Life Experiences Make Good Subject Matter

Judy Lyden - Scripps Howard News Service

Last week, we took the kids to Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home. It's one of my favorite places. The rustic farm is made to look and feel like the farm Lincoln helped his father build.

The historical site of the cabin is where Lincoln lived between the ages of 7 and 21.

"Who was Abraham Lincoln?" Colin, 6, our renaissance student, replied, "The 16th president of the United States."

The kids descended on the farm like savages, but within a few minutes, they all found points of interest and settled down to a good visit. Some of the children went into the one-room cabin and watched the cooking.

Some of the children gravitated to the vegetable garden and watched the rangers, dressed as pioneers, work the potato field. I thought about the apples we grew at school and would be eating that day. I also thought about the squash, zucchini and cauliflower we grew and which we ate earlier that week.

Some of the children watched the horses, the cow and calf and the chickens.

"They're not like the animals we have at school, are they?" I asked the kids.

"No. They're bigger than the rabbits and the chinchilla."

Some of the children liked the rail-splitting going on that day. The rangers let the kids slug the heavy tools against the rail pins. The kids were impressive in their willingness to work.

We stayed about an hour and then moved off for a picnic and a walk through the woods to the school bus. On the way home, I thought a lot about "doing" and how important it is for kids to understand how life works from the ground up.

I wondered how many of the children's families could survive even a week on a good little farm like that. Even though the food is there - on the hoof and in the ground, so to speak - I suspect few modern young couples could manage a reasonable existence.

Do we understand how to strip off the modern world? Today, many children fear dirt rather than know how to make it work for them. Food has to have one particular packaged taste or we won't eat it. Light comes from a switch on the wall rather than from the sun. If the lights went out, what would you rig up in the kitchen? What would it be like to be totally away from the phone, TV, computer and a fast trip to the store in the car?

What would you need to do from sheep to hanger? The food is there, but could most harvest it and make a decent meal in the hearth? Can most people make bread, simple cheese and potato cakes or kill a chicken? Could most put food by, milk a cow or know what to do with the milk? With all the talk about terrorists and destruction, it might be time to assess our basic skills and improve our shortcomings, if not for safety and survival's sake, then for simple knowledge.

One of the components of the curriculum I teach has always been learning to do, to make, to be independent of kits and copies. This year, I think we will be doing a lot more "how-tos" with the basics. It will be called "independence training." Bring on the dirt, the seeds, the hammer and nails and the flour and yeast.

(Judy Lyden is a licensed day-care provider. Write to her:
c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN
47702, or e-mail to

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