Sunday, February 3, 2013

Program: American Girl Club

For our second installment of American Girl Club, we chose a doll with a unique holiday celebration, as we were holding the program in December, close to a number of holidays. We chose Kirsten, pioneer girl and Swedish immigrant. Here's what we did for the program!

As before, we started the program with a short historical and cultural presentation. Kirsten's story takes place in 1854, as her family immigrates to Minnesota from Sweden, enduring the long Atlantic crossing and the solitude of prairie life. We explained to the kids (we had boys this time!) that the pioneers lived isolated lives. Towns were often many miles away, so pioneers would save and reuse as much as they could to get them through the year. Doctors were often very busy and far away, so we explained some of the herbs that pioneers used to create their own remedies for various illnesses. We talked briefly about bees - Kirsten's family keeps honeybees in the books - and how important they are to our crops. Then we discussed Kirsten's Swedish heritage and some of the traditions and festivals she would have celebrated.

Then we moved on to our first hands-on activity: making butter! Surprisingly, I don't remember ever doing this as a child myself, but I definitely remember hearing about it, as well as seeing it around the web as a fun Kirsten/pioneer activity. I tested it out about a month before the program, to make sure it actually worked and wouldn't take the entire program. A small amount of heavy cream in a glass baby food jar and constant shaking. After about 10 minutes, I had a solid mass of butter and some buttermilk. Yay! It was a go for the program. Of course, nothing ever works exactly the way you test it when you're programming for kids. Part of it was my fault - I filled some of the jars too full of cream, not leaving enough room for the agitation. Another part was the kids - they probably weren't shaking constantly or as briskly as they should have been. We worried about this ahead of time - would the kids complain about having to shake constantly for ten minutes? To preemptively combat this, we showed two videos while they were shaking: one of a St. Lucia's Day procession and one briefly introducing Kirsten's story. I don't know that the videos were actually necessary - the kids didn't complain about shaking their jars. They seemed to be starting mini competitions among themselves - who could shake fastest, whose would turn to butter first. I think we were more concerned than the kids were - we didn't plan on the butter making to take up so much of the program time. Once we started to get some actual butter, we passed out homemade St. Lucia rolls (I made them the day before the program) and the kids spread their butter on the rolls. As we (the adults and teen volunteers in the room) frantically continued to shaking jars for some kids, they moved on to the final activity.

For the last part of the program, we made yarn dolls, another common pioneer activity. We wrapped the bodies around cardboard pieces ahead of time to make the process move a little quicker. The kids were responsible for cutting and segmenting the head, hair, arms, and legs of the dolls. Since the butter making took longer than expected, this part of the program was a bit rushed, but we stayed to help the last few kids finish up.

Overall, everyone seemed to have a great time at the program. A few girls even commented that they had more fun with this one than the Molly program. I certainly had a good time. I'm looking forward to our next American Girl Club!

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