Commentary

Maine Fairs Provide Educational Opportunities to Parents

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We are reminded once again by this year’s Referendum Question 2 that it is time for parents to become a bigger part of the education process, because the school system is saying it needs more money. Those who know history understand that money is not what’s going to solve today’s questionable education standards. But, reaffirming the family-centered education system of the Founding Fathers can.

Fortunately, we do not need to wait for the school system to realize this, as parents can begin doing it on their own right now during Maine’s fair season, which provides a perfect opportunity to rekindle old teaching styles of passing down knowledge from one generation to the next. The traditional (and successful) American educational system relies on parents and guardians taking the time to share experiences and teach their children by reading and discussing subjects together. Incidentally, the fair can help jump start this process.

Head to the fair of your choice, and before you head to the games, rides and food, visit all the different exhibits, demonstrations and animals available for your enjoyment. Fairs often offer blacksmith demonstrations on the production and use of crude tools and equipment from yesteryear. In Maine, we have maple syrup making, traditionally with buckets hanging from trees.

From basic log cutting and board making to artistic stump sculptures, there is both education and entertainment. Parents should encourage their children to not only witness these basic practices, but to also ask questions of those who have taken the time to maintain them in the modern era.

Parents can guide their children through exhibition buildings which are filled with homemade crafts, clothes, decorations and food, guiding their children by filling in the gaps and explaining history to them. Learning can be enhanced by speaking with volunteers who are more than willing to share what they know.

Old family stories fit right in at the fair, as one can recount familial tales to children while showing them the machines their ancestors actually used. Stories about ancestors who made clothing takes on a deeper meaning when one sees examples of natural animal fibers being turned into old fashioned yarns and cloth on spinning machines.

There are always animals at the fair, and a stop at a petting zoo is especially beneficial for the younger children who are just starting to realize how amazing the world is and all the fantastic creatures within it. Petting rudimentary farm animals is a safe and effective way of letting children see animals up close that they may have only seen on television and in books.

It gives a sense of reality to them, letting children see, smell, touch and hear the real thing. The large barns at the fair are filled with prizewinning cows, pigs and horses with proud owners present to discuss and explain about their animals. One might even learn that steers, oxen, heifers, bulls and cows are all the same species, just with different characteristics.

A secret many city children will only learn at the fair is that farm animals do not run around with anvils, magically falling upon them from the sky as in cartoons, but instead they drop stink bombs themselves, which are best not stepped in. There’s also the beauty of seeing newborn animals getting milk from their mothers, and to every child’s delight, chicks hatching from eggs in incubators.

A fair, or a farm if you can find one open to the public, is a great place to teach children about the realities of life; while the today’s society would detach people from the land, farms and fairs can connect children to the land. It’s important to remember where our foods come from, not just the retailer who stocks it.

It’s best to take pictures to reinforce what is learned, and read a good book on the past afterward to increase the understanding of how what they saw fit into the time period. The Little House series, especially Farmer Boy, is an excellent choice for learning about life back then. Hands on experiences, with a little reading material to flesh out the details, is the way time and history are passed down, and the way for Maine’s children of all ages to recapture their heritage.

Our history is something easily forgotten. School children today seldom have any idea of what life was like for most children just a hundred years ago, and this lack is unfortunately intentional by some who do not value those who came before us. The fair is one of many places which can give them a glimpse into a time when children learned a little reading and writing, but otherwise just tried to help keep the family alive.

It gives them a perspective on life which should not be deprived from them, and lets them see themselves in a greater context, one which emphasizes their own responsibility as an individual.

This is the time of year where parents can slow down our fast-paced lives and remind our children that life is about making connections, being with family and learning where they have come from to better prepare them for who they are going to be.

About Joshua Durgin

Joshua Durgin works with his father as a Maine lobsterman while taking classes from St. Joseph’s College on psychology and criminal justice. He was homeschooled by his mother, a public school teacher for over thirty years, with special attention to reading and history. In his spare time he enjoys music and debating every philosophical topic under and including the sun. He also gives presentations on politics and theology to those who are interested.

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