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A Children's Educational Guide to Amish Acres

Because Amish Acres is the only Old Order Amish farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the one authentic place where teachers can bring students to learn first hand from the architecture, husbandry, farming techniques, traditional food, and historic interpretation presented on the farm by guides through planned programs. The contrast between your students' lives and the ongoing lives of the Old Order Amish can be seen vividly, touched, smelled, and experienced in an educational setting. This brief guide is designed to give historical context to your study of the Amish and call attention to a number of areas of life that differ widely from the majority of your students and at the same time draw comparisons that can be closely related to by the same students. The curriculum guide is divided into three sections:

  1. Historical and sociological background of the Amish to be used for preparation and discussion before coming to Amish Acres.

  2. Activities designed to supplement your visit including games, writing assignments, and coloring pages.

  3. A bibliography of materials that would be beneficial for further study.



Origins of the Amish Faith...

Martin Luther, a German priest, attempted to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500s. He wished merely to rid the church of unacceptable practices that had grown around its hierarchy. Against his desires his initial efforts were extended into what became the "Protestant Reformation" from which new denominations apart from the Catholic Church were born. The most liberal reaction to the Catholic Church came from the Anabaptist (adult baptizers) movement in Switzerland. These reformers chose to return to "original", "elementary" Christianity as they perceived it was practiced by the disciples. Complete separation of church and state was first demanded by Anabaptists. For this anarchy many were persecuted and martyred (killed for their beliefs that differed from the state-church). The Anabaptists were initially called Swiss Brethren, only later assuming the name Mennonites after Meno Simon from Holland who spread the form of religion across Europe.

Nearly 200 years into the movement Jacob Ammann, an Anabaptist minister, chose to split a small group of peasants in Switzerland into an separate wing of the movement using total shunning (social, economic, and religious sanctions) or excommunication from the group to bind a small minority together into a sect that became known as the Amish. From 1693 forward to today followers of the Amish choose to dress as their ancestors did, speak the language of their forefathers, and maintain their peasant lifestyle by rejection of modern inventions and conveniences. Amish today still refrain from owning automobiles and having telephones or televisions in their homes. They farm with horsepower and drive horse-drawn buggies for social contact. All of Amish life is lived in strict accordance with the peasant customs of 17th century Switzerland, now transferred to large settlements in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and among twenty other states totaling nearly 200,000. No Amish remain in Europe because of the never ceasing persecution.

Because the Amish are a microcosm of 17th century peasant life in Switzerland and Germany being lived today in the middle of modern American culture, they become a historical, lingual, sociological, and cultural treasure. They make a perfect teaching platform for the introduction of tolerance to young students in a very interesting, non-threatening way.

What is your family's historical background? How does it differ from the Amish?


Amish Beliefs and Practices...

Because Ammann and his followers were required to meet in secret to escape persecution, no Amish church buildings have been built out of respect for the earliest hidden services. The Amish believe that toiling the land is close to Godliness and separation from the rest of the world is required to lead a Christian life. Today Amish meet in their homes every other week, transferring the "bench wagon" between farms on the off weeks. To maintain its integrity, each Amish district is strict about contact with outside influences that might weaken the tightly knit community.

A bishop, chosen by lot, serves for life as a symbol of the priesthood of the laity. The bishop interprets the mores of the community based upon his degree of pressure from the outside world. The more pressure he perceives, the more strict become the ways of the particular church. (A number of Amish Mennonite groups have split from the core community over the years.) Therefore the term Old Order has been attached to the original Amish community.

How do Amish religious practices differ from those your family practices?


Education for the Amish Society...

Most Amish attend private, one room school houses. Amish children attend school through the eighth grade and leave school at the age of sixteen, the legal minimum in Indiana. As in early public schools all eight grades meet together and help each other with their homework. Teachers are Amish men or women. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the focal point of their education. Religious education is not a major subject in school. The teacher has a small barn for his or her horse. Two outhouses serve as restrooms and softball backscreens are usually installed with teeter totters. Amish children read many books outside of school. Remember they read by gas lantern light at night.

