John Jay Homestead presents numerous interactive learning opportunities for young visitors and their families! Six historic buildings feature hands-on, immersive Discovery Centers. Designed as interactive exhibits and exploration areas, the Discovery Centers illustrate history in a fun and engaging way. The fun doesn’t end there – borrow an explorer backpack from the Carriage Barn and investigate the 62-acre historic farm and gardens.
The Carriage Barn Education & Visitor Center features our largest Discovery Center. Surrounding a reproduction Governess’s Cart you’ll find five boxes to explore – each full of hands-on activities.
Our Historic Clothing box has a variety of girl’s and boy’s outfits to try on. These reproduction clothing items from the early 19th century will help you step back in time as you adopt a persona from John Jay’s era, “ride” in the cart and capture your own “old-time photographs.”
While dressed up, play with some of the items contained in the Historic Toys & Games box. The hand-crafted, reproduction games from the 18th and 19th centuries include instructions on how to play, and you’ll recognize the historic precursers of many of the games we still play today. Additional games, including hoop & stick, battledore & shuttlecock, jump ropes, graces, and stilts, are available on loan from the welcome desk.
Test your detective skills with our Object Detective box. What are the reproduction artifacts contained within this box, who used them, and what were they used for?
Many items we use today have a historic counterpart. The Then & Now box contains reproduction objects that look similar to those we use today, but are made using modern technology and man-made materials. Examine our bone handled, boar’s hair bristle toothbrush and compare it to the Oral-B toothbrush on sale at your local pharmacy.
As you explore the Homestead, you’ll notice all the field stone walls. According to John Jay, “My farm was from its first settlement occupied by tenants. They have left not trees fit for rails; nor can I obtain a supply in this neighborhood. The stones they could not destroy, and they are the only materials I have for fence.” Our Rock Wall box gives you the opportunity to build your own rock wall with our foam field stones.
The Discovery Center in our Red Barn emphasizes the Homestead’s agricultural past. Learn about what produce was grown here seasonally, try your hand at daily farm chores, look at historic photos of the farm, and milk our mechanical cow. Don’t miss the interesting exhibit in this building describing the history of farming on the property.
An original 1826 one-room schoolhouse includes a Discovery Center addressing early American education. Learn what the standard punishment was for tardiness, sleeping in class, and other rule infractions; complete arithmetic problems on an abacus; make your own hornbook – an early primer; and find out how a typical school day today is different from the day of instruction the Jay children would have experienced.
Constructed in 1925 by Eleanor Jay Iselin for her young son “Buddy,” this small playhouse is a fun location for our youngest of visitors to play “house” with traditional handcrafted toys. The adjacent Children’s Garden and sandbox, recreations of originals dating from the early 20th century, provide a lovely fair weather activity area.
Furnished entirely with reproduction furniture and objects, the kitchen is the one room in the historic house where visitors may immerse themselves in the early 19th century experience, learning through hands-on interaction with the objects and space. The Summer Kitchen provides visitors with a sense of the daily routine of the servants and slaves who served the Jay family. Vignettes in this Discovery Center emphasize the labor involved in laundry day, the different methods and materials used in candle and soap making, and show how the kitchen would often serve as living quarters for some of the slaves.
Adjacent to the Herb Garden is a potting shed that served the formal and cutting gardens in the 19th and 20th centuries. The larger of the two spaces features a Discovery Center focused on horticulture and the more formal, man-made landscape features of the Homestead. View a 1932 aerial photograph of the property showing the vast formal gardens, learn more about the varieties of flowers and herbs grown at the Homestead today, and plant your own flower to bring home with you. Be sure to visit the many beautiful gardens on the property.
We have three backpacks you can take with you while you explore the Homestead’s natural environment. Junior Explorers can use magnifying glasses and binoculars to study birds and animal tracks. Handy guidebooks are included as well to help explorers identify birds, mammals and plants. Findings can be recorded in the journal and the sketch pad and colored pencils can be used to draw a picture of the experience. We also have backpacks for Bird Watching and Landscape Art. If you’d rather play in the courtyard picnic area or adjacent field, borrow a Hoop & Stick, Game of Graces, Stilts, or a Battledore & Shuttlecock for some “old-fashioned” fun.