Hamden Hall Country Day School

Educating students in PreSchool through Grade 12

Whale Tales with Fourth Grade and Mystic Seaport

Navigating through the new thematic unit, Whaling and Maritime History, fourth-grade students learned all about whales and the history of whaling ships during a history-to-go program visit from special guest Ms. Natasha. The program is part of the school’s partnership with Mystic Seaport.

Seated together in their classroom on the bottom floor of the Whitson building, students in both Grade 4 classes taught by Sara Dixon and Emily Schimelman 2002 were greeted by Ms. Natasha who introduced herself and her job at Mystic. She previously visited the classes back in October during an interactive role-playing program for the Immigration unit study.

“Talking to the students about a topic of interest to them transforms the presentation and makes it more fun,” commented Ms. Natasha. “I love teaching kids about whales and sharing my enthusiasm and amazement over these majestic creatures.”

Ms. Natasha opened her presentation by asking students to describe what a whale looks like and the different types. The students all chimed in with their answers noting that whales are “big with long bodies and tails.” She followed up by asking the students the connection between whales and Mystic Seaport. Ms. Natasha explained how Mystic Seaport is home to the last whaling ship in the world, the Charles W. Morgan. 

Built and operating out of New Bedford, Mass., the Charles W. Morgan was an active whaling ship for 80 years with a total of 37 voyages during the 19th century, students learned. Through the voyages, crew members spent up to three years on the ship at a time traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to different ports. The average age of the crew ranged between 15 and 30 years old.

Ms. Natasha transitioned into a discussion on why whaling ships were important and why whales were hunted. She explained how whale oil was a significant commodity during that timeframe and became a lucrative part of New England’s economy. Whales were hunted for their blubber, which holds a significant amount of oil, she said. The blubber was set on fire in a process called rendering. The oil was used to light candles and lamps along with various machinery including clocks, watches, and typewriters.

The presentation concluded with Ms. Natasha showing the students the personal items the crew members brought onto the ship for voyages. With limited space, each member was only allowed one bag for their items. The bag consisted of long johns to maintain warmth, a long-sleeve shirt, union suit jeans, suspenders, one pair of shoes, and a journal for note-keeping.

Whaling ended in 1921 when other reliable sources such as kerosene, petroleum, and other fuels were discovered and more readily available. Today, people can visit Mystic Seaport to see the whaling exhibition and historical archives of the voyages.

“Maritime History is one of my personal favorite units,” said Mrs. Schimelman. “Seeing the students tune into the presentation with an attentive ear builds excitement and, as a teacher, it is a great feeling.”
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Hamden Hall Country Day School

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Hamden Hall Country Day School is a nurturing and inclusive community with a dynamic learning environment that promotes academic excellence by understanding each child and fostering their individual growth.