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of attending an Amish one room school?


Amish Community Aid...

The Amish are independent from the larger, outside community for their material needs. They resist the purchase of commercial insurance for fire, flood, or health. Each need within the community is met by the generosity of the community to whatever degree is required. New barns replace burned barns built by the physical labor of neighbors during a "barn raising". The farmer who lost the barn stands 25% of the replacement cost of the materials. Catastrophic medical bills are paid over time through fund raisers and volunteer contributions. Donation quilts are often made by the women which bring high prices, often from outside the Amish community.

Farms usually house three generations of the same family in two houses. The older parents provide labor to their abilities in return for lifetime care.

How does your family cope with loss?


Amish Health & Medical Practices...

Amish believe in using the most modern medical practices available to them. Amish go to the same doctors and dentists as non-Amish. Although today's Amish deliver most of their children in hospitals and participate in surgical procedures to correct physical problems, folk medicine is still prevalent within the community.

What are folk medicines? Can you name some your family uses?


Amish Entertainment...

Because television and radios are not existent in Amish homes, children's entertainment comes from their own imaginations and improvising. Gatherings, often called frolics, of young people are planned many Sunday evenings where games of ball and folk games are usually played on informal fields.

What ways other than television or radio do members of your family entertain themselves? What games do you play together?


Pennsylvania Dutch...

"Pennsylvania Dutch", a Germanic dialect, is the spoken language at home and among Amish outside of the community. It is not a written language. High German is used in reading the Bible, praying, preaching, and hymn singing on Sundays. English is the language used during visits with outsiders and in the commercial world. Young children often do not learn English before starting school.

With how many languages are the Amish familiar? With how many languages are you familiar?

Which ones would you like to be able to use on a daily basis and why?


Amish Children...

All children in an Amish family are assigned chores according to their abilities to help run the farm and household. An average family may have seven children. Children learn their chores from their parents by observing and helping as their skills improve. Older children often work outside the family as farm laborers or housekeepers. The majority of the income these children earn is returned to the family for the benefit of everyone. This exposure to the outside world may test young Amish without recourse prior to baptism. A great majority of these young people return to marry "Amish" and live the life in which they were raised.

How are chores assigned and learned in your house?


Amish Fashion...

Amish children dress as if miniatures of their parents. Men wear denim pants with "barn door" button fronts, held up by suspenders. Shirts and jackets are plain fabrics. Hats are black felt in the cold months and straw in the summer with wide brims. Sunday suits include vests and collarless coats closed with hooks and eyes. Buttons are avoided because of their association with military dress and because they were precious to early followers of Ammann. Married men wear untrimmed beards without mustaches.

Women wear "bottle color" (deep green, blue, purple, brown) dresses fastened with straight pins. The shawl or pinafore worn over the dress is similar in style to the habit of a 17th century Catholic nun. White starched prayer caps are worn from morning till night. Black bonnets cover the prayer caps for traveling or protection from the sun. No jewelry or ornamentation is permitted on Amish clothing.

Amish children never compete with each other as to the newest fad or fashion in blue jeans or other clothes. Would you prefer to not have to compete with your classmates to see who has the newest styles?


Amish Arts and Crafts...

Because of the plainness of the Amish way of life, many outsiders are surprised at the colorful quilts, glassware, and china that are collected for display but not use. Almost all Amish clothing for men, women, boys, and girls is made in the home using treadle sewing machines and plain fabrics purchased from specialty stores.

What types of things does your family collect or treasure?


Amish Transportation...

The most obvious sign of being in an Amish community is the sight of sleek driving horses pulling black two and four door buggies along country roads and city streets. This ancient mode of transportation not only honors their forefathers but limits the mobility of a family to a fairly small community circle. Many Amish travel by train or automobile to visit friends and family in other Amish communities across the country. Farm work is performed by draft horses used in combinations of pairs to plough, cultivate, and harvest the farm's crops.

How would you keep warm in an Amish buggy in an Indiana snow storm?