Monday, February 17, 2014

Junior Rangers: Topeka

  Ever since our Rushmore trip, the kids have been itching to add to their junior ranger badges.  One that is super close to us is the Brown vs. Board of Education site in Topeka.  We wanted to do something for Black History Month, so this seemed like the week.  Mookie was dying to have her buddy, who attends public school, spend the night last night.  I almost said no.  The buddy didn't have school due to a teacher work day, but we did.  We decided to flop our week and take our buddy with us instead!  So field trip Monday it became! :)
  Since it was just me and 4 kiddos, I knew that Shorty wasn't going to fare well through all I had planned, so we went to the John Ritchie House first.  Ritchie House is the oldest structure standing in Topeka.  The Ritchies were staunch abolitionists, hanging with the likes of John Brown during the turbulent territorial era.  Their house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. When we got there, Bubby was SO excited (really he makes homeschooling easy, the kid LOVES learning!).  He leaped out of the car and shouted "The Freedom Trail!" He had learned about the house at Kansas Day and its been on his mental list to visit ever since.
The kids in the front room of Ritchie House with a pic of John Ritchie
  The tour is free, and actually only open on Mondays and Wednesdays.  There is an education center with a small exhibit detailing the era the Ritchies lived in, and then you get to tour the 1st floor of the house which is next door. The house has only sparse furnishings, and some artifacts, but the tour guide did a fantastic job of explaining the Ritchies and their role in the early Topeka time period as well as their part in the Underground Railroad.  Shorty did a wonderful job, only faltering temporarily when he grabbed a door knob on the artifact shelf and called it a hammer.  *whew*
  On to the Brown vs. Board site.  I explained the background of it on the way over.  The kids hadn't studied that yet and were fairly incredulous that segregation had happened.  I was glad to expose them to these in conjunction with each other, really makes history more easily understandable when you can merge lessons like that.
  Admission is free to this one as well, but both sites would appreciate donations.  We checked in with the Park Ranger & she started us off in the auditorium that had some artwork & video going.  The videos at Brown are so well done.  I had been several years ago and they really do a great job of detailing what led up to that decision and the effects (which is good because between chasing Shorty and trying to help kids find answers to their Ranger booklets I really didn't get to absorb anything).  When she got the intro movie up and running we moved on and watched it.  It was pretty corny, but really if you had young kids it was a good way to introduce them to why this was an important place without getting too in depth.
  The next room is my favorite, it is chalked full of why blacks were treated the way they were, the Jim Crow laws, the court cases, a timeline, and a hallway which makes you feel like you're walking in the midst of one of the race riots (it can be a little overwhelming, so keep that in mind for young kids - Shorty was unaffected though).
The riot hallway.  This pic does not do it justice.
  The whole Junior Ranger process takes on average we've found about an hour and a half.  The number of sections you need to complete varies with age, for instance, our buddy only had to complete 4 since she's 8, but our two completed 6 for ages 9+.  Which is only right since we made her do school on her day off;)  The Park Ranger swore them all in as Junior Rangers and presented them with their badge and certificate.

   Bubby is already planning our next Junior Ranger expedition to Nicodemus, KS.  I'm focusing on something closer like the National Archives in Kansas City:)


  1. Gee, Wendi, I learned something from this! I grew up in Topeka but have never heard of the Ritchie House! Very cool. I'm enjoying your excursions vicariously :)
    Pat H.

  2. Cool:) Mom said she'd never heard of it growing up either. I don't know when they "discovered" it was there, but I think they started getting ready to restore it less than 10 years ago. They said they have re-enactments there for schoolkids every summer:) We might have to try to go.