When discussion centers on the colonial period, it is easy to conjure up images of Colonial Williamsburg, with women in bonnets and sweeping dresses, and men adorned in cocked hats and perched at the helm of horse-drawn carriages. However, there is so much more to teaching the colonial period than the costumes. At Norfolk Academy, the cherished tradition of Colonial Day, which began more than three decades ago as an annual activity for third graders, has evolved to encompass a multicultural perspective and more hands-on learning.
Colonial Day was imagined over 30 years ago by the late Mrs. Annette Guion, who spent over 20 years at Norfolk Academy teaching third grade boys. She served as a mentor to a current third grade girls teacher, Mrs. Kathy Warn.
The event has come a long way since its inception. What started as a half-day spent in one classroom, with students rotating between four crafting stations, has grown into an all-day affair, involving all four third grade classrooms and nearly triple the number of stations.
Third graders spent last Friday rotating through various games, as well as crafting and cooking stations. With the help of 32 volunteers, the students engaged in basket weaving, candle dipping, and memorization games. They cooked corn cakes and made beaded necklaces, among other activities.
Allie Tyszko ’27 spent time grinding corn kernels in preparation for her corn cakes. She was patiently waiting for her turn at making the treat, “I can’t wait to try it,” said Allie. “I think it would have been really hard for the colonials to make it.”
Another change the event went through occurred a decade ago, when the teachers started incorporating three cultures from colonial times: Native Americans, English settlers, and Africans. The inclusion of studying all three cultures has enabled the students to reimagine colonial life and gain another perspective. New stations were introduced, including mancala game play and stamping with adinkra, decorative symbols that also convey different aspects of life. The students were asked to select adinkra symbols that represent them. Will Poynter ’27 chose the crocodile and teeth & tongue as two of his stamps.
“The crocodile is the symbol of adaptation, and I have had to learn how to adapt,” said Will. “The teeth & tongue symbolizes friends. I thought these were easy to select because I have a lot of different qualities that are important to me.”
The day ended in a song and dance program, to which parents were invited and encouraged to participate. Guest performers led the students through the dances, beginning with a Shawnee stomp dance called the Duck Dance. This was led by Mr. Talon Silverhorn, from the American Initiative Program in Colonial Williamsburg.
Two of the volunteers were the father and cousin of Mrs. Rebecca Peterson, the Lower School music director. Mrs. Peterson’s father, “Captain Pops,” led the third graders in a number of sea shanties, work songs the settlers might have sung during their voyage to America. Mr. Talon Silverhorn and Mrs. Peterson's cousin, Sean Heely, played a collaboration inspired by the painting ‘War Dance’ by Robert Griffing. Mr. Heely also provided musical accompaniment as the students danced the Virginia reel.
The musical and dance portion of the event ended after third grade boys teacher, Ms. Joan Allison, expertly led the group in a five-part dance called Funga. A welcome and harvest dance from Nigeria, the performance had the students and their parents up and moving throughout the Lower School gymnasium.
“This is a wonderful event, and I look forward to it every year,” said Mrs. Warn. “It has expanded so much since it originated. We could not do it without the parent volunteers."