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By Katherine Relf-Cañas
Tracing a historical path is a great way to bring history to life for your children. Mara Shepherd, then 9, had read everything she could about Sacagewea, the guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Her knowledge and curiosity provided the inspiration for a unique trip into the past of Sacagewea and the Lewis and Clark expedition. "It was one of the best trips we ever had!" says mother, Asha.
Events from Sacagewea's life, including the role she played in helping assist the Lewis and Clark expedition, were the focus for the family's six-hour learning expedition. This was made possible thanks to a knowledgeable tour guide, Al Anderson, whose unique services the family found listed online. "Al seemed to find it a joy to share this with children who really wanted to learn about something," says Asha.
A former teacher, Anderson tailored a variety of immersion and hands-on learning experiences - many created for homeschool families - to Mara's interest in Sacagewea. Anderson's broad knowledge was revealed in the many activities and demonstrations in which the family got to take part. He also heaped praise on Sacagewea along the way as being a teenage girl among a group of handpicked explorers with military training.
They began their journey on the Jefferson Fork of the headwaters of the Missouri river in Montana. Al pointed out landmarks Sacagewea had used along the way. As they traveled the riverbanks and took in the landscape, Mara was thrilled to be seeing the terrain she had read about, and learned first hand what it was like to have to rely on landmarks.
Al had made a dugout canoe from the same tree that Lewis and Clark had made theirs. He had made a rope out of the same material they used, and he showed the children how to make it. He also allowed them a chance to pull the canoe by the rope against the current, as those on the expedition had done, so they could get a sense of how strong the men on the expedition had to be to travel that way.
Al also showed off period-tools and the kids got to feel their heft and see them used. They made an arrowhead hammer and clay impressions of tracks. Mara went to an eagle-nesting site and was able to spy a mother eagle returning to give its baby a meal in the nest. And Anderson, who had found a fly-fishing pole small enough for 5-year-old Sage, gave him his first fly-fishing lesson.
Whether Al Anderson is your guide, or not, and whether you start in Montana or in another stretch of the trail, you can do your own tour of the westward expansion. This is an experience where the family's nature lover and the family's history buff can find harmony. Thanks to the efforts of many groups and individuals, you can walk along restored segments of the Lewis and Clark Trail and visit interpretive centers at will. It is an ideal do-it-yourself-style trip made even better if you read up on your history beforehand.
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