My son’s elementary school participates in a living history immersion type program, which has come to be known as “The Encampment”. The Encampment originated in a neighboring district and was introduced at my son’s elementary school, by his principal, Scott Blake. The program itself is a collaborative project, accomplished with the support of the school community and the Fort Lee Historic Park, with its director John Muller.
On the day of the encampment, students become militia men encamped, during the Revolutionary War. They’re individually assigned military ranks and take on roles and responsibilities accordingly. They set up camp, cook, chop wood, wash dishes, build a campfire, march, make musket balls, shoot a canon, climb an enemy wall, and even play Rounders. Teachers and students spend weeks preparing for the event. Students hand sew hats, bags, and journals and learn what life was like living in the thirteen colonies.
I was encouraged to write this post, by my son who took his learning one step further. The other day I asked for his help in placing a pile of collected weeds, sticks and branches into a garbage pail. During the process he commented that some of the branches were too big to fit in the pail. He couldn’t break them apart with his hands, so he asked if he could use an axe. As you can imagine, my reaction was a mix of surprise and concern; you see we live in the suburbs and there aren’t many 11 year old’s who have the need, desire, or skill set to swing an axe. I answered with a tentative, “OK” , and before I knew it, I was thanking him for a job well done. (Yes, he still has all ten fingers!)
The smile on my son’s face more than reflected his feeling of accomplishment. Not only did he achieve the task at hand, but he figured out how to do it on his own. He applied his learned skill to solve a real life problem, because his learning experience was hands on, engaging, and real. Of course, an authentic understanding and appreciation of history and our forefather’s efforts was the ultimate and irreplaceable realization of the learning experience for all, but in the end, and hopefully for more than one boy, there too, was empowerment.