Kids learn about work and play, Victorian-style, at Kline Creek Farm
How Kline Creek Farm's Farmhands leader teaches children about history
When asked how they spent their summer vacation, not many kids can say they did farm chores from the Victorian era.
The tweens in Kline Creek Farm's Farmhands program are the exception.
Under the direction of Wayne Hill of Lombard, the Kline Creek Farm summer kitchen in West Chicago becomes a central hub of education for Hill's Farmhands program, which he has coordinated for the past 10 years.
Hill provides children, ages 7 to 12, a firsthand experience to learn how their peers in the 1890s worked and played on farms in DuPage County.
"I've got a little bit of a kid in myself, so I can relate to where these kids are going, and what they want to learn," Hill said.
The day camp, now in its 20th year, offers seven weekly sessions starting in mid-June. There are 24 spaces available each week. It is one of several camps available at the historic farm, located in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's Timber Ridge Forest Preserve.
On one day this summer, all of the farmhands participated in food preparation by chopping vegetables, kneading dough, deboning chicken, and making buttermilk for what became a lunch of home-cooked chicken noodle soup, cornbread and sugar cookies.
As cooking continued throughout the morning, Hill took several farmhands to an herb garden next to the summer kitchen. There, he taught a mini-botany class, with kids learning to identify herbs like basil, sage, chives, spearmint, and lemon grass.
"What is the difference between an herb and a spice?" Hill asked the Farmhands, who searched for an answer. "Herbs are generally leaves, and spices are generally seeds, so mustard seeds make mustard for us," Hill told them.
It's not all work and no play in the summer kitchen. Hill is always willing to share his passion for string games. String games have existed for thousands of years and involve using string, woven through the fingers and mouth, to create designs or mini stories as a way for kids to entertain each other, Hill said.
"Generally, the Farmhands like learning these topics: the games, the string games, the environmental education," Hill said. "I think these topics have a purpose with them, and they definitely have a purpose with me."
Hill, who says he knows over 100 string games, enjoys gathering a crowd of young Farmhands either in the summer kitchen, or on the outside grounds to work together and create new and old string game designs.
"It teaches them perseverance to keep going and trying until they can finally get that end product, and over time it works," said Hill.
Farmhands copy basic string game designs like Cat's Cradle, Loon and Indian's Drum as they watch Hill show them Jacob's ladder. With a series of finger weaving through the string, Jacob's ladder quickly becomes, in Hill's words, "The sun rising over the ocean."
"I've found that now, string games at Kline Creek Farm have almost become part of my identity," Hill said.
In addition to leading the Farmhands program, Hill, 51, is an environmental educator for Campground Hike, a DuPage County Forest Preserve program he started 29 years ago. Hill was also a DuPage County Forest Ranger for 16 years and is currently an assistant boys and girls gymnastics coach at Glenbard East High School.
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