by Katie Julius

One of the best ways to learn anything is through a hands-on, interactive experience. Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen, CA provides immersive learning opportunities rooted in various time periods of American history. Our homeschool group recently attended their Revolutionary War program, with kids ranging from young elementary through high school.

Our morning started with a group formation on the lawn (that was blanketed in several inches of fresh snow). Groups were assigned to a township with either an American or British flag that came into play later in the day. After a brief introduction and instructions, each group began a rotation of a number of activities that filled the morning and was led by guides dressed in period costumes who acted the part. It was fun to hear them respond to questions or comments about modern amenities like cell phones or cars.

The first stop in our rotation was indoors where our kids played parts in a court proceedings scenario, followed by a role playing activity to explain the Stamp Act. Even our younger kids were able to participate as the guide held their interest the entire time.

Once outside, we rotated through several stations where we learned about life during colonial times. We learned and practiced two games children would have played at the time, though the hoop and stick were a bit hard with the snow on the ground (both as an uneven surface and a distraction for our kids who don’t see snow often). We learned how to write with a quill pen and charcoal ink as well as loom weaving (it was done mostly by men!) before taking turns practicing a few rows.

The final stop in our morning rotation was probably our students’ favorite. They had a table with all of the items a soldier in the Revolutionary War would have carried. Starting with some of the camp survival essentials like a wool blanket and cooking pot, they transitioned to the weapons and associated equipment, such as the tools used to make musket balls. Once students learned how these items were used, it was time for them to join the ranks of the militia and learn the commands of their officers and actions required for each. The exercises included marching orders as well as firing their long rifles (long tree branches were used as substitutes).

It was then time for lunch! After returning to our formation on the main lawn and a brief performance by the drum corp, each student received a typical soldier’s ration which included a piece of beef jerky, a piece of cheese, cornbread, an apple, and lemonade. It’s suggested that students bring a lunch of their own (which we did) because lunch is truly a soldier’s ration and such portions would not be a very filling meal for most. But don’t bring a big feast either because there’s not a long lunch break before it’s time to report back to your formation and prepare for the battle reenactment.

As mentioned earlier, all of the groups in attendance are assigned a township upon arrival. The American side lines up to defend the farmhouse while the British side walks up the hill to an attack position. Each township on the British side takes a turn approaching the farmhouse as the American side defends its position, using the branch weapons and orders they learned earlier in the morning. Once the British are defeated, the students all return to the main lawn for closing remarks. As a parent, this was the part I enjoyed the most. I wish I had recorded the speech they made that afternoon. It was a great reminder for many kids who don’t hear it very often that the freedoms we enjoy in our country today were NOT free. If we want to preserve those freedoms for our children and grandchildren, we must never forget that sacrifice made by others and be willing to stand up and fight today.

Even though this particular program is geared toward an older elementary crowd, my first grade daughter, her peers, and the high school students who were with us, learned so much and enjoyed their visit. I would recommend scheduling a visit with any age group you have.

Riley’s offers a variety of programs for various ages to those who are studying or interested in a different time period including Civil War, Gold Rush, Colonial Farm Life, and Pioneer Homestead. Prices vary for each experience and by time of year. If you would like to get a taste of what their field trips offer, you can attend the Colonial Faire traditionally held every Saturday in July as well as Independence Day.

For more information about the living history field trips at Riley’s Farm as well as their restaurant, bakery, u-pick fruit events, and store, check out their website.

Have you participated in a living history field trip at Riley’s? We would love to hear about it!