Throughout 2020, the folks at Ferry Farm (George Washington’s boyhood home) and the Historic Kenmore Plantation (the home of Washington’s sister Betty and her husband Fielding Lewis) will augment their offerings to even more fully engage with every age cohort.

“On-site and hands-on exploration of the sites can become a lasting memory and bonding experience for families,” said Alma Withers, director of educational programming, “and this year’s programming will be designed to increase those opportunities.”

Both Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore will reopen to visitors this Sunday.

George Washington’s Ferry Farm

This is a perfect spot for interactive learning experiences. The site of the Washington family farm includes a newly opened replica of their house and furnishings, as well as a locale rich in archaeological finds that have been traced as far back to prehistoric Native American times. One of the site’s most widely popular offerings is the annual Grandparent/Grandchild Archaeology Day Camp.

“The day’s activities basically follow the complete archaeology process, from digging and sifting for artifacts to cleaning, mending and cataloging them and will include a visit to our archaeology lab,” said Zac Cunningham, manager of educational programs. “Participants will discover that only about a quarter of an archaeologist’s time is spent digging, while the other three-fourths is spent figuring out what you have found, what it might mean, and what it tells you about the people who used it.”

The grandparent/grandchild camp will also include a hands-on project. Participants will bring along something that represents a piece of their family’s history and will create a diorama that conveys the role the object played in their family’s life.

“We will also take a brief tour of the Washingtons’ home, where guests can sit on the beds and hold the teacups and have a hands-on experience because all the furnishings are reproductions. It’s a very immersive experience and a great way to tell the Washingtons’ story and engage visitors, young and old,” said Cunningham. “We will talk about what happened when George Washington lived here, from the time he was 6 through his teen years, so young visitors will readily relate to it.”

Interactive, hands-on activities will occur throughout the year. “The summer will include an archaeology field experience, where children of all ages can assist in a dig by helping to find artifacts in sifting screens while the archaeologists talk informally about what they do and the history of archaeology,” said Dave Muraca, vice president for museum content. “Our site excavation takes place in May, June and July, and our staff strives to create a once-in-a- lifetime memory for families.”

Historic Kenmore Plantation

Activities and programs for children and families at the Historic Kenmore Plantation have, likewise, been developed to include hands-on experiences and interaction. A new aspect of the house tour is the introduction Touch Baskets that will be placed in each room, with objects that the tour guide will discuss and offer to guests to hold and explore as they learn about the Colonial era and the lives of Betty and Fielding Lewis and their children.

A fascinating new addition to the estate is the Hands-On History Lab, which was designed by children and created for children. It was created by fourth-grade students from Fredericksburg Academy, who, in the process, learned about what is involved in researching and creating an exhibit.

“The students chose the topic of ‘Children’s Lives in Colonial Times’ and divided that topic into four subject areas: chores and work, clothing, education and food. The exhibit explores each of those areas through hands-on activities for young visitors,” said Beth Hosier, manager of interpretation and visitor services. “For example, for Education, children will create their own hornbook, a paddle on which letters and numbers are posted. For Food, participants will grind oats using a little coffee grinder to get an idea of what the process was like, and, for Work, they may sew a button on a piece of fabric.”

The fourth-grade teachers of Fredericksburg Academy, who facilitated the creation of the Hands-On History Lab, said that their students gained much in creating the exhibit for peers.

“The students were wildly enthusiastic to be able to complete research that would impact members of the community beyond the classroom,” said faculty member Michelle Midkiff. “Our students had an opportunity to work with professionals who took time to explain their passion for their work. And they experienced joy in discovering historic items found on the grounds of Ferry Farm and learned how they impact what we know about the Washington family and others who lived on the property. They created connections from the classroom to the world around them.”

“Our young visitors will see how much fun and engaging history can be when it is not just in a book but in your hands!” said Hosier.

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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