Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Welcome to Ellis Island ~ Hands on Learning

We are learning about the Irish Potato Famine, immigration and Ellis Island this week.  Of course, I know that Ellis Island did not open until after the potato famine was over and that I am mixing time periods a bit.  However, for our learning purposes they go together well.  I am always looking for ways to bring history to life.  Yesterday, we ate only potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Then I decided that having the kids walk through the process of getting into America in the 1800's would be a good way to give them a hands-on approach to learning.
 We read these two books and then our journey began.

At the start of school, I told them to go pack their suitcase for a long journey.  Everyone went off and packed up their favorite stuff.  I love to see what kids pack.  The girls packed an extra outfit, underwear, stuffed animals and pillows.  Tom Sawyer packed his pillow and weapons (light sabers).  LOL  I then told them that they were headed for America and needed to walk many miles (six times up and down our flight of stairs barefoot!) to get to the ship that would take them to freedom.

Once they got to the ship and paid for their ticket, we crossed the ocean (walked all around the house). When we got to America, I informed the kids that they smelled bad from being in very tight quarters below deck with sick passengers (of course, they didn't really smell).  They were allowed to shower and tidy themselves in the bathhouse at Ellis Island (our bathroom).  From there, they sat in reception hall (our library) waiting for their manifest I.D. tags to be attached to their person and then proceed to their medical exams. 

The Medical Officer (me) checked their temperature, eyes, fingernails and hair/scalp.  The Medical Officer also quickly checked their mental status.  Unfortunately, the girls did not pass the medical and had a large X placed on their manifest ID card.  The medical officer thought they might be feebleminded and needed a more intense examination.  While Tom Sawyer waited in a waiting area, the girls went through a few intelligence tests. 

They were asked to count backwards from 20, find America on the globe, work a small puzzle and read a few sight words.  Fortunately, they passed with flying colors and were able to join their brother for a Legal Inspection.  The girls did a great job of answering the questions.  They said they wanted to be maids or nannies in America and had relatives waiting for them.  One of them even had more than the required $10 to enter the country -- a rarity at Ellis Island!  However, while they were being interviewed, their 9 year old brother was busy unpacking his bag. 

The contents of his bag raised a red flag in the eyes of Security (also me), and he was whisked off to a special inquiry.  How he ever passed the special inquiry remains a mystery!  The line of questioning went something like this ~
  • What is your profession? "Ninja"
  • Have you ever killed anyone?  "Just one or two really bad guys."
  • Do you plan to kill anyone in America?  "Just him." (said with a beaming smile and pointing to his adult brother, the second-in-command Security Guard)
  • What do you plan to do in America? "Get out of here as soon as possible and play on the Wii."
  • Then why did you come to America?  "My deranged teacher put me on the boat."
  • Do you have anything else to say for yourself?  "When do we get to eat in this crazy place?"
I am pretty sure that our current Homeland Security would not have let him in, but, alas, this was the 1800's.

Tom Sawyer does look worn out by going through this grueling process, doesn't he?

Once this cute little sibling group was reunited, they headed into Registry.  They were so glad to make it to this last step before entering America!  They found it very difficult dealing with the Registration Officer who did not understand how to say or write their last name.  Little Red Riding Hood even wrote out her last name for the officer but the officer said she couldn't read it.  To which Little Red Riding Hood replied, "It's written in English!!"  In the end, they all entered America with a new last name of "Puddles".  Poor Little Red Riding Hood was really quite dismayed to have been renamed "Mrs. Puddles", but the other children took it in stride. Finally, they were in the Land of the Free.



  1. Hi Dawn! I wanted to let you know that Scholastic has an Interactive Ellis Island page... they also have a First Thanksgiving fieldtrip that we enjoy very much every year.

  2. Woops - the link didn't go through... Ellis Island is here

  3. This kind of hands on learning will be something that your kids will really remember.