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May 06, 2023

Professor Watermelon on getting kids excited in history

Feast on this: His name is Chadwick Gillenwater. But children across Indiana know him as bow-tied Professor Watermelon, the performance name he uses when he travels to schools, libraries, museums, summer camps and historic sites for presentations about history and writing. At various historic sites, Chadwick, a veteran teacher and school librarian, also offers workshops for children called Watermelon University.

The historic sites include the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home in the Lockerbie neighborhood of Indianapolis. It's also the setting for one of Chadwick's books for children, George and the Goblin Hole, in which he uses a real historical figure (the butler at the home when Riley was in residence) along with a fictional character, a contemporary boy, to inspire interest in the Hoosier poet. In addition to his presentations as Professor Watermelon, Chadwick is a history reenactor who frequently portrays James Whitcomb Riley (in costume) at civic events and presentations to children.

So why not tap Chadwick a k a Professor Watermelon for tips about how to excite children in history, and insights about what turns them off? When he joins Nelson as a studio guest, Professor Watermelon also will suggest some do's and don'ts about sparking an interest in writing among young Hoosiers.

"If you bring historical characters to life by showing how they lived, what they wanted, or who and what was in their way, you will have engaged learners," Chadwick says. A native Hoosier, Chadwick is based in Indianapolis but has done summer camps for children across the state in towns such as Orleans in southwest Indiana.

Sites for his Watermelon University workshops have included the historic Benton House in the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis and the Indiana State Capitol, where Chadwick took children to the courtroom of the Indiana Supreme Court. He frequently draws on Indiana history in workshops for children about writing, even creative writing. "Just like history, there is no story if there is no struggle", Chadwick says.

When presenting history to children, parents and other adults should avoid overemphasizing dates, he says. "Dates and names often get blown into the wind, but if you can captivate children with what happened, you will earn their attention. Think about it this way. The years 1862 and 1962 are pretty much the same to a person who was born in 2015."

Chadwick, a board member of the Indiana Writers Center, does regular "story time" presentations for preschoolers at the Indianapolis Public Library. He also does workshops for teachers and parents, sharing tips about reading stories aloud to preschoolers. Referring to a regular read-aloud session with young children, he says: "It's the single most important activity a parent or caregiver can do to get their child ready for kindergarten and reading."

He began calling himself "Professor Watermelon" after a young child had difficulty pronouncing Chadwick Gillenwater.


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Roadtrip: Archaeological Research Institute (ARI) in Lawrenceburg

Guest Roadtripper Marybeth Von Fange Glick of Bartholomew County is a retired Cummins executive with generations of German Lutheran farming families in Jackson and Bartholomew Counties preceding her.

"I've always been interested in local history. I'm retired now and live near our family farm, so now I have more time to explore the state." says Marybeth.  

"About four years ago, I discovered the Archaeological Research Institute (ARI) in Lawrenceburg in southeastern Indiana. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is located at 424 Walnut St. which is the main street in Lawrenceburg that runs from Hwy 50 south to the Ohio River. It's easy to find and has plenty of parking on the street.  

The tri-state area of SE Indiana, SW Ohio and northern KY had many natural resources and was home to a sizable group of Native Americans about 1000 AD called the Fort Ancient period, which was part of the larger Mississippian culture that created Cahokia in Illinois.  

ARI has an active archaeological dig at the site of a former village, called the Guard Site, in the river bottoms near Lawrenceburg. You can tour the site and see how the research is done. Trained archaeologists as well as interns work there every summer and the artifacts they find are then studied and classified during the winter months.  

ARI is excellent at providing educational opportunities for all ages. They have 'experiences' and people aged 12 and older can join in unearthing history. Several camps for students are scheduled throughout the summer months. I enjoyed a tour of the Guard Site, which is only a six-minute drive away, which included atlatl demonstrations where we could try throwing this old hunting spear. It was neat to see the precise layout of the dig including depth measurements for locating artifacts. Archaeology is not glamorous but a very interesting science.

Another great program that ARI offers is Rock, Fossil and Artifact Identification sessions that are held monthly. Anyone can bring in items and local experts will advise what it is and the approximate age or time period. I took arrowheads that my great-grandfather had found on his farm in southwestern Bartholomew County. Ten were identified as dart points made of chert from the Archaic period which was prior to 1000 BC. The larger ones were knife points from 500 BC to 100 AD that would have been attached to a handle.  

Often for Indiana Archaeology Day in September, state parks hold information sessions. Sometimes you can find a knapping demonstration at one of these. Knapping is the process of making a stone tool or arrowhead by chipping away the rock to form a sharp edge. It is very interesting to see. Mounds State Park and Starve Hollow have held these events so watch the websites for them.

I highly recommend ARI to anyone interested in learning more about Native Americans who lived in Indiana."


Trivia prizes and southside restaurant sought

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