Home school educator Joy Phillips wanted to expose her two home school children to a local attraction that was educational, cost effective and, of course, fun.
“Last week we went to the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, but we wanted to do something closer to home,” said the Emporia resident.
Phillips found proximity and more at Fort Lee during the Home School Day Open House held May 20 at the U.S. Army Quartermaster and Women’s museums. She was one of about a hundred parents and students who ignored threats of rain and traveled to an event that showcased the museums and their educational programs for school-aged children.
“When we got here it was raining, and we were disappointed that there weren’t more cars (in the parking lot),” said Phillips, “but I hope they don’t take that as a reason not to repeat this event because they did an outstanding job, from how we were received, their attitudes to the way they put programs together.”
Several other organizations were co-hosts for the effort. They included Fort Lee’s Regional Archaeological Curation Facility, City of Petersburg museums, the adjacent Petersburg National Battlefield and the Historic Hopewell Foundation, said Francoisé Bonnell, education and training specialist, Women’s Museum.
“Our goal was to inform and to share with the home school students in the state the assets we have here and the opportunities (for educational enrichment) they have in the Tri-City area,” she said.
The museums and curation facility, located next to each other, were the main attractions for the occasion. The other local attractions were set up under tents just outside of the museums.
“Each of the six venues offered different programs that complemented one another,” said Bonnell, “so the home school students had a choice of sorts.”
The students alternated between each site, gaining knowledge about quartermasters, exploring Petersburg and Hopewell’s Civil War history and learning about uniforms at the Women’s Museum.
Many of the lessons consisted of hands-on activities. The RACF hosted a simulated archaeological dig in its back yard, complete with hidden artifacts. Amy Wood, the facility’s archaeologist, said students enjoyed the activity.
“We put artifacts in the ground, asked them to dig, put the dirt in buckets and take the bucket to a screen where they sifted it to look for the artifacts,” she said. “It went pretty well. There were some children who actually didn’t want to get dirty but most were interested and engaged.”
Just across the parking lot, the Quartermaster Museum offered activities such as wagon making and tours. Phillips said the facility’s spiraled 20-plus-foot timeline complemented some of the history lessons they were learning at home.
“We do history in four sections, from the beginning of time to the present, and we’ll make timelines for each of the sections,” said Phillips, “but to see a timeline that was stretched out in front of the displays from one to the next; that was excellent.”
Although the museums are open to the public, this is the first time the facilities have targeted home school children in a community outreach event. That effort is part of a larger program that has increased the number of visitors from surrounding communties by more than 400 percent.
“We plan on doing this on an annual basis – same time of the year – and take what we learned from this one and maybe doing something a little different, but definitely doing it again,” said Bonnell.