Blast from the Past: Historical Society engages children through hands-on activities

Homemade shaving cream, shooting marbles, pig races, dunce caps and circle games — children today have few opportunities to learn about these things from the past, but the Historical Society of Carroll County aims to change that.

Its program, Past Times for Children, offers youth age 4 to 8 a chance to travel back in time and learn what it was like to live in Carroll County in the 1800s.


Past Times for Children is held from 10 to 11:15 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month at Cockey's Koontz-Yingling Learning Center. Teacher Wendy Raith runs the program. The next program, scheduled for June 18, is one of her most popular: "Games Played in the 1800s."

"Children don't invent or create things like they used to do," Raith said. "I love the imagination that went into those games."

Raith said board games had not yet been invented in the 1800s, so the games of the era involved memory and creativity. Those who attend her class will learn some circle games and create their own take-home marble game at the end of the session.

Christine Cruz, of Westminster, said her 9-year-old daughter Camryn used to attend. Camryn enjoyed it so much that Cruz now takes her 5-year-old son, Michael.

Michael told his mom that making and playing a marble game was one of his favorite things in Miss Wendy's class.

"They shot marbles into a stable made out of a shoebox, trying to get the highest score," Cruz said. "Both of my kids have had a lot of fun. They always love the games and crafts and they learn a lot of things there. They come home with games and things they can continue to use. When my daughter was young they made a quarry out of a shoe box with stones and little trucks. We still have that game and my son plays with it now."

Jennifer Altman, of Sykesville, discovered Past Times for Children about two years ago. She homeschools her three children and said she is always looking for fun new programs. Her oldest son Cole, age 9, has outgrown the program but Zane, 7, and Caige, 5, still attend.

"They really enjoy it, Altman said. "There are so many hands-on activities that they learn from. In the last class she made shaving cream. They used [Popsicle] sticks and pretended they were straight razors. She made toothpaste like the old days and brought it for them to brush their teeth. They play games and one time they did a Day at the Fair. They had pigs that oinked when they squeezed them. They had pig races, baking contests and balloons. It is a lot of fun for them."

Dolores Magin-Amonick, of Westminster, said her two sons, David Amonick, 8, and Daniel Amonick, 5, not only enjoy the program, they also learn valuable history lessons while having fun.

"One they did in April was called 'Everyday Weekly Health Habits.' That was the one where they did the shaving and brushing teeth," Magin-Amonick said. "They decorated their own shaving cup for a shaving mug. They had a brush to dip in it. You were to bring your own mirror. They had a Popsicle stick for pretend shaving."

Daniel said pretending to shave was one of his favorite memories from the sessions they have attended.

When David was asked about his favorite thing he said, "Washing socks!"

Daniel described how it was done. "You dipped them and soaked them and hanged them up," he said.

Magin-Amonick said the children like being about to take something home — "a craft or a project, a game or something they can play with," she said.


Camryn Cruz likes that too.

"I like doing the crafts and learning about what the kids did back then," Camryn said, adding that she also liked learning about colonial jobs.

Her brother, Michael, said he enjoyed making all those crafts.

Ginger Palmer, of Westminster, took her daughters Taylor, 8, and Kennedy, 6, to the program for three years.

"They loved the class on schoolhouses of the 1800s," Palmer said. "They had to sit in the corner and wear the dunce cap. They couldn't believe kids back then had to do that. [Wendy] provided galvanized pails and put things inside to show what a lunch would have been like back then with things the kids could really eat, like an apple. The general store she set up had bolts of fabric and old time candies in the glass jars. At the end they could pick out the candies like a real store back then."

Raith was a teacher in Baltimore City for six years, teaching kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. All four moms said she has a way with kids.

"I like Wendy's experience with children," Magin-Amonick said. "She has a way of making children feel comfortable and bringing history back to life."

Palmer talked about the comprehensive nature of the program.

"It was really interesting to give my kids an idea of what it was like to be a child in the past and how different it was back then versus how they have it today," Palmer said. "Wendy packs a lot of stuff into the 1 1/2-hour session. She tells stories. They do a craft at the end of every program. The displays she puts up are really detailed and they give the kids a real feel for the class they are attending. She really goes above and beyond."

Altman agreed.

"Every single class they come home really excited," she said of her children. "This is a great way to engage your kids in learning activities while having fun. It is important to foster that desire to learn."

Word has spread about Raith's program and now she takes several of the classes on the road. She's done her toys and games sessions for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster, as well as at elementary schools.

"I absolutely love toys and games and that's why I take it on the road with me. Some of [the toys and games] I remember from when I was a kid. One of them is Ring Around the Rosie. All of those circle games were created by teenagers, not by little children or teachers, and I find that fascinating. The younger siblings begged to play too and that is how it was passed down."

Raith said many believe the circle game Ring Around the Rosie was about the Bubonic plague, but her research shows that it is about many things.

"This was during a time in the 1800s when children were not allowed to dance. So, instead of saying 'Ashes, Ashes. We all fall down,' they said 'Husha, husha. We all fall down' so the adults wouldn't know they were dancing."

Raith said parents tell her that their kids enjoy it and can't wait to come back.

"They are learning about history at the same time they are having a lot of fun," Cruz said. "They have always asked to go back so I know they are really enjoying it, and Miss Wendy is very good with the kids. It's nothing fancy but it is just old fashioned fun."

"I wish more people knew about the program," Palmer said. "It is an inexpensive hour and a half experience for children."

If you go


What: Past Times for Children, ages 4 to 8.

When: 10 to 11:15 a.m. the third Saturday of each month (next session is Saturday, June 18

Where: Cockey's Koontz-Yingling Learning Center, Historical Society of Carroll County, 216 E. Main St., Westminster

Who: Children ages 4 to 8

Cost: $6 per class, or $5 per class for Time Travelers who register for six classes in advance.

Preregistration: Required by the Monday before each session (June 13 for the next session). Call 410-848-6494 or email to register or for more information

Upcoming Themes

June 18: Games Played in the 1800s

July 16: Mary Shellman, a Westminster Icon

Aug. 20: One-Room Schoolhouse

Sept. 17: Trains

Oct. 15: Doctors and Medicine

Nov. 19: Children's Toys

Dec. 17: Rural Free Delivery of Mail