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Hands on History Presents the Frontier Kitchen

The Hands on History Program is a new addition to Heathwood’s experiential learning programs that allows students to better identify with people from the past.

Recently, Heathwood’s lower school students participated in “The Frontier Kitchen,” the first exhibit from Hands on History.  The exhibit offered artifacts from the 1800s that were generously loaned, or donated, by Heathwood families.  The students got the chance to help a “frontier mom” begin her day, by making biscuits, grinding coffee, stamping butter for sale at market, or watching how to spin yarn on a spinning wheel. Upper School students participated as well; Genevieve Marterer, Yana Johnson and Ally Ninh played the role of a frontier mom, wearing a period-looking frontier dress that was created by Webb Hodges.

Upper-school student, Yana Johnson, instructs students in period dress
Upper School student, Yana Johnson, instructs students while in period dress

Time creates pyschological distance between the past and present, which can lead students to regard the past as unnecessary, or even irrelevant.  The value of the Hands on History Program is that it connects students viscerally with the lived experience of past peoples. By picking up an old iron and feeling its weight, or running their fingers along cracked and weathered wood, or using real effort to grind the coffee beans, students gain an understanding of how people from the past probably felt about their daily chores. Children can connect with those who are no longer here, and realize how much that they in common with them. We are all part of history's narrative and can learn much from those who have come before us.

The real beauty of Hands on History is that the original owners of the artifacts are helping Heathwood educate our students about the past.  Because of the generous donations made by families, their ancestors are able to make a lasting impact on our young students. The objects they used bring us closer to them, and allow us a chance to better understand them. What a wonderful legacy!

Students operating a manual coffee grinder
Students learn how to operate a manual coffee grinder

Two additional Hands on History exhibits are planned. After Christmas break, "Teenage Life in the ‘80s" will present the technology and consumerism of the “Me Decade.” The exhibit will feature an 8-track stereo, the new "personal computer," the game Pong, preppy clothing, and a portable car phone, among others. Students will realize how far technology has come in the last few decades. Fans of the Netflix show Stranger Things should particularly enjoy it.

During the spring, "Call Me" will explore the history of telecommunications through the evolution of the telephone. Artifacts will include hand-cranked phones from the 1910s and 1920s, a rotary phone (my child did not know how to dial it), a model of a payphone,  and borrowing from the 80s exhibit - an early car phone/cellphone. This exhibit may include music and cameras, depending on artifact loans from the community.  Please consider donating, and stay tuned!

If you have any questions about the program, or think you may have an object you would consider donating or loaning to Heathwood’s Hands on History Project, please contact Dr. Sara Burrows at