keep a toddler out of the house all day. But I try to remind myself that Connecticut, being one of the original 13 colonies, has a lot to offer in terms of history.

When a local homeschooling mom arranged for a special tour of the Nathan Hale homestead in Coventry, Connecticut, for a very reasonable fee, I decided to give it a shot. Nathan Hale was a graduate of Yale and volunteered as militia in the Revolutionary War. He was sent on a special mission to work for George Washington as a spy. Before his spying gig he was a school teacher. He was shortly captured and hanged by the British giving him the uneviable opportunity to proclaim, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

The event was presented in three parts: a house tour, a one-room school house activity, and then a spy school. We started with the house tour. It turns out that the house on the grounds was never occupied by Nathan Hale himself. The family moved into the lower part of the house (while waiting to finish construction) after Nathan Hale's execution. Connecticut was not a famous place for battles, but was known for supporting the troops with provisions. It was fascinating to learn that your neighbor who may loyalist could turn you in for spying with the reward of your house and land. It turns out that boys would end up in the uncomfortable rooms--the ones without fireplaces.

Once the kids moved over to the schoolhouse (a relocated home that was never an actual schoolhouse), they had to line up and present themselves to the teacher. In the time of the revolution, the docent informed us that girls would not have been allowed (though Nathan Hale did teach girls before the boys would arrive--starting at 5 AM) and that the students would need to bring their own fire wood. The children got to recite (by toeing the line), do a math lesson on a slate, experience punishment (Hanover got to hold a sign with her pretended misbehavior as a label and Flurpee found a nice knot hole to make her nose comfortable. Another student had a dunce cap and the last one got to hold a log of wood with his arms out in front of him.), use a quill, and have recess. At recess they played with typical colonial toys.

Over at spy school (a modern room in the house), typical techniques used for secretly passing information was demonstrated. The children wrote with invisible ink. After signing their names the kids found numbers that needed to be decyphered from a given key code. What fascinated me most was a rectangle that would isolate a specific message within the general text.

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