Thursday, February 26, 2009

How to Teach Thoreau to Little Guys

From winter 08 09

We needed an outside-type field trip, so today we went to Walden Pond, ostensibly for a walk, but really to check out the tiny house where Henry David Thoreau lived and wrote, by himself, for two years between 1845 and 1847.

I wanted to give Luke and Owen a sense of Thoreau, even though I knew it would be hard to explain to them what he wrote about and why. How do you translate across time and a serious difference in language to help young children understand the motives of people who lived so long ago?

I started talking in the car on the way there, about imagining no cars, no airplanes overhead, just the sound of the wind in the trees... I told them we were going to see the place where 'Thoreau lived, all by himself, so that he could see if he could do it.'

Luke piped up with 'oh - like Johnny Appleseed!'

'Kind of the opposite of Johnny Appleseed,' I replied, 'because Thoreau wanted to see if he could go to the woods and pretty much avoid people, do most everything on his own, and write about his experience whereas Johnny Appleseed wanted to bring apple trees to as many people as he could. One wanted alone time, the other wanted to be with people.'

Both boys thought about that for a while, and then Luke said, 'hey, maybe we'll find his little shack while we're walking!'

I thought, 'small steps, Karen, small steps!'

Today, a pretty windy, chilly day for walking, both kids enjoyed themselves. The first thing we did was check out Thoreau's house, rebuilt closer to the road than the house site. Luke was so excited to find the 'shack' and truly captivated when he heard that Thoreau built two trapdoors into the floor. I swear, he went to bed tonight puzzling out why anyone would build trapdoors into their floor - if you know the answer, send it along our way, please! - and so we set off into the woods to find the house site.

We walked along the water of Walden Pond, and every couple hundred yards we came upon a stone staircase leading right into the frozen water. The boys were fascinated, and kept wondering aloud why Thoreau built these; they finally concluded that he really liked to swim, so he needed these stone staircases to get to the water.

We ate lunch at the house site, largely because the wind wasn't quite as howly there as near the water.

From winter 08 09

Thoreau had a lovely view from his front door:

From winter 08 09

I cannot be sure if 8 and 4 year-old boys truly appreciate living as Thoreau did at Walden Pond. They may not have a clear understanding of who Thoreau was, or why he went to the woods, but their interest has been piqued.

I will say this - going there on a windy, overcast day in February brings the true experience a lot closer than visiting in summer, with the rest of the tourist world.

Plus, we got a nice walk out of it; driving there, Ben and I listened to a talk-radio show about television, and were shocked to discover that the average American watches more than five hours of tube a day! As we listened, with one kid reading in the back and the other one looking out the window at the scenery going by, I felt thankful that tv plays such a small part in our lives.

I would much rather be out enjoying the natural world than in front of the tube, and today my family seemed to feel that way, too.


Jena said...

This post brings tears to my eyes. Can I be in your homeschool?

gina said...

Inspirational post. While I have been dreaming of warmer days to go and about- maybe I should plan a day a little sooner. :)

Dana @ Our Sunny Side said...

We used to live in that area and you brought back many memories for me. My son was born in that town.

One of the trapdoors led to the cellar he had dug into the hill. I'm not sure about the other.

BTW, I really appreciated your advice on my mother-daughter post! It's great to hear a postive experience. Thanks!

The Stone Age Techie said...

Thanks for reading, I'm glad we inspired you girls!

Dana, my son was so excited to know about the trapdoor. He thinks the other one was 'probably for defense,' although he isn't sure what Thoreau might have needed to defend himself against...

Blogging is making this winter so nice (at least for me :-)