Mitchell House Junior Historians This Summer


If you have someone in your life aged 7-11 who loves history, crafts, Maria Mitchell, and a fun way to role those all into one then the Mitchell House summer programs are for them!

I post here a short video of our “Keep the Lights Burning” class taken this past August with our fabulous Mitchell House summer intern, Nikki Lohr, leading the class.  The class learns about life before electricity, does a little tinsmithing, and creates a candle for their tin “lantern.”  (This particular class in 2016 turned out to be all girls!  Appropriate for Women’s History Month, no?  Girl power!  We do get plenty of boys if you are wondering.) Classes are twice a week for two hours.  It’s a great way to have your child spend their morning learning while allowing them the freedom of summer to head to the beach in the afternoon.  You can sign your child up for one or for all six.  Classes are in July and repeat in August.  We will also be hosting our ever-popular “Family Sailors’ Valentine”

classes again, as well as the new “Mitchell House at Night”

class that we held for the first time ever last year.  It was a lot of fun!

Mitchell House classes can be found at:


From the Mitchell House’s 2012 Summer Intern

“I am no teacher, but I give them a lesson to learn and the next day the recitation is half a conversational lecture and half questions and answers. I allow them great freedom of questions and they puzzle me daily.” – Maria Mitchell in a letter to Caroline H. Dall, December 1865

One of my responsibilities as Mitchell House Intern involves conducting history-craft “Junior Historian” classes for children. These invigorating morning sessions are with students aged 7-11 who brim with enthusiasm and curiosity. Since I cannot predict the background of information my students will bring with them or which aspects of the lesson will interest them most, I create a flexible lesson plan. I highlight what is most important while allowing them the freedom to explore.

There are six themes that the Intern masters for the classes, with one round in July and a repeat in August. The themes are Nantucket architecture, oral tradition, a Nantucket girl’s life in the 19th century, a child’s amusements in the 19th century that were colorful yet Quaker appropriate, the development of lighting, and how a whaler would enjoy his downtime by creating scrimshaw. It is difficult to decide on a favorite. My art history focused education is likely what compels me towards our “Mystery History” architecture walking tour. Too often do people rush to get from Point A to Point B or look down at the pavement instead of taking in their surroundings. Strolls are a perfect way to savor the visuals and absorb the general feel of a neighborhood. I start class with a timeline of major house styles on the Island and flashcards of features such as dentils, transoms, and roof walks. Ready with clipboards and pencils, my students and I set out onto Milk Street to stroll and observe the houses. They have a sheet of paper where they can sketch architectural details with appropriate terms and keep track of the decorative door knockers. We pause at the Civil War Monument to discuss obelisks and columns before continuing up Main Street until we reach the Medieval Cottage before looping back on to Vestal and sitting outside the Old Gaol to read stories of haunted houses on Nantucket. My students are sharp-eyed and willing to share their observations and questions.

Some of the programs emphasize the two essential parts of 19th century Nantucket, namely the Quaker community’s influence and the whaling industry. Prior to burning whale oil as their main source of light, Americans relied on sunlight, fireplaces, and candles made from beeswax or animal fat. Rodents chewed through the candles which also smelled bad, so whale oil, especially that of a sperm whale, was a welcome evolution in the history of light. The 19th century also saw the development of the incandescent light bulb, although, to this day, the Mitchell House remains as it did when Maria lived there with no electricity. For this program, I tour with the students in the 1825 Kitchen of the house. First, I ask them to tell me what they use for light at home. I then ask them to identify sources of light where we are standing, and they point to the windows, fireplace, whale oil lamps, and lanterns. We also look at the materials that make up the kitchen objects, namely wood and metal, such as tin, as another link to our activity which is making candles. We become tinsmiths, hammering designs into cans that we then fill with wax. As we wait for the wax to dry, we talk about a very important source of light outside of the home – the lighthouse – and I share stories of brave women lighthouse keepers.

Through observation, conversation, and crafts, the students have the valuable opportunity to engage meaningfully with American cultural history. I look forward to my classes in August!


Ah, To Be In the Third Grade!

Ah, to be in the third grade again! And, I have. In November and again this spring, I have been spending some time with the four Nantucket Elementary School (NES) third grade classes working in the fall on Wampanoag legends and again this spring helping the children to learn about Maria Mitchell and what life was like in her time. We have read stories and discussed them, looked at artifacts from the Mitchell House trying to figure out what some of them might be – oh, the ideas of a third grader! – and created some fun crafts that reinforce what we learn as a group. After a discussion of Maria Mitchell’s and her father’s role in whaling, we talk about how far the whalers traveled from Nantucket, how they navigated (William and Maria rated their chronometers), and their stops during the voyages that allowed them to bring back some really interesting souvenirs – including sailors’ valentines. Children then make their own valentines for a loved one.

When we delve deeper into life in the nineteenth century, we compare our time to that of Maria’s and sometimes it takes a bit of a discussion to get to the lack of electricity! Our craft: we create tin lanterns with candles – something that Maria’s Uncle Peleg Mitchell Junior once did – he was a tinsmith. We have a lot of fun punching the “tin” and sometimes I get my fingers whacked a bit as I hold the punch for them to hammer in the holes. You should see their expressions and hear their apologies when this happens – they are so very sweet (and a bit mortified and worried!). But it brings us together, and for the few for who English is their second language, we find some unique ways to talk about what we are doing – and for me to warn them to watch my fingers!

This is our second year of the program. It is a way for me to bring the Mitchell House to them because we cannot fit twenty-five third graders in the Mitchell House at once – let alone the 100 who comprise this year’s third grade. And this year, we were funded by the Community Foundation for Nantucket – and we owe them yet another big thank you! I hope to continue this program with the NES for many years. It is a great way for them to learn about Maria Mitchell and life in the nineteenth century, as well as the place of women in America and Nantucket for that matter, but also for them to get to know someone else in their community.