Grandma’s Trunk Teaches Kids about Pioneer Life

The Lowell Area Historical Museum provides educational opportunities outside its four walls.  Once such program is Grandma’s Trunk.  Luanne Kaeb has been presenting this program to Lowell Area Schools second grade classrooms since 2002.

Markings show the path Grandma’s Trunk traveled.

The History of the Trunk

Although Kaeb has been in classrooms for the past 15 years the program took shape years prior.  “I developed the program about a  decade earlier and presented it to schools and organizations my children and nieces and nephews were involved in.” she says.  “The trunk and many of the items belonged to my ancestors –especially my Grandma Marie Fuss Kropf who immigrated from Switzerland.  Hence I called the program ‘Grandma’s Trunk’.”  Now a grandmother herself, she also involves her husband and a grandchild or two to help with the presentation.  Grandpa usually talks about the various chores while grandson Oliver (for this presentation) showed kids how to wash clothes and helped them churn butter.

Markings on the trunk reveal its travels from Bordeaux to New York making a stop in Lowell.  The presentation teaches students about immigration and pioneer life in Michigan.  

Grandpa Kaeb talks about how to make butter.

Experiencing Pioneer Life

A great deal of information is taught during the hour-long program.  Students not only learn but experience what it might feel like to live without modern conveniences.  Certain aspects of the presentation make it easier for students to retain what they’ve learned.  Following a brief explanation of how the trunk arrived in Lowell and what was needed to start a home in Michigan, items are shown to students.  Some are easy to guess their use while others take a moment to figure out.  A potato masher and cast iron iron were easy to identify.  The tool used to beat debris out of a rug was harder to figure out with one student questioning if it was a big fly swatter.  

Grandma Kaeb and Oliver demonstrate how to wash clothes.

The life of a pioneer is taught through describing different chores which take place on a different day during the week.  Sung to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush the kids learn ‘This is the way we wash the clothes, wash the clothes, wash the clothes.  This is the way we wash the clothes every Monday morning.’  In addition to washing clothes the kids learn about ironing, mending, churning, cleaning, and baking.  

Actual items used for chores are shown to the class.  A washtub filled with water, wash board and agitator, and wringer are all explained while it’s actually used by Grandson Oliver.  Students were each able to take a turn churning butter.  Kids learned how socks were darned when a hole appeared rather than buying a new pair.  They were shown a butter mold and discovered how it was used to brand a family’s product when sold or exchanged for items at a general store.  Customers purchasing the butter would remember good brands and continue to buy them leaving those not up to par behind.  

Students practice rolling out dough.

A candle and a lantern were lit and lights turned out in the windowless room to demonstrate why pioneers usually went to bed when it was dark outside because there wasn’t much that could be done without a lot of light.  Grandma Kaeb explained how water for a weekly bath was needed to be heated.  Irons needed to be heated on a cast iron stove before being used to get wrinkles out of clothes.  In unanimous agreement it was decided a chamber pot and having to use a corn cob in place of toilet paper are items best left in the past.  

Once the presentation of chores concluded students were invited to touch and try out various items in the room which were part of pioneer life.  They’re able to try out games, roll dough which would have been used for baked good, run clothes through the wringer and hang them up to dry, crack walnuts, and much more.  Before returning to their classroom they could try some of the butter they helped make spread upon a cracker.  

Mrs. Hayden’s class listen and learn about pioneer life.

Lessons Beyond the Trunk

Martha Hayden is one of Cherry Creek Elementary’s second grade teachers.  Learning about Grandma’s Trunk is exciting each time her class participates.  To further the knowledge her students experienced they’ll incorporate what they learned into a writing piece.  “Our writing goal this trimester is to create a compare and contrast piece.  Using this experience students build a double bubble thinking map and then write a four paragraph piece comparing life long ago and today.” she says.  

Lowell’s First Look asked Mrs. Hayden’s class what their favorite item from the trunk was and why they liked it.  Here are some of their answers.

Hannah liked the ‘churner’ because the butter was yummy.
Baden like the ‘toilet bucket’ called a chamber pot.
Molly, Mattea and Caleb enjoyed rolling the dough.
James liked the washtub.
Keith liked the sturdy trunk.
Bryleigh’s favorite part was drawing on the slate.
Elicia liked crushing nuts in the nutcracker.

We also asked students what item they would pack in a trunk for kids in the future to learn about as part of history.  Some of their answers are below.

Landon would pack his stuffed monster, Slinky.
Elaine would pack her special La La Loopsy Doll.
Caleb would pack a diamond.
Elicia would pack clothing.
Molly would pack her American Girl Doll.
James would pack his stuffed animal jaguar named Tiger.
Kenny would pack his stuffed raccoon named Rocky.

Luanne Kaeb lists a desk or wall phone, today’s mobile devices, and items like band or sport uniform as items which will be part of history in years to come.  She also says learning about history is fun.  There is a lot to discover about the past.

Finally, Mrs. Hayden’s students were asked why they think it’s important to learn about historic things.  Here’s what some of her students had to say.

Keith said, “So we know what happened in the past.”
Adam said, “Teachers need to know about pioneers and history so they can teach the kids.”
Mattea said, ” So we can learn from it and it won’t happen in the future.”
Baden said, “You should know this stuff for college.”

Keeping History Alive

Each year a new batch of students experience Grandma’s Trunk.  Thanks to the Lowell Area Historical Museum and Luanne Kaeb (along with her husband and grandchildren) history comes to life.  Students are also sent home with a Grandma’s Trunk Sketchbook to help remember what was learned during the presentation.  The sketches in the book were done by artist M. Karen Thomure who was an art teacher in the Lowell Area Schools District.

The Lowell Area Historical Museum offers many programs for students throughout the year in addition to the exhibits on display inside their building.  If you haven’t experienced some of the community’s history let the museum take you into the past.  Check our their website and Facebook page for more information.  Additional photos can be found in our Flickr album.  

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.