Blast from the past at Van Zant Elementary School with annual Colonial Day event

Students dressed up as early settlers or Native Americans and learned what life was like hundreds of years ago.

Van Zant Elementary School students use tin foil and paper plates to mimic tin smithing during the school’s annual Colonial Day. Students front row from left are Nevon Ganskopp, Carissa Mahoney and Kayla Connor.

What’s old was new again this week at Van Zant Elementary School, when fifth-grade students and teachers put on their tri-corner hats, bonnets, billowy shirts and more for the school’s annual Colonial Day.

The annual Van Zant tradition is held one day every year to serve as a culmination for the fifth-grade students’ social studies unit on the migration and life of America’s early settlers and their interactions with the continent’s native populations.

In addition to looking the part, students at Van Zant spent the day participating in various colonial activities, such as eating colonial food, making colonial crafts and even playing with toys and games similar to those used by children hundreds of years ago.

Throughout the day, groups of students were also treated to a presentation by Jeff Macechak, education director at the Burlington County Historical Society, who dressed in period clothing and taught students at Van Zant about the everyday items people used during the colonial period.

Jeff Macechak, education director at the Burlington County Historical Society, teaches students at Van Zant Elementary about the everyday items people used the colonial period during Van Zant’s annual Colonial Day.

Bonnie Fuscellaro, a fifth-grade teacher at Van Zant, said leading up to Colonial Day, students formed groups where the acted as early settlers who were traveling to North America for the first time to start new lives.

Fuscellaro said the students would work together to run through a simulation where they might be hunting, fishing or farming for survival while also interacting with Native Americans who might have been friendly or hostile depending on where along the coast the settlers first landed.

“The unit is all about relationships, and for them to understand the importance of interacting with each other in their village or town,” Fuscellaro said. “The decisions and choices they make can affect their relationships with each other positively and negatively.”

As fifth-grade students moved throughout classrooms for activities on Colonial Day, Fuscellaro oversaw students as they learned to play with old toys and games such as spinning tops, whirligigs on strings, cup-and-ball sets and a form of miniature bowling using a ball and traditional clothespins.

“They’re laughing and seeing that kids today can have just as much fun as the kids during colonial times did with very simple things. That’s what I love, just the simplicity of it,” Fuscellaro said.

Van Zant Elementary School student Riley Riess simulates tin smithing using tin foil and paper plates during the school’s annual Colonial Day.

Fifth grader Jesse Morris said he had fun when his social studies class played their discovery game to venture to the world.

“I love history. You get to learn about different people and how their lives went, and you can compare and contrast how your life is,” Jesse said.

Fifth grader Nevon Ganskopp said he also enjoyed seeing how people lived in the past, especially when it came to the toys and games.

“I like how they had the same ideas back then, and so really they came up with most of the stuff these days,” Nevon said.

Fuscellaro said even younger students at the school who aren’t in fifth grade start to anticipate the year when they get to experience Colonial Day too just from seeing the older students having so much fun.

“Even kids that aren’t way into it, the spirit of everybody else brings them along. It really does,” Fuscellaro said.