Tess just spent a week playing a 19th century farm girl. She’s done camps at this living-history museum every summer since she was 4. (You haven’t seen cute until you’ve seen 4-year-olds dressed like Laura Ingalls.) But the previous camps were a little of this, a little of that, a sampler of life in the 1800s.
Now that she’s 7, Tess got to pick a themed camp, and 19th Century Farm Kids it was, held at the Pioneer Farmstead at Genesee Country Village & Museum, about 30 minutes from where we live in western New York.
Over the week, the kids learned about the animals (sheep, oxen, ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, cows and pigs), collected eggs and dabbled in cheesemaking. They pulled purslane for salads. And soaked flax to extract the fibers for linen-making. They even picked and tasted hops. (There’s a working 19th century brewery on-site.)
There was barn-cleaning and wood-stacking, work followed by the fun of 19th century games. They shelled corn and sewed corn bags (like bean bags), then made them again after chipmunks raided the barn.
Every day they recorded their experiences in journals, using fountain pens and ink.
I’ve written about GCVM before, in posts on maple sugaring and teaching kids about industrial meat production. The village offers immersion-style history, with costumed role-players sharing the mundane yet fascinating rhythms of early American life. That of course includes the routines and rituals of food and farming. And for kids, especially, it’s a great lesson in agriculture at its most basic. Sure, the kids immerse for only a few hours a day, and they go home in air-conditioned cars to houses with refrigerators and packaged snacks, but it all sinks in, you know?
It’s the reason (along with the “Little House” picture books) that Tess wanted a pioneer party for her 5th birthday, which we managed to pull off by renting a 1938 log cabin (itself a replica of a 1721 fort) in a nearby park. How authentic? No heat. Only a fireplace. In December. Looking back, it seems a little nuts. But there was sledding and butter-making and running around in bonnets and straw hats. And everyone went home with maple candy and an appreciation for central heat. (Oh: Renting a cabin with no heat in December? Cheap.)
This summer, when we visited Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., we found fantastic exhibits and stories about how the Wampanoag and the colonists ate seasonally, in sync with nature. And these museums are everywhere. Check out the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, with members throughout the U.S. and Canada.
My only complaint about farm camp? Though kids brought their own snacks and lunches (stored in cloth-covered baskets), the camp supplied drinks. Two choices: water and “lemonade.” As in: Country Time. As in: artificial colors and other chemical additives that no way, no how existed in the 1800s. And, oh, by the way, no actual lemon. Next time, I’d like to see the kids make their own real lemonade. Just like Mrs. Oleson.
Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2011 Christina Le Beau
Re: Lemonade, I hear you. But at this point I’m just happy if it’s not Crystal Light — so ubiquitously offered to kids I’m on a little bit of a vendetta. I’ve heard great things about this museum — what a wonderful idea for camp. I love that Tess is so into pioneering, where my daughter is simply not. Shame!
Sandra: We haven’t encountered Crystal Light, but I’ve heard other parents complain about that, too. Had no idea it was such a thing.
And yes, you’d love GCVM. As I’m sure you know, Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood home was in Malone, N.Y. (And apparently Charles Ingalls was born in Cuba, N.Y.) So GCVM has annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Days that highlight that regional connection.
I’m so jealous that this is not in my neck of the woods (WA state–not so much!). I read the Little House books so many times and think we may have to make a Laura Ingalls trip one of these years. The camp sounds fabulous, and my thought is that it would be great if the kids were able to prepare their own lunches as part of the experience somehow.
Oh my goodness, I LOVE this. Especially your birthday party – how awesome!! I think even we adults could really benefit from some immersion in this as well.
Bethesda: The village offers families the chance to stay on-site for a weekend and live like pioneers. One of these days…
THIS is what should be taught in our public schools now!!!!! Extremely important teaching history along with “good” food knowledge. Wow! I’m impressed. I’d love to “go” to this too! Too bad they don’t include grown-ups.
Nancy: I just mentioned the immersion weekends in another reply, but the village also offers classes for adults. A friend took an open-hearth cooking class while her daughter was in camp with Tess. She got to dress the part and everything.
This brought back fond memories of a pioneer camp I went to when I was a child in Iowa. I loved it and LIW and just about everything having to do with pioneering. I still sometimes think it would be amazingly fun to live in an Amish community.
Amber: Unfortunately many of the Amish in western New York live very impoverished lives, so I’m not sure that would be very fun… But I hear you on the simplicity.
Oh, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates “lemonade”. I always feel like a scrooge when I pass a child’s lemonade stand, but there is just now way I could drink the stuff.
Tess has been planning a lemonade stand for an upcoming neighborhood event, and when she was making her signs, she asked me how much she should charge. I told her that kids usually charge 25 cents or 50 cents, something like that. “Well, I’m charging 50 cents, because this is good (i.e., real) lemonade.” Cracked me up.
What a great experience!! When I was in elementary school, we spent a day at “school” in a one room schoolhouse in a historic village and I loved every second. I wish there was a camp like that close to us so our daughter could experience that. She would love it!
That looks like so much fun! I would love for my kids to get to do something like that. Google time!
Thanks for sharing!
looks like so much fun!!
How awesome that you daughter is so into the pioneer lifestyle! I would have loved to have that kind of opportunity when I was her age. Our local living history museum has things like that for kids too, and I wish they had them for adults. I always look at the list of classes and day camps available and wonder what they would say if a 38 year old woman with no child tried to sign up. 😉
We went this summer for the first time and I was fascinated.
Miss C was asking when she could come back and dress up like Mary Ingalls, (she is entirely interested in Mary, not Laura, so I usually get assigned that role). She’s been playing pioneer for the past month, churning invisible butter with an old broom handle. Such a great local resource.
I want to know about this cabin with no heat…
I am 15 and I was looking on their website but I couldn’t find anything on their for like overnight weekend and that’s way to expensive so was wondering what to do because I wanted to volunteer their and sleep over and get the whole experience so I need help to try to do that or find a place that does that
Hi, Kassidy. I would recommend calling GCVM and asking your question directly: (585) 538-6822. Good luck!