Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Plymouth Plantation

Before I start, I have to say that this is one of those places I've wanted to take the kids to for forever!  I mean, what could be better than seeing a living pilgrim village along with their Wampanoag neighbors?!  It's a homeschooler's dream.

Oh, and yes, I know it would have made more sense to publish this actually ON Thanksgiving, but oh well.  Perfect timing does not always play out in the real world.

Anyway, Plymouth Plantation includes three sections:  The pilgrim village, the Wampanoag homesite and the Mayflower II.  All are meant to portray life as it was back when the first pilgrims came and settled on this land in 1620.


It certainly lived up to expectation and more.  First of all, the setting is absolutely gorgeous.  The original pilgrims made a good choice, if they were seeking a town with a view :-).  The entire experience is one of a kind.  In the pilgrim village section every 'pilgrim' you meet will speak and act strictly as a pilgrim would have.  They won't answer you in modern English but will use the pilgrim vernacular, if you will.  Even when asking your child to get down from the tree they're climbing...."Mind yourself lass!" When we asked how many pilgrims came across on the Mayflower we got the following answer: "Oh, I don't believe anyone on this ship has made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem".  Good point.  They didn't call themselves pilgrims, we do.

One is so totally immersed in it that even S declared he felt he was really there living with them at the time.  That's a pretty significant statement coming from him btw.

I'll start with the Wampanoag homesite as obviously they were here first.  The indigenous site differs from the pilgrim village in two ways:  1.  It is a recreation of a single family homesite and does not depict an entire village.  2.  The native staff here, mostly Wampanoag but some from other indigenous nations, are not here to play a role.  They are here to represent their people, share a modern perspective as well as to answer questions about their people's history and culture.

When I read reviews of Plymouth Plantation online before we came many people had commented about how unfriendly the staff at the homesite was.  I can totally see what they mean as they are not the bubbly Disney like characters/staff at all.  But that's exactly the point!  A point I think those commenters missed.  They are NOT there to play a role or even to entertain you.  They are there to show you how their ancestors lived.  They are there to be themselves.  To educate us as to who they really are.  Had they all had 'happy go lucky' attitudes I think the experience would not have been as authentic and meaningful.

Walking around the homesite I observed an interesting phenomenon:  All the native women were quiet and withdrawn. They explained what they were doing and answered questions yes, but usually in a very mild mannered way.  Not a problem, just an observation.  The men on the other hand were lighthearted and playful.  I have no explanation, just an observation.

A second observation we made had to do with the other children visiting the plantation.  They were obviously school groups, both private and public from what we could tell.  Our kids were free.  Free to wander, look, investigate, and ask their own questions stemming from true curiosity.  The school children however had a list of questions they were given and instructed to get answers to.  Their questions were dry and repetitive.  Yes, the content was reasonable, but the way they were designed was dry, dry, dry.  The result was no real passion and curiosity behind them.  The kids seemed to be asking because they were told to, not because they wanted to.  It was clear as day to us, and the staff apparently.  When the school children asked their questions the staff tended to answer in the same manner, dry and boring.  When our kids asked their questions (different and original), the staff lit up and gave animated answers to boot.

Now, I understand that when you have a large group of kids you're trying to 'educate' you might need to corral them and point them in the right direction to focus in on what they 'should'.  But really, can't it be done another way?!  In a way that perhaps motivates the kids to be truly interested and engrossed instead of having a teacher constantly remind them to make sure they have all their listed questions answered?!  The plantation probably provides teachers with an educational packet and all the school groups use the same thing.  I'm not a school teacher so it's not my job to figure this one out, but someone ought to find a way to truly engage students and promote independent thinking and an active imagination.  They're kids, a strong sense of curiosity comes naturally to them, why must it be stymied instead of making the most out of it?

It was really sad to watch.  I realize we have it easier, what with only three kids to be concerned about.  But that's just it, we weren't 'concerned' about them.  We trust their instinctive curiosity and imagination and let them lead the way practically all the time.  And you know what?  From where I stood, they came out with a significantly richer experience than their peers that day.

OK, off my soapbox now.  Again.

Moving on here....

We first stopped and talked to this grandmother.  She told us that her role in the village would have been to school the children and watch over them.  A babysitter and a teacher.  She would not be out there doing physical labor anymore.


This man was demonstrating how the Wampanoag made their canoes.  They hollowed it out by burning the inside.



Grilling some venison.....


I forgot what it was she was making, but it was cool to watch.


We spent a good amount of time in here, the winter dwelling.  Here we learned many details about life at the homesite.  This is also where we sat for a very long time listening to the barrage of repetitive questions while we waited to ask ours.


The eastern indigenous peoples did not live in tepees like the Plains Indians.  They were also not nomadic.  They had slightly different locations for their summer and winter homes, but they stayed in the same general area farming the land, fishing and hunting.  As we had some great experiences out west with the Plains Indians, the differences between the populations made for some interesting discussion among the kids.

Yes, that's a real baby in there.  And yes, the mother says he loves it.  Everyone was enthralled.  We've of course seen a papoose before, but never with a real baby in it!


The 'play station' -



and an native game boys used to play.


Everyone yells during this game, so it made it extra fun!


Leaving the homesite and moving on to the craft display area we saw pottery in the making,


a woodworking area,


and a beadwork area.


The cool thing about this craft area was that anything you could reach you could touch, and there was plenty the kids could reach.  Their favorite was the woodworking,


OK, now we can head over to the pilgrim village....Where there seemed to be much more to see and do than the Wampanoag homesite.  You would think they could have balanced out the representations a bit more.....

It's really an entire village.  All the houses arranged like they were and furnished as they would have been.  Each house had an extensive garden that we salivated over.  Greens, greens and more greens!  As well as squashes of course and other veggies.

We visited the fort, built to protect them more from the Spanish than the Natives.


We did some sawing,


and kitchen prep.


Served drinks,

used the 'toilet',

got dressed,

got ready for guard duty,

got ready for bed,


strolled the gardens,


roamed the main road,

chased the chickens,


watched the pilgrims,


received advice on home construction and roof thatching.  Really.


And posed for pictures.


Then there was the blacksmith shop, otherwise known as, the main event.  Don't get me wrong, the kids loved running around in and out of the houses, touching and using all they could get their hands on, but come on, here there was FIRE!


This is a father and son operation, as it was explained to us.  Being the oldest son, he gets to inherit the shop and therefore must learn the trade.   That's the story anyway.


Apparently everyone in Plymouth worked their own garden and provided other services to the community as well, like this blacksmith.

Did you notice that the pilgrims do not wear all black like they seem to do in the pictures depicting them?  Apparently black was reserved for special occasions since the color was very hard to achieve.  You can see here that the pilgrims really wore lots of other colors on a daily basis as they were easier to make.

Finally finishing up here, we headed for the Mayflower II, about 3 miles down the road.  Given the length of this post though, I think I'll save that for next time.

See you then!

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