Colonial Farm Life from a Child’s Perspective

Playing the part of a second grader discovering what “Colonial Farm Life” is all about, last week I followed along on one of this season’s school tours. Each year, several thousand students from throughout the Washington, D.C., metro area arrive at the National Colonial Farm to learn about the history of the land and its people. This particular tour was comprised of about 40 second grade students and chaperones from Fairfax, VA-based Trinity Christian School. Their teacher has been bringing her class to tour the farm for about five years, and looks forward to the trip to the farm year after year.

After a brief orientation about the farm and the life of a typical colonial child during the 18th century, the class broke off into three groups, each with its own educator to guide them. The first stop was the fishing pier to learn about the Potomac River and how it was a means of transportation, food (primarily in the form of fish like Sturgeon, which were once plentiful) and, of course, water. The educator pointed out across the river the famous home of our nation’s first president. The students all were quite interested, eagerly raising their hands to answer the educator’s questions. From here, the group was led to the farm exhibit area—stopping at many places to learn about the farm house, its inhabitants, their daily activities, and how food was prepared in the out kitchen, while comparing the differences between the ordinary life of a tobacco farmer and that of gentry like George Washington.

The students appeared enthusiastic about the hands-on learning activities like pounding corn to make corn meal, showing their classmates a Tobacco Hornworm, and trying their hands at a game of corn toss. One group even had the special treat of having one of the farm’s exhibit cattle led to them for an up-close encounter. The farm manager talked about the American Milking Devon cattle that are bred and conserved at the farm, and how they would have been used by the farm family, from tilling the tobacco fields by pulling the plow to providing milk and meat.

To wrap up, the children were led full-circle back to where their tour began near the Visitor Center and picnic area so that they could enjoy their lunches before heading back to bustling, modern Fairfax, miles from the 18th century.

To learn more about school tours and other custom tours of the National Colonial Farm, please contact the manager of education at