Let’s Talk Pocahontas
We are honored to have Sarah Robinson as our guest author. Sarah has been interning with our education department and helping with HistoryConnects.
The word “internship” brings to mind an image of a frazzled, college grad in their early twenties, hustling to bring their boss a cup of coffee while simultaneously making calls, filing, and basically doing the work that no one wants to do. Luckily for this intern, that was not my experience at all. Since the fall of 2013, I’ve been working in the education department thanks to funds provided by the Rotary Club. I’ve done a bit of everything including research, gallery tours, and Stories at the Museum programs. I’ve spent most of my time working with HistoryConnects, a virtual field trip using the latest technology in video conferencing while also hitting on Virginia SOL standards and speaking with a historian! Or me!
The program that I enjoyed teaching the most was Pocahontas and the Powhatan Indians. Honestly, they couldn’t have chosen a better person for this position. I could talk about Pocahontas all day! I have distinct childhood memories of playing Indians and Settlers with my friends in the neighborhood and going on field trips to Jamestown with my history-teacher mother. I even had a Pocahontas Barbie, which was my absolute favorite toy. So, talk about Pocahontas for an hour to children and get paid for it? I was born ready.
Along with my internship here at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS), I also work as a part time preschool teacher. Therefore I know firsthand how difficult it can be to engage children for long periods of time. But with this program, every set of eyes is glued to my face.
We use both primary sources and replica artifacts to tell the story of Pocahontas and her people. John White’s watercolors illustrate the details of a Powhatan village—the various ways they procured fish and the Indian’s physical appearance. We also use John Smith’s map of Virginia to point out how close Werowocomoco and Jamestown were to each other and their close location to waterways. Various paintings of Pocahontas help children understand the difference between a primary and secondary source, and I always get squeals of surprise when they see Simon van de Passe’s portrait of the Indian princess in Elizabethan clothing.
The artifacts play a huge factor in keeping the children’s attention simply because Indian stuff is cool! With the little ones, I’ll ask who they thought built the houses and farmed the crops; the mommies or the daddies? I almost always get the daddies. The Powhatan women not only built the houses but also owned them and did all the farming, except for tobacco. At a young age, children see certain tasks as male and female oriented. I like to use history to break them out of that way of thinking. They also get really excited when I show them all the various things the Indians would make once they killed an animal. From a white tailed deer, the Powhatans could cook supper, make a garden hoe from its shoulder bone, create arrow tips from the antlers, boil down its hoof to make glue, whittle a sewing needle, and even make fish hooks from their toe bones! This is a great way to explain to children the importance of not being wasteful, and it can be tied into lessons on recycling and taking care of the planet.
Of all the times I’ve given this program, one particular class sticks out in my memory. In mid February I came into work a little early to talk with a group of five and six year olds from England, the farthest country HistoryConnects had ever connected with! And those kids were adorable. They wore matching purple school uniforms, sat crisscross on the multi-colored carpet and had the cutest questions, such as: “Did Pocahontas make the men’s tea?” Priceless.
I couldn’t be happier with my time spent here at the VHS as Rotary intern. Not only did I get to share my knowledge and love for a favorite Virginia figure, but I also was able to contribute to the growth of HistoryConnects by creating a new program on the life of George Washington for first grades, coming soon to a class near you!
Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.