Saturday, April 30, 2011

Awkward Ages and Living History

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 The girls have seen a lot of living history presentations in their short life. We've visited many of California's missions and historic sites throughout the Western United States. We've traveled the entire length of the Lewis & Clark Trail, and visited, along the way, many of its interpretive centers. We've been to countless zoos and science centers, children's museums and state and national parks. Now they're docents in their own rights at La Purisima Mission State Park. So they've learned perhaps more than their fare share of American history.

However, we hadn't talked too terribly much about the Chinese influence in California. That's a pretty serious omission particularly considering we've traveled many times on the rails and through the tunnels which were made possible by the Chinese laborers of the mid-19th century. Clearly it was time to fill that gap in their education, so when invited to Ventura for the city's Chinatown interpretive program, I jumped at the opportunity.

A funny thing happens to well-traveled kids. Or maybe it just happens to kids at a certain age. But the programs that once enthralled them become repetitive and the hands-on activities become mundane. V hasn't entered that age yet, thankfully, but E spent a portion of her morning a bit disappointed. The city's program is held in a small segment of the park in front of San Buenaventura Mission. (Chinatown no longer exists in Ventura, so where else would they hold it?) But the docent to which we were assigned did a fantastic job of keeping the children's interest through his tailoring of the topics at hand to their level, direct interaction with the kids, and a few hands-on activities. (Three cheers for the city's interpretation program docents, and to the city for providing such educational recreation for all ages!)

The girls had the best time working in teams at the laundry station. The clothes wringer was a major hit for all, and who know they could be SO interested in ironing? They tried their hands at Chinese yo-yos (diabolos), foxtails and even a touch of tai chi. (You can get further information about Tai Chi, including how-tos, here.) After all the talk about Chinese culture, pride and food, of course we sought out a local Chinese restaurant for lunch before heading home.

It's too bad so many of these programs are limited to students in sixth grade and younger. It would be wonderful to have educational, interesting HANDS-ON programs for learners of every age. Books are fantastic, but there's nothing like getting your hands "dirty" on a project for making it stick in the memory banks, and building interest among future generations.

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