When you make history tangible for students, they tend to enjoy it more and learn from it.
Retired teacher Wynn Scheer witnessed countless examples of that throughout her career, but none was more enjoyable than when a young boy at Labadie Elementary came to Scheer with an idea inspired by something he’d read as part of their lesson on the Civil War:
“He had read where Union troops came through on a plantation, and this lady hid a pig under her big dress,” said Scheer. “So he wanted to know if he and his buddies could write a script for that.
“We had had a bunch of formal gowns donated to us from a place in Pacific, and he found a red one, got a hoop under it, and he portrayed that lady,” Scheer recalled with a smile.
Years later, after the student had graduated college, Scheer saw him again, and he talked about that lesson and what it meant to him.
“He said, ‘I don’t know where that red dress is, but that was one of the highlights,’ ” said Scheer. “He ended up taking a lot of history courses in college because of it and said, ‘I love history because of all that — you let us do stuff.’ ”
“That’s what we want to do — reach students where their interest is,” said Joanie Lichty, a fellow retired teacher. “With kids, if you give them something fun to remember, you just grab them and then they are so interested.”
Both Scheer and Lichty are members of the Washington Historical Society’s education committee, which has recently published its first children’s book, “Now and Then,” a 33-page picture book filled with photos comparing objects and activities from yesteryear with their modern counterparts.
“The first spread shows a modern day boy on a bike, clad in a helmet — opposite him, a girl from the 1920s straddles her two-wheeler, but she’s dressed quite differently, in a beanie-style cap and a long dress,” Chris Stuckenschneider, The Missourian’s book editor, wrote in a review of “Now and Then.”
Other comparisons between “now” and “then” include farm equipment, telephones, school buildings, toys, cars, bathrooms, supermarkets . . .
In the back of the book, Lichty and Scheer have included notes that teachers or adults can read to help them provide additional information about each subject to extend the learning.
Ultimately what the committee hopes will happen is that reading “Now and Then” will start a storytelling session between grandparents and grandchildren, old and young.
“Grandparents and even parents can start relating their own history,” said Scheer. “They can get out their own photos and tell stories of when they were younger.”
“It’s a great way to pass on your family stories and to inspire you to start sharing your stories with your children and grandchildren,” added Lichty.
The book is geared toward children in kindergarten and first grade, but because it’s mostly photos, it is the kind of story that can appeal to all ages, Lichty noted.
And while many of the pictures are from around the Washington area, the book is not just for Washington area kids, said Walt Larson, committee member.
“It fits all of Franklin County, really all over the country,” he said.
Committee Formed in 2005
Educating the public about local history and history in general is at the core of everything the Washington Historical Society does, but in 2005 several of the members decided to take a more targeted approach toward educating children in particular.
Ralph Gregory is the one who spurred them to action.
“He always talked about how we needed to do more programming for kids,” said Nancy Wood, committee chair. “I kept hearing him say it, and I thought we needed a committee to work on that, so we started the education committee.”
Early members included Walt Larson, Ruth Wood, Gerry Frankenfeld, George Bocklage, Marc Houseman and an intern, Erin Smith.
The first activity the committee organized was the Historic Character Program, where members dressed up to portray a local historic character at events or for presentations. It really wasn’t all that successful, though, but the committee members were undeterred.
Their next major project, the Self-Guided Walking Tour, was quite successful, and two years ago it won the Heritage Travel Award from Missouri Main Street.
Again, Gregory had a hand in getting the project going, said Wood. His writings on various historic houses is where the committee began when putting together the tour of 68 locations around Downtown Washington.
A brochure can be found in various locations around town, including at the train depot on Front Street, the Washington Historical Society museum at the corner of Fourth and Market streets, and online at www.washmohistorical.org (Under the Events tab, select Tours).
The brochure includes a map and a short description of each of the 68 locations and what makes them historic.
The tour targets adults more than children, but ultimately the committee’s goal is to reach all ages.
“Our mission is to help the Washington Historical Society better educate the public about the history of the area. That includes elementary, middle school, high school students and adults,” said Wood.
Traveling Trunk, Native American Basket
The committee put together a Traveling Trunk and Native American Basket that are filled with historical objects, games, clothing, photos and other items that teachers can use to help them teach a subject.
They also contain guides with suggested discussions, activities, work sheets and background information, all designed to fit into the school’s educational requirements, said Lichty. Teachers can pick and choose what they want to use and how in-depth they want to go.
The trunk includes history related to Washington founders William and Lucinda Owens, immigration, corn cob pipes, Franz Schwarzer and zithers, the shoe factories and George Bergner who invented and manufactured apple and peach parers.
The basket provides information on Shawnee and Osage tribes, Shawneetown in Franklin County, survival and uses of the buffalo, dwellings and food, life as a child and Native American games, ceremonies and beliefs.
Either can be checked out for as long as seven days at a time. To request use of either the trunk or basket, teachers should call the museum at 636-239-0280.
Other Activities, Tours
Other educational activities and events that the committee is or has been involved with include:
• History presentations at area schools. For example, Larson, dressed in his Civil War re-enactment uniform, has visited Kelly Wood’s English classes at Washington High School to read a chapter from “The Red Badge of Courage”;
• Washington History Day, where more than 200 area fourth-graders come to the museum to tour five stations, including zither making, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Washington Fire Department, and two characters discussing life in the early 1900s;
• Activities at the Kohmueller farmhouse (between the YMCA and Lions Lake), such as learning stations for YMCA campers in the summer. Topics have included brick making, corn shucking and apple peeling;
• Pioneer Days at Shaw Nature Reserve;
• Tours of the Odd Fellows Cemetery for fifth- and sixth-graders with various historic characters, such as Frank Calvin, Franz Wilhelmi, Emily Foss Owens and Anton Tibbe; and
• Ghost tours and the WOW (Washington on Wheels) tours of the downtown area.
“The intent is to provide the participants with additional information about the history of Washington, the buildings that date back over 100 years, and those buildings thought to have spirits or unexplained experiences,” said Wood.
The monthly Evening at the Museum event (offered the second Tuesday of each month, March through December) was an idea from the education committee. So was the monthly radio address about local history given by Museum Director Marc Houseman on KLPW.
The education committee also is involved in planning for the historic character portrayal at the museum’s annual January dinner.
“One time we had grade school kids read a newspaper that a kid from 1880 wrote and sold. They read them like they were newsboys,” said Wood.
There also are some students who come to the museum for lessons created by their teachers, said Larson. Every year, Kelly Wood brings her English students to the museum for a lesson in conducting research, and they follow that up with a paper or presentation on their findings.
Two $1,000 Scholarships
The education committee awards two $1,000 scholarships each year — one to a student from Washington High School and another to a student from St. Francis Borgia Regional High School. The scholarships are funded through the museum’s Stanley and Marjorie Wilke Memorial Fund.
The application includes either a paper or presentation of some kind on something to do with Washington history.
One of the earliest winners now teaches history at WHS and another works at Shaw Nature Reserve.
‘Now and Then’
The education committee credits Diane Schwab, wife of member Bill Schwab and coordinator of the Four Rivers YMCA Literacy Council, with suggesting that they publish a children’s book.
Work on the book took three years to complete.
Members plan to give readings at area elementary schools, the Washington Public Library and other events.
The book sells for $18.50 and can be purchased at Neighborhood Reads, IB Nuts, Schroeder Drugs and Gary Lucy Gallery, all in Downtown Washington, as well as at Labadie Station in downtown Labadie.
It also is available at the museum and online.
The committee has already started planning for its second children’s book, an alphabet book showing historical items for every letter in the alphabet. The hard part has been deciding what item to feature for each letter.
Members expect the book will be available in a couple of years.
For more information on the educational opportunities offered by the Washington Historical Society, call the museum at 636-239-0280 or visit www.washmohistorical.org.