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Pioneering Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016 GMT

Students at Henley Elementary School celebrated Thanksgiving as pioneers last week.

In the hope of teaching students about the pioneers who settled in Oregon over 150 years ago and the way they lived, teachers recreated various historical games and activities for students to play.

“[Pioneer Day] is a connection with the past so they can learn about heritage and see how good they have it, put away the technology and go old school,” fourth-grade teacher Michael Reinstein said.

Pioneer Day is an annual event at Henley Elementary School, which fourth-grade classes have celebrated for the past five years. This year, teachers decided to include third-grade students in the festivities, to give them a taste of what pioneer life was like, fourth-grade teacher Amanda Hulsey said.

“We want to show them what a simpler life looked like and give them some ideas of things to do during Thanksgiving instead of playing with their video games, Hulsey said. “Maybe they can get out something a little more simple to play with.”

Hands-on history

For an hour and a half, 120 students spent around 10 minutes at each of the six different workstations, which included butter making, weaving, crafting whirligigs out of paper plates and string, marbles, a button and string game, and hammering tin stars to use as Christmas ornaments.

Third-grade teacher Jessica DeLonge was in charge of the butter making station. The kids filled their mason jars with whipping cream and used muscle power to shake the containers until the curd separated from the whey. They made two varieties: plain and honey, which they later tried on saltine crackers.

“Now they can make butter for their Thanksgiving meal and add cranberries to it, or honey, and help their parents, like how they used to live,” DeLonge said.

After each session, students lined up at the door and made their way to another classroom for a different activity.

The students’ excitement could be heard at every station as they worked in teams or with friends to create their crafts. With each new session, the kids’ laughter and conversations competed with the sound of hammering across the hallway.

In focus, on task

At the tin star station, students sat at their desks with pads of paper under their pieces of tin and hammered holes in the shape of a star. Other than the banging, the room was silent. Pure concentration.

Students were encouraged to dress up for Pioneer Day. Some wore floral dresses with aprons, boots and headscarves. Others dressed as they typically would, in casual clothing.

The day was a success all round.

“It’s the funnest thing I’ve had in school this year,” Madelyn Sreniawski, 8, said. “This is what they did when they didn’t have electronics.”

For Hulsey, one of the most successful parts of the day was watching the students gain an appreciation for the smaller things, especially since some of the kids had never used a hammer, she said.

“It’s hard for our kids when we talk about things that happened even 25 years ago, they have no understanding,” Hulsey said. “With the internet, they have no understanding of what it was like to have no communication, cell phones, toys and stores.”

“A lot of times when we talk about it in class, the kids say, “Oh that sounds really boring, especially the marbles.” Then when they actually do it, they love it,” she said.