Joco Diversions

Children get a hands-on history lesson at Shawnee Town 1929

Updated: 2013-04-24T19:51:43Z

By JENNIFER BHARGAVA

Special to The Star

The iPads were left in the classroom. No cell phones were in sight.

Under a sunny blue sky sprinkled with cotton candy clouds, dozens of schoolchildren skipped around a miniature farm.

They churned butter. They admired the chickens. They lined clothes to dry.

The field trip to the Shawnee Town 1929 Museum on Friday morning was a little taste of prairie life for the nearly 50 third-graders from Our Lady of the Presentation Catholic School in Lee’s Summit.

“Most of these kids have probably never pumped for water before and it just brightened my day to hear their laughter and see their enthusiasm,” said Sharron Uhler, curator of education for the Shawnee Town 1929 Museum. “I think it’s wonderful because it shows they’re truly enlightened. It’s important to expand kids’ minds and get them out of their world and into a totally different one.”

The museum, which features a small town square and adjacent farmstead, offers visitors a glimpse into what life was like in Shawnee during the 1920s.

In the spring and fall, schools from all over the Kansas City area are encouraged to bring their students to participate in hands-on activities and a tour.

On May 4, the museum is throwing a grand opening celebration to showcase the farmstead, which was recently constructed. It features a donated 1920s farmhouse, chicken coop, outhouse, tool shed and barn.

A new program for schoolchildren is also going to be rolled out. It will feature a history detective game that lets students compare items from 100 years ago to items from today, a lesson on how the nation is a melting pot, and a tour of the farmhouse.

Breaking in the farmhouse in preparation for the changes has been a treat, Uhler said.

Last week, she and a few volunteers made an entire meal on the wood burning stove in the farmhouse. The kitchen was enveloped in the scent of freshly baked bread and apple pie.

She would like to incorporate a cooking demonstration into the tours, if possible.

After all, food is a big part of the Shawnee Town 1929 experience.

Kids from visiting schools and daycare centers learn how to plant vegetable seeds in the small garden near the farmhouse. The vegetables from the garden are sold in the visitors’ center and distributed to local food pantries.

On Friday morning, however, the soil was too wet for the Lee’s Summit students to plant any vegetables. Some of them were disappointed, but they cheered up when they saw the chickens or ventured into the one-room schoolhouse.

“The chickens were funny,” said third-grader Colin Schuster. “They all scrambled when they saw us.”

Nine-year-old Jacqueline De Marea thought the coolest part of the outdoor museum was the dry goods store. She enjoyed sifting through the Montgomery Ward catalogs from the 1920s.

“All of the dresses were pretty,” she said. “I like how everything was illustrated back then. Now, our magazines just have a bunch of models.”

Third grade teacher Linda Van Becelaere was happy to see the students’ reactions.

She started bringing her classes to Shawnee Town 1929 11 years ago because it fit nicely into her curriculum and offered children the chance to have fun and learn something at the same time.

“Right now, the kids are learning about country life and reading ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall,’ ” she said. “Now, instead of just reading about it, they’re getting to experience it hands on. It means more to them when it’s real.”

With the positive responses from teachers and children, plus the upcoming new attraction and program, Uhler would love to see more schools and families visit Shawnee Town 1929 this summer.

And, she added, the museum is always looking for more volunteers.

“I’ve always felt like this place is a real hidden jewel in Shawnee,” Uhler said. “We would love to get more people to come out here this summer.”

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