Colonial days: When carding had nothing to do with Pokémon

There was no Play Station in Wilton during Colonial times. No Little League or youth soccer either. What did children do?

Cider Mill’s fourth graders found out this week as they made the annual class trip to the Wilton Historical Society. Three to four classes per day — about 350 children in all — traveled back in time to learn by doing.

They each visited four learning stations: the Textile Tent, Abbot Barn area, Raymond/Fitch House, and Elias Betts House. At each they were greeted by knowledgeable staff and volunteers, many in Colonial dress, who engaged them in hands-on learning.

At the historic Abbott Barn, Colonial tool and building expert Walter Smith explained and guided a series of carpentry tasks: sawing logs, spokeshaving (barn pegs), preparing holes for framing pegs, and finally, a team effort to raise a child-sized barn frame. New this year, the children learned how to punch tin, which could be used to make lanterns.

The Elias Betts House was devoted to sewing and weaving and how a loom works. Children were taught how to use a needle and thread and embarked on a practical project — sewing pincushions.

Hearth cooking, with tasty samples of cornbread, awaited students in the Raymond/Fitch House. This is a popular activity, as is the opportunity to barter for supplies in Captain Samuel Belden’s Store, supervised by volunteer Jim Burch. The children were divided into four Wilton families — Hickox, Sturges, Hurlbutt, and Raymond — as they learned how to trade for goods, as was done in Colonial times.

The Textile Tent was the place to learn about carding and spinning wool, breaking and combing flax, and how cloth was made. Finally, there was the visit to the nearby Blacksmith Shop. While eating lunch, children heard an 18th-Century soldier, who talked about his life and times.

Andrea Wulffleff, program coordinator, said that “one of the best ways to get a child engaged and thinking is to provide them with an opportunity to literally put their hands on an object and learn by doing. Our program is a full day of experiencing the gamut of tasks and activities that defined Colonial life. The kids have fun, and don’t realize how much they are learning.”