Gazette Article by Sidney Dechovitz
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2007
Since its grand opening in September 2006, the Schmidt-Burnham Log House has had approximately 650 visitors, including 250 local students. Winnetka teachers have been enthusiastic about incorporating this piece of living history into the fourth grade immigration curriculum. A fourth grade teacher at Crow Island School explains what a valuable teaching resource it is for our schools.
Our fourth grade students at Crow Island investigate the story of the United States of America as “A Nation of Immigrants.” Through family history projects of various types, children learn the story of immigration as they begin to understand their own identities, and the reality that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, unless our ancestry is Native American.
After the exploration of self and family, we visited the Schmidt-Burnham Log House, which provided the children with the opportunity to make connections between their own stories and that of Winnetka, and ultimately to the history of immigration in our country.
Upon arrival, three costumed docents invited us to hear their immigration story. They explained the different reasons the Schmidt family left their home in Germany in the 1830s and emigrated to the Winnetka area, as well as the difficulties in making the decision. One of the docents spoke with a German accent and included German words to illustrate how difficult it is to understand directions in a foreign language. Some students came to the front of the room to help pack a basket with the kinds of things a family would take with them on the ship to America. The students were particularly interested in hearing about the methods of travel by ship, boats, and wagons to the Winnetka area. Questions and interactive exercises kept students engaged throughout their visit.
The fourth-graders were able to make connections between the themes of immigration experienced by their own family members and that of the Schmidt family, including: the emotional challenge of leaving a country of origin; the many reasons for emigrating from native countries; the hopes and challenges of living the “American Dream;” and the difficulties of adapting to a new land, culture, and language.
The visit to the Schmidt-Burnham Log House was an incredible, authentic opportunity to teach the children about the major themes of immigration as it relates to the local history of Winnetka.