Educational Programs & Resources

Hands on History

Keeping Jefferson’s legacy alive depends on sharing both his knowledge and our growing knowledge of his life and times with future generations of learners, in active and engaging ways. Our “Hands On History” activities are specifically designed to shine a light on the past, through active learning for students in grades 2-12.

During a visit Jefferson’s retreat home, we’re able to keep his vision alive, accurately tell the important stories of enslaved people, and bring focus to the history and culture of the Revolutionary Era. Our “Hands On History” hands-on history activities include the following:

  • Dig the Past: Yesterday’s trash is today’s treasure. Learn how Poplar Forest’s archaeologists find bits of plates, pipes, coins and other artifacts, allowing them to piece together the past. Students can sift buckets of dirt to piece together reproduction artifacts, or analyze modern day trash to determine what they can find out about the people that lived at a particular site (suited for upper grade levels).
  • Build a Dream: Learn what it takes to build a house like Poplar Forest, by making bricks and marbles out of mud and building walls with wood blocks to understand brick bonding. Put together a plan for an eight-sided house and explore the tools used to build Jefferson’s home.
  • Hidden Lives of The Plantation Community: Enslaved workers helped build and maintain Poplar Forest. Now, students can explore how they worked and lived by examining what they wore, the tools they used and what kind of foods they ate. Experience just how much work it took to churn butter, weave a basket or make clothing, using materials such as wool, cotton and flax.
  • The Write Stuff: Thomas Jefferson was constantly writing letters and memorandums—in fact, nearly 20,000 of his letters are known to exist in various historic collections. Here, students can review the daily activities recorded by Jefferson in a farm journal and a garden journal, along with one of Jefferson’s seventeen rough drafts for the Declaration of Independence. Students will have an opportunity to write as Jefferson did—with a quill pen, as well as with a slate pencil on a slate board.

For questions about our educational programming, or to schedule your school’s next field trip, please contact Kathy Kramer at 434.525.0519 or