The Civil War Comes Alive for Fourth Graders

Fourth grade students made cornhusk dolls in the Lower School Library to round off their two-month unit on the Civil War this week.

Says fourth grader Katherine Pulido, the dolls were popular during the Civil War and were “kind of the like the dolls you would play with today, only handmade.”

Made by rolling and tying damp cornhusks then clothing them with scraps of material, the project was the last for the students, who have been making A-Z books to cover all the topics they’ve researched about the Civil War. The unit began with a live Civil War reenactment where students dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers and acted out the Battle of Cold Harbor, the final victory won by Robert E. Lee’s army.

Lower School librarian Allison Peters Jensen says this type of experiential learning helps to make the lessons, “come alive for the students.”

“The students learn that long ago, toys were not purchased at a nearby store,” says Peters Jensen. “During the Civil War, toys were handmade and treasured because it took time to make them and because they were scarce.”

The project came after students read a wordless picture book, Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole. The story follows the “unspoken” gifts of humanity as one girl helps an escaped slave, giving her a cornhusk doll as a parting gift.

“It was a doll just like this one,” says Katherine, holding up her creation.

As students put the finishing touches on their dolls, many clothe them to reflect the time period. Reciting information about the Confederate and Union soldiers, slavery and the “War Between the States,” while showing off all they’ve made, it’s clear the students are well versed in this significant war in American history.

“By making history come alive through experiential learning,” says Peters Jensen, “students take with them lessons tied to fond experiences they will likely remember.”

Watch this video of Henry Cole reading his wordless picture book, Unspoken: