One of the most exciting things that Tasmania has offered us as a family, is a deeper understanding of Australian history. Instead of just reading from books, the kids have been able to walk within the walls of convict buildings, see artifacts, historical records, and be immersed in wonderful interpretations of the life of convicts back in the 1800’s on “Van Diemen’s Land.”
We were really excited to learn that Port Arthur runs a wonderful program over the school holidays, that bring history to life, with a stack of child friendly fun. While our kids do really enjoy all the history of Tasmania, it’s even more special when there’s child focused activities for them to enjoy during our visits.
Gemma, the lovely Education Officer for Port Arthur greeted us with a ready-made challenge for the kids – To try their hand at brick making. What child doesn’t like to play with clay! Gemma explained that the kids would be using a process that replicated the way the convicts would make bricks, it was just on a smaller scale. In order to build all the structures around Port Arthur, convicts produced a constant supply of bricks, with each able to produce over 1000 bricks per day, which were then left to dry, and later used in construction of buildings around the site.
From brick makers to “Love Token” designers, a new story unfolded. I hadn’t heard of love tokens before our visit to Port Arthur, but those who were sent away, or had to leave their families would use things like coins, filed to a smooth surface, and engrave designs or messages in them so loved ones left behind would remember them. Such a beautiful gesture and so much fun for the kids to create.
It didn’t stop there! Our kids have had to become quite conscious of the amount of toys, and types of toys that they could bring with them on the road. They learned about children in the convict era making their own dolls from pegs and scraps of cloth that might be around the house. They each set about creating a peg doll of their own, and I’m sure Gemma will be pleased to know, they are still a daily feature in the van play time 🙂
Lastly, another new item I’d not heard about before our visit – Fantascopes. These simple wheels are absolutely delightful and left the kids wondering just exactly how they worked. If you watch at the end of the video, you can actually see the fantascope working, in the mirror when Matt captured the footage on film.
The best thing about these activities were how mindful the kids became of how life might have been all those years ago, both for the convicts who spent their days with hard labour and jobs such as brick making, and for children, for whom flashy video games and even plastic toys were not a reality, more simple fun and creativeness would instead fill their days.
If you happen to be around Port Arthur while their children’s programs are running, then be sure to take the time to visit, not only is the visit itself a wonderful experience, but the kids activities add a different dimension which really offers something unique and exciting.