SUWANEE — A bit of a cultural shock arrived in the fourth-grade classroom of Melisa Jeffers on Monday.
The Riverside Elementary School teacher recreated an annual tradition of an interactive colonial day experience to give students a hands-on presentation of the social studies curriculum. Students learned how life moved much slower as they saw how to make butter, candles and pick and clean cotton. They also learned that johnnycakes were a cornbread version of pancakes, and oyster shells were used as a spoon or ladle.
“Nothing happened quickly back in that day, and that’s the disconnect that our kids have,” Jeffers said. “They’re used to instant gratification and none of this happens easily or quickly.”
Jeffers repeatedly told students that in those days there wasn’t a Kroger on every corner. And the explanation that got the most vocal response came when Jeffers told them about chamber pots used inside overnight before indoor plumbing was common.
A common chore for children was to empty the chamber pot each morning.
“Eww,” the students said in unison.
“That’s why when your parents tell you to clean the bathroom, you should not grumble,” Jeffers said. “It could be worse.”
Fourth grade is the first year students learn about this part of history, and Jeffers said it leads into the “Road to the Revolution” section that explains the differences in colonies and beliefs and how the South wasn’t as strict and structured as the New England colonies.
“Back then it’s not as easy as we have it today, because we have all the modern technology,” fourth-grader Anand Hargis said. “There, they had to do it all by hand. It’s not that easy.”
Added fourth-grader Audrey Loudermilk, “We could actually experience it. In the (textbook) we imagined it, but today we really did it.”
Some of the items the students learned about were that slaves or indentured servants were often required to clean 50 to 100 pounds of cotton each day. Several parents brought in food that was common for that time period, like johnnycakes, and helped the students play games from that time period.
“This is a learning thing and it’s educational,” Jeffers said. “I can always come back to this, all year. Remember when we did this, or remember when we did that. We’ll end by cleaning the cotton, which these little city kids don’t have any idea.”