A Day at Historic Deerfield
Historic Deerfield: That Museum Town
My mom and I had a little time on a sunny day a few weeks back and took the kids to Historic Deerfield. To be very honest, I felt like it might be a tough sell. I have three boys. They are 4½, 6 and 11½ years old. My oldest has been very tween-y lately. My youngest has been very sleepy, running himself ragged at the Parent’s Center and then preschool. He is often heard saying on the weekend, “I just want to do what I do,” in other words, “let me be.” And Henry, my 6 year old, likes to know exactly what everything is ahead of time. Historic Deerfield is a village dedicated to early New England Colonial History. It is also just a neighborhood with homes, streets, sidewalks and a post office. This is a bit much for my 6 year old to take in, but I convinced him to trust me.
I’ve been meaning to tell you all a secret. My local library has a collection of museum passes. They usually admit 4 or 5 people for free or at a discounted rate. Your local library may have a similar program. It’s incredibly easy to use. You check out the pass with your library card and return it to the circulation desk 2 days later.
After picking up our museum passes at the Forbes Library, we went to Historic Deerfield. On our way to the visitor’s center we saw a demo of a craftsman steaming felt hats into shape. The old iron was heated by flame, steam was everywhere. Hat-making looked dangerous and the boys were hooked. We took our pass to the visitor’s center, got our bracelets that would be our tickets for the day and got some very solid helpful advice from the staff about the best spots to visit with the boys. We settled on the Open Hearth Kitchen, the History Workshop and the Apprentice’s Workshop.
We walked into the open hearth kitchen where cakes were cooking in cake pans inside dutch ovens on the hearth. The kids enjoyed chipping sugar off a cone and grinding it in the mortar and pestle. We poked around the kitchen equipment making a little matching game for ourselves: the whisk was made of twigs, the toaster was a spinning piece of cast iron that was set hearth-side. I will return with Henry to take an open hearth cooking class so he can really get his hands on all the equipment.
The Children’s History Workshop is a play and pretend area for families. There are costumes, an open hearth kitchen with pretend food, a mini one room school house with the type of desk that has a chair attached. My children have never sat in these before, although I remember sitting on its more modern counter-part in my little school as a child. The kids played with the slates and chalks giving each other silly dictations and pretending to write in fancy script. The staff person there helped the kids make a jar with the ingredients for split pea soup which we brought home. She also let them use the child-sized loom. Nothing surprised me more than my boy children loving the loom. They loved the pedals, the yarn, the swift rhythm of moving the shuttle back and forth. It was hard to tear them away.
We did pull them away to the Apprentice’s Workshop. Seems like we hit a pretty quiet day in the workshop; there was not too much happening. There was a full size loom which was impressive to see. There was a second smaller loom which Isaac used, hopping on and following the posted pattern. The joiners’ workshop and the pottery studio are places I’d love to go back to; as well as, walk through some of the historic homes – very quickly, I’m sure, with three kids, but I would still love to see the interiors. We pulled them away from weaving for a second time in an hour. Henry asked if we could go back to that museum town again soon – that’d be a yes. When you visit, there is a helpful family guide and schedule of family events on their website. The staff in the visitor’s center were very helpful as we were trying to decide how to plan our time with the kids – so take a minute to ask their advice. We truly had a wonderful time and now I want a child-sized loom in my home for keeping them busy, quiet and productive during the winter months ahead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4, leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out. She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.
I want to visit!
Thank you for that tip! I will check out the classes there. I think Henry in particular would love that as an activity.
The last time I took my kids to Old Deerfield, we were only going to stay a couple of hours and then go home for lunch. Before we knew it, it was 3 o’clock, we still hadn’t eaten, and the kids weren’t even grumpy!
Did you know weaving was traditionally a man’s activity? My son tried weaving on a fixed heddle loom this summer and loved it. He’s now taking a weaving class at Hill Institute in Florence. (Ages 8 and up.)