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The Pioneer Room

Third grade students in The Winnetka Public Schools study pioneers as the central theme of their social studies unit. They learn about the life and customs of pioneers, the hardships and pleasures of their family life as they lived and worked together. During the year the children engage in many activities such as creative dramatics, arts, crafts, food preservation, folk music, and games. For example, they might make horn books, samplers, dry apples, or share creative dramatics, learn pioneer songs, and folk dances.

Finally, the long anticipated day comes. Each student gets to spend a day in the Pioneer Room. Students go with a group of about six with the classroom teacher. A substitute teacher works in the classroom with the rest of the class.

For all third graders in The Winnetka Public Schools - those at Hubbard Woods School, Greeley School, and Crow Island School - this day becomes a reality in the Pioneer Room at Crow Island School. The establishment of this room was the achievement of Winnetka's faculty, parents, and School Board. The late Miss Frances Presler, director of Creative Activities, carefully studied and enthusiastically guided the plan which took over two years to complete. The Pioneer Room was included in the original plan just as the classrooms, gym, and original library were. Crow Island School was completed in 1940. Today, over sixty years later, the Pioneer Room continues to be a living museum for children, the only one of its type in a public school. It is maintained by the School Board, parents, and teachers with special assistance from the PTO.

The very opening of the door is exciting as the children leave their classroom routine and cross a new threshold into a real pioneer home - an exact replica of the interior of an 1840 Illinois home. The massive wood-burning fireplace, the Dutch oven, the butter churn - are all authentic. The soft feather bed with the crossed ropes for a mattress, the little cradle, and trundle bed are only a few of the properties. One also finds a bench which becomes a table, a yoke to carry water, and paper maché wild animals to be hunted by brave frontiersmen. It is in this authentic environment that Winnetka's third grade children come to live and play the lives of their great-great-grandparents for one very special day.

After much classroom preparation and background, "families" are decided upon. With his/her own pioneer name, each child plays the role of "Pa," "Ma," or one of the children. The day begins with dressing in authentic costumes, complete with sun bonnets and coonskin caps. A fire is built in the fireplace, wood is sawed with a crosscut saw, and food is prepared over the open fire. Often butter is churned and bread is baked. The pioneers always enjoy their hearty lunch. Each student feels the weight of a neck yoke as he/she carries water for use in the pioneer cabin. Following lunch, dishes are washed and dried. Everyone helps. Next comes lessons using the slates and possibily writing letters to the folks back home. After playing pioneer games, singing songs, and dancing, the children take turns resting on the feather beds and all relax by the fireside. Finally, the time comes for a reluctant goodbye to the Pioneer Room.

The children never forget the day they spend here. There is a magical quality not only in the room itself but in the spirit which the children and their teacher bring to this day. It was the dream of Miss Presler that through this experience the children would derive a deeper understanding of the lives of our forefathers and a greater appreciation of our American heritage. Over the past years this dream has been realized for hundreds of Winnetka pioneers.

We wish each child a happy and memorable day in the Pioneer Room.

Originally written in the 1970's by Kathryn Gould and former Grade 3 teachers.