Audrain County Historical Society for the past 16 years has hosted a weeklong history camp for students who have completed third through fifth grade. This year’s theme is Blaze a Trail, which looