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July 6, 2010 > Learn through play

Learn through play

By Simon Wong

Image courtesy of Hayward Area Historical Society

Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) has a new, interactive exhibit at McConaghy House on Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward. John McConaghy's bedroom, when the McConaghy family was in residence, was until recently a room in which children's artifacts were displayed - toys, baby clothes and games from ca. 1880s to the 1930s. Visitors could admire them, but were not permitted to touch or play with these items.

The antiques have now been placed in storage to make way for "Archie's Playroom," named after Archie, the oldest of the McConaghy children. His frequent mention in local records and old newspaper articles suggest he was gregarious, sociable and something of a man-about-town. Considering his early and tragic death as a result of a farming accident in 1892 when he was only 21-years old, he made a lasting impression. The decision to name the interactive exhibit after him was made in his memory and the likelihood that he would have enjoyed having a family had he lived.

Children can tour the house and view furniture and artifacts in each room: the kitchen has a range, an ice box/ refrigerator, a hutch and state-of-the-art 19th century gadgets; the dining room is furnished with sideboards, a dining table set for several courses replete with cake stands, fruit bowl, candelabra and other tableware; the study contains a library table, chairs, bureau, bookcases, reading material and wall-mounted trophies; the bedrooms house wardrobes, nightstands, dressing tables with grooming and vanity sets with period clothes laid out on some of the beds.

Once they have viewed these static room settings, children can enter Archie's Playroom with to-scale, reproduction furniture, sourced from Philadelphia, representing three spaces in the house. One corner of the Playroom is the study/library with a bookcase, globe and seating. Another is the kitchen with a hutch, range, miniature utensils and items such as a milk churn and washboard. Part of the room contains reproductions of period costume including a felt top hat from a Berkeley haberdasher that children may don before admiring themselves in a cheval mirror. Victorian toys, such as a marble run and building blocks require children to entertain themselves and use their imaginations.

Archie's Playroom is where children can give practical context to what they have seen and heard during their tour... to learn through touch and play. They can sit and read, pretend to cook, pretend to make cheese, pat butter, scrub clothes on a washboard and dress in Victorian clothes. These activities give them a complete experience. For children, "looking" involves both sight and touch.

"This is a great opportunity for kids to play with things they've seen throughout the house, whether it's in the kitchen or library and to wear some of the clothes they saw laid out," explained Hayward Area Historical Society Education Coordinator Johanna Fassbender.

It took about a year for HAHS to develop the idea of an interactive exhibit and to source all the materials to cultivate young visitors' comprehension and appreciation of what life was like in the house before the advent of modern conveniences. HAHS solicited online bids via a specialist website to produce custom-made items; 15 people responded, all excited about contributing to a hands-on children's space for a museum. HAHS staff was able to choose the best quality and price.

Archie's Playroom, decorated with informative descriptions of recorded activities in which the McConaghy children engaged, is open to the public for free play from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and to school groups on weekdays with a reservation.

HAHS has organized a schedule of Children's Programs for 10 - 11 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month. They include tours of the house, crafts, games and time in Archie's Playroom which will be open until 4 p.m. Each program focuses on an area in the house and associated activities, e.g. the kitchen and cooking; the garden, fruit trees and how to make lemon juice.

"Families take their time. They usually spend between 30 minutes and an hour in Archie's Playroom hosting mock tea parties, dressing up and walking around. Our target age-group is 10 and under," added Fassbender. "With budget cuts, few schools can provide such play so it's important for organizations like HAHS to help teachers fulfill the need for hands-on learning."

More volunteers are needed to help with the tours, Children's Program and school groups. HAHS will hold a day's docent-training at McConaghy House, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 24.

For more information, contact Hayward Area Historical Society on (510) 581-0223 or visit

Hayward Area Historical Society
McConaghy House
18701 Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward

Saturdays and Sundays
Tours: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.

Archie's Playroom: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Second Saturday of the month
Children's Programs: 10 a.m. - 11 a.m.

(510) 581-0223

Admission: $5 (adults), $3 (students/seniors over 65), Free (HAHS members and children aged 10 or younger).

Children's Programs at McConaghy House (10 - 11 a.m.)
Saturday, July 10
When life gives you lemons... cook with the McConaghys
Pick your own oranges and lemons from the family's fruit trees and make juice the old-fashioned way in the kitchen.

Saturday, August 14
Everybody is an artist! Paint with Mary McConaghy
Find inspiration in the McConaghy House Gardens, as Mary McConaghy did. Explore the art inside the house, then go outside and paint watercolors.

Saturday, September 11
Come Sing with us! Discover the joy of music
Explore the musical instruments at McConaghy House, learn early American songs, make balloon drums and perform music in the McConaghy Guest Parlor.

Saturday, October 9
Boo! Halloween fun with Archie and Neal
Help decorate Archie's Playroom for Halloween and take home some spooky decorations for your own house.

Saturday, November 13
Happy Harvest! Farming with the McConaghys
Learn about farm equipment and tractors in the McConaghy Carriage House. Use natural materials to make corn husk dolls, as the McConaghy children would have done.

Saturday, December 11
Christmas Crafts at McConaghy
Celebrate the holidays by making Victorian Christmas ornaments in Archie's Playroom, learn about festive traditions around the world and sing carols around the 12 foot Christmas tree.

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