Teaching fourth graders history


By Ryan Berry


GREENVILLE — The Darke County Park District (DCP) received a grant through the Ohio History Fund from the Ohio History Connection and has been awarded $17,046. The grant will help fund the district’s fourth grade Pioneer Days at Bear’s Mill.

Diana Welling, director of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, said, “We’re happy to support this project because it uses hands-on activities and experiences to open young people’s minds to Ohio history.”

The grant was made possible through donations to the Ohio History Fund. Welling said it is a tax donation checkoff residents make when filing their Ohio taxes. “It’s line 26D,” she said. “Please consider a donation when you file this year,” she added. Funding also comes for the sale of Ohio’s mastodon license plate. DCP’s grant was one of 14 projects approved for funding.

Sophie Nieport, manager of Bear’s Mill, heads up the program for DCP and explained they invite all the fourth graders in Darke County over three days in May. She said they have approximately 550 kids learning about life in the 1800s.

Nieport and her crew set up eight stations for the fourth graders to experience.

In the Pioneer Tools station, the kids get to try out tools and learn what it was like to cut wood and pull logs before there was modern day machinery. A highlight of the station is when the students get to hand-shell ears of corn with the crank machine.

After hand-shelling the corn, the students take the corn to the mill where they get a lesson on milling from Master Miller Terry Clark. The corn they shelled is ground into corn meal.

The corn mill is then turned into cornbread in the next station and cooked over a fire. While the cornbread is cooking, the students get a jar of cream where they shake it until it turns into butter.

Students also learn about Native American Life with registered Native Americans discussing what life was like in the 1800s.

A new station this year will be presented by Fort GreeneVille Daughter of the American Revolution. They have a descendent of Lewis and Clark speaking about the duo and what their discoveries mean for us today.

A few of the more popular stations are tin smithing, making pioneer toys and candle dipping. Students get to create their own design on a canning jar lid at the tin smithing station. They will make whirly gigs and get a demonstration from a blacksmith at the pioneer toys station and will create their own candle at the candle dipping station.

This is the third year for DCP to offer this program to Darke County’s fourth graders. Nieport noted the donation will fund the program for two years.

She pointed out that local and Ohio history are part of the fourth-grade curriculum and believes this program is an important part in that curriculum because of the hands-on aspect. “Doing things with their hands is so different than what a lot of our kids are doing today. We want to get them outside and teach them what life was like before modern day technology. Whether they appreciate it or not, they at least have that knowledge,” she said.

DCP’s goal is to get everyone in the county to say they’ve been to Bear’s Mill. Nieport said she grew up in Darke County and didn’t really know what it was about until she started working there. Now she wants to share her excitement with everyone else and let them discover that it is local, historic and rare. There are very few working mills around the country.

To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].

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