By Gary Dyck
Have you ever tried to learn a new game with many rules? Eventually you just have to tell the enthusiastic gamer, “let’s just play the game and I’ll catch on.” That’s the value of a demonstration. Talk only goes so far, but to experience something helps it sink in.
This summer at the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) we are having demonstrations every other Saturday. Think of it as a mini-Pioneer day that makes it safe for everyone to take turns visiting the museum and still get that fuller experience. Demonstrations are an important feature of a pioneer museum like MHV.
The ability to see, feel and even taste your history makes it more understandable and appealing than simply reading about it. Seeing the long rubber belt that swiftly winds its way from the steamer to the threshing machine, feeling the wheat chaff flowing in the air around you and tasting the wheat gum in your mouth (a treat to enjoy before there was bubble gum) makes the concept of ‘threshing’ very tangible.
Education experts have sometimes grouped education into the three basic styles of Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic. It is estimated that 80 percent of what we learn is through our vision. How much of the written exhibit panels do you remember at MHV? Add hands-on experience and visuals to it and that information becomes much more memorable. Demonstrations makes history fascinating and enjoyable.
Demonstrations also instill a sense of ownership. As I stand there with others from my community, I feel that being a pioneer farmer is still part of my identity. As the belt keeps whirling around, the lines between my modern life and theirs becomes blurred. Their story, their experience is part of my story and experience. It’s also a good way to get new volunteers. Like a good car salesman we’ve hooked quite a few volunteers by getting them ‘behind the wheel’ and feeling a sense of ownership in a demonstration.
My favorite demonstration is found in the quiet Hochfeld house. You won’t see actual activity there, just rough-hewn tables, chairs and a ceiling that is lower than in our houses today. To sit there by myself makes me feel grounded in my community and that I’m not alone. To me it demonstrates that our pioneers weren’t always threshing and milling wheat, they weren’t always baking bread or sawing logs. It demonstrates that they also spent time in their house eating, sleeping and thinking about life. As a young child I remember my mother sitting with me in winter. After a long hard summer of work on the farm, she could finally enjoy a good sit. So, when I’m in the Hochfeld house I pause, I let that place demonstrate the value of staying close to the ground and how to enjoy a good sit.
Hope to see many of you this summer at our Demonstration Days and even some of you sitting contemplatively in the Hochfeld house (pictured)!