Sparta’s sixth-grade teachers moved social studies classes to the Van Kirk Homestead Museum for two days last fall, giving their students a walk back in time to colonial Sparta.
“For most of the students, this was their first time visiting the museum, so they were very curious to see what was inside these buildings they passed every day,” said teacher Margaret Trum. The museum is accessed from the Sparta Middle School driveway.
In the Farm Room, everyone marveled at the lethal-looking implements on the walls and the 14-by-7-foot model of a farm cleverly made using everyday materials, like a coffee can for a silo and tea bags as bags of grain.
In the restored stone-and-beam fireplace kitchen, teacher Laura Meade said the students were a joy to watch as they absorbed and reacted to what they were learning.
“What they most enjoyed was trying to guess what the kitchen tools did, then being surprised to learn what they actually were -- especially the blood sausage maker!” she said.
The teachers agreed that being in the museum, the students readily visualized the artifacts in people’s lives at that time. “This experience took history back to our classrooms and made it real,” said teacher Mitch Jacobson.
The students wrote thank-you notes to their engaging hosts, Museum Director Jack Clark, MaryAnne Francisco, and Nancy Madacsi. One budding artist even drew a sketch of the Van Kirk home that is now framed and hanging in the museum.
“When are we going to go back?” the sixth-graders frequently asked. Discussions were underway among teachers and with the museum team. Ideas for enriching the curriculum included another social studies visit to learn more about Sparta on the home front during the Revolutionary War, and a visit to the Mining and Minerals exhibit, along with Thomas Edison’s Sparta mining operation, as part of their Earth Science unit.
When school moved online, these ideas were put on hold. The special exhibit “Thomas A. Edison: The Person, The Vision, and His Genius” is a treasure trove waiting to open.
“We look forward to working with Sparta teachers to create annual events throughout the year for all school grades,” said Francisco, the Sparta Historical Society President.
This museum is always free for students, and welcoming. Initially asked if the Van Kirk Homestead Museum had anything for the middle school students, its volunteers responded by building a program to fit the sixth-grade curriculum.
Ms. Meade praised their efforts, adding, “We have confidence that Jack and the team could create lessons for whatever we need.”
For more information visit vankirkmuseum.org.