If only we spoke Dutch, yesterday would have been a learning experience for all of us ‘par excellence’. Unfortunately, I guess they don’t get enough foreign visitors, for some strange reason, to justify the cost/effort of having museum signs, kids’ trails and other information in English, let alone any of the verbal presentations. Although this reduced my enjoyment of the day tremendously, as an avowed passionate-to-learn -about-anything-and-everything person I found this immensely frustrating, the kids had a lot of fun and learned a lot simply by watching. In fact, I hate to admit that the kids probably had more fun without me giving my usual educational background spiel!
I hope my spiels aren’t too annoying though and that they get something from them. I would hate to think of myself as the hiker in the British comedian Steve Coogan’s movie ‘The Trip’. In the movie Steve plays a fictitious version of himself. His life’s a bit of a mess and he’s desperately in need of some thinking time and space. Steve has climbed to the top of an escarpment in the Yorkshire Dales, or somewhere equally bleak and beautiful. He is obviously relishing the solitude and the time away from the demands of his hectic career when up pops a fellow climber. They exchange the obligatory ‘Hellos’ and then the chap starts explaining in great detail, non-stop, the geological history of the rocks on which they’re standing. It’s hysterical but a bit too close to home for me! I would hate to think of myself as being like this insensitive and irritating man in the kids’ eyes! It’s an especially funny scene because it gives Steve a particularly bitter taste of his own medicine. Steve is also a bit of a know-it-all and a couple of hours before had spoiled his friend’s enjoyment of a striking vista with his own dogmatic geological explanations. But Steve’s monologue wasn’t quite so relentless and was a bit more sensitive to the fact the explanations, as interesting as they are, were entirely spoiling the moment for his companion, that wonderful feeling of awe induced by the wonders of nature.
Archeon is a ‘living history’ park with recreated buildings dating from ancient history, through the Roman era to the Middle Ages. Costumed actors work throughout the park in various era-relevant jobs including blacksmiths, cobblers, Roman Centurions and Archers to name but a few. They teach the kids about what are doing, often letting them have a go. It was very well done. Everyone seemed to love what they were doing. The actors/history buffs were very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly.
A particularly interesting learning experience was the gladiator fight Archeon puts on every day. It’s obviously the highlight of the day and you can see that the park visitors were all looking forward to seeing it. We sat in an auditorium surrounding a sand pit. At first there was a long (or so it felt for us, since it was in Dutch) role play which I worked out was to show kids that the ensuing fight was not real but acted and that at the end everyone is fine. After watching the ‘fight’ I could see why they went to so much effort to get this message across! But as realistic as the Gladiator fight was, cementing the learning experience into everyone’s memory I’m sure, the learning experience I found the most shocking was at the end of the show. Of course it comes to pass that one gladiator has dominated and looks to the Roman Emperor for whether to kill his opponent or let him live. The famous gesture is the Roman Emperor’s thumb up or down. A thumbs up from the Emperor happens if he thinks the opponent fought sufficiently well to have his life saved. But the more usual sign is the dreaded thumbs down which means the victor has to kill the conquered. Traditionally, Romans were a bloodthirsty lot and would have bayed for the man’s blood.
Archeon encouraged this in the audience yesterday which may have been historically accurate but missed an opportunity, I thought, to teach mercy. I shouted over the din of something like, ‘Kill him! Kill him!’ in Dutch, ‘Mercy! Mercy!’ in English! I shouted over the cacophony to my kids, ‘Nobody should be killed for entertainment! Mercy should be shown! The Emperor should give the thumbs up sign!’ Suddenly, a huge gasp went out as one gladiator ‘slit the throat’ of the other and blood spurted everywhere! Excellent special effects – but in front of young children! Hubbie and I went into overdrive with, ‘It’s not real! It’s not real! It’s just paint! Don’t worry he’s fine!’ I thought the actor would get up to show the kids he was fine but they ended the show with the realism they’d started it with and dragged his bloody ‘corpse’ unceremoniously out of the arena whilst the victor, to huge audience applause, was crowned with a laurel wreath. The audience was delighted! However, I was pleased to see that outside the auditorium at least the actor walked around with a big smile on his face despite the ‘blood’ still being smeared all over his naked torso. Parents took photos of their kids with him which I thought rather macabre, although just for the sake of this blog I did snap one of him alone!
Watching kids learn is always a fascinating experience. When we arrived at Archeon, Edward was desperate to get to the Roman era. He wasn’t the least interested in the early ages nor much in the Middle Ages, perhaps having had his fill at Muiderslot Castle. However, we had to walk through the Middle Ages in order to get to the Romans and to Edward’s delight, they were teaching sword fighting here! Older kids were able to wield real, heavy, adult-sized swords (with blunted point and edges) to ‘fight’ each other. Both parents and kids were worried enough to experience a frisson of excitement watching/doing it but it was controlled enough for the kids to not truly be in danger. The kids knelt at the end of the lesson for the instructor to ‘knight’ them, by name, and the instructor remarked that Edward was the only participant to ever be knighted twice (unsurprisingly he was keen enough to have a second lesson later in the day). He’d improved so much he was invited to do a nice display with the instructor for the benefit of the other kids which he was naturally thrilled about. After visiting the Roman era and coming back to the Middle Ages, it was interesting that Edward enjoyed sword fighting as a sport/art but not when it was associated with so much violence in the Roman era. That was a lesson worth learning!
This was my first experience of large scale ‘living history’, of which I know there’s quite a bit in the US, and I think it’s a great way to learn about and love history. I wish we had access to it at home. I wonder how much Petra will remember of this trip, let alone Edward and if we got the mix of relaxation and educational sightseeing right this holiday!
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IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLINGMIDDLEEAST, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!
Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you!