Shaving the pioneer way with homemade soap, straight razors and a basic mirror. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

Walker Elementary School hosted a traveling museum called “A Journey Back in Time” for their annual Pioneer Day on May 14.

Around 60 third-graders at Walker, dressed up, with bandanas and pioneer and cowboy hats, learned hands-on what life was like for the pioneers traveling on the Oregon Trail.

From 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., students explored the tables and displays set up around the Walker gymnasium. The “Pioneer Living Experience” program let the students pan for gold, make beaded necklaces, wash laundry, pretend to shave, grind corn and more.

“[It is a] great culmination of all they’ve been working on,” said parent volunteer Sarah Stein.

In their Social Studies unit third-grade teacher and event organizer Julie Levine said the third-graders have learned about Native Americans, the settlers who came to Jamestown and Plymouth and now the pioneers and the settling of the West.

Pioneer Day gave the students something to look forward to as they learned about the pioneers in class, Ms. Levine said. The students have read books and diaries about the pioneers, and Pioneer Day was their chance to act out the things they have read about.

Felisha Parsons, another third-grade teacher and event organizer, said, “Talking about it is just one thing. … Really being involved in it is a long-lasting experience for them.”

Before Pioneer Day, third-grader Shania Wright said, she wanted to be a pioneer. After learning about them from Pioneer Day activities, Shania said she may have changed her mind.

“When they travel, some people die because of sickness and disease,” Shania said.

Third-grader Sophie Maram enjoyed the gold-panning station. A tub of water was placed on the floor where students were able to “pan for gold” by placing sifters in the water and collecting artificial gold pieces.

“My favorite station is the gold one, because I’ve always wanted gold,” Sophie said.

Walker has hosted Pioneer Day for the past 13 years, and every year they have used the “Pioneer Living” program. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School visits the exhibit before the Walker students and splits the cost of the program with Walker.

The creator of “Pioneer Living,” Terry Hess, has brought the pioneer life to schools for 23 years. He said it takes around two hours to set up the displays, and the students seem to like them all.

“In the time they’re here, almost every kid will do every station,” Mr. Hess said.

When Mr. Hess started the “Pioneer Living” program, his father made the toys that are set out on display. Now the toys are mainly bought from antiques stores or online, Mr. Hess said.

Mr. Hess and “Pioneer Living” have traveled to more than 30 different states, according to the Journey Back in Time website. Five “Pioneer Living” trucks, Mr. Hess said, make the journeys. One year, the trucks visited a total of 950 schools.

Mr. Hess said he brings the “Pioneer Living” experience to schools because he loves history, pioneers and working with kids.

Students from the schools he visits will often send thank-you letters. Once, he said, he received a letter from a second-grader that said, “I wish you could come here all the time.”

After experiencing Pioneer Day, Ms. Levine had her students take out old-fashioned paper and write personal narratives about Pioneer Day.

“The kids were so excited the writing poured out of them,” Ms. Levine said.