Students step back in time

By Maggie Gebhardt
Hays Daily News – May 14, 2015

Photo by Jolie Green. Click on photo to view full-size image.

Photo by Jolie Green. Click on photo to view full-size image.

Many schools in Hays are conducting end-of-the-year field trips this week, and several took advantage Wednesday of Ellis County Historical Society’s Pioneer Day.

Wilson Elementary’s kindergarten class was one of many to partake in the festivities.

Students learned from Abraham Lincoln — impersonated by Steve Burns of Russell — and about the pioneer lifestyle including shelling corn, crocheting rugs, cleaning clothes on washboards, making saddle and holsters from leather and more.

“We want to have an outreach to the schools and offer them something that’s free,” said ECHS director Donald Westfall. “It’s a chance for them to experience some of the themes we interpret here in regard to pioneer history and the history of Ellis County.”

Kindergarteners traveled around the property speaking with volunteers, members and staff who represented historical themes at their individual stations.

Jaime Schlesinger, ECHS assistant curator, showed children the Volga-German Haus, which had similar characteristics to the home seen on the popular television series “Little House on the Prairie.” She explained items inside including the bed, where she said the parents would sleep, composed of hay and rope tied tight underneath — where the expression “sleep tight” originated.

Inside the Stone Church, Susan Liebl, Hays, performed historical songs to help teach children in a hands-on approach.

“It’s critical to understand your past, and to have it come alive like this helps kids learn,” she said. “Whenever kids can be exposed to things, they can touch and see. It’s so valuable.”

Children also participated in sack races, which are still conducted today but trace back historically.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Wilson kindergartener Alexis Bickle. “They invented hopping in bags back then. It was hard, but at least I didn’t fall down.”

A replica of the original Hays Fire Department was also on display, and children viewed the old equipment in awe.

“The firetruck looks weird,” said Wilson kindergartener Kynlie Ubert. “Look at the bell on the front.”

Mandy Meagher, Wilson kindergarten teacher, said she hopes the students get a better understanding of history.

“Some of it is so foreign to them. They have no concept of what life was like hundreds of years ago,” she said. “It is good for them to see people dressed up like they are a part of that time period, and to understand there were no cellphones and electronics.”

ECHS member and volunteer Precilla Hunt said she hopes events such as Pioneer Day help draw more people to visit the organization.

“People are missing out on so many neat things,” she said. “I hope more people start to come. They would really enjoy it.”

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