Happy Halloween everyone! To celebrate the holiday, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite dress-up education program: The Legend of the Charter Oak.
The Legend of the Charter Oak can be a bit of an enigma for those who haven’t personally experienced this fantastic program. There are scarves and costumes and hats and flags and something about a ring and why is there always drumming? I have to confess, as a non-native Connecticut resident, the story of the Charter Oak was completely new to me. I had never heard of the Charter Oak before, nor did I understand why that name seemed to come up everywhere. Over time, I learned (just like the children who visit CHS) how this story represented Connecticut’s foundation in a love of democracy and independence.
To teach children the story of the Charter Oak (a relatively complex story involving regime changes, competing political ideologies, and spanning two continents), we have the children act out the story in an hour-long play. We have Governor John Winthrop Jr. and his colonists, enthusiastically proclaiming “Government belongs to the people!” We have King Charles II (followed by King James II) and the royal court of England, who shout back “Long live the King!” The children in the audience cheer along with their respective slogans, and supply the “ocean” as Governor Winthrop sails to England to get the charter signed by King Charles, with some help from a very precious ($5) ring. There’s a dramatic death scene, which gives aspiring thespians the chance to shine, and almost always provokes complete hilarity in the room. There’s an even more dramatic charter scene, where the “wind” (educator) blows out all the candles (switches off the lights), and the brave colonists sneak into the dark room to steal the charter away from the villainous (but fashionably dressed) Sir Edmund Andros.
As tiring as it can be for the educator, who is running around directing the play, prompting and dressing the actors, and passing out props, I have to say this is one of, if not my favorite, program to teach. It really lets you let go and be silly – how often do you get to enthusiastically bang a drum, or lead a line of marching British soldiers, or make ocean noises? The best part, however, is watching the reactions of the students. Not only are the costumes and props fun and exciting, but through acting out the play, the story and the history behind it comes alive for the students. After the play, the students analyze different sources and discuss what parts of the legend did happen or could have happened. It is so great to hear how much thought they put into the story, and watch them analyze the various components of the legend.
So Happy Halloween everyone. Whether your costume comes from the 17th or 21st century, I hope you all have a safe and fun Halloween. And for more information about The Legend of the Charter Oak and other school programs offered at CHS, check out our Museum Programs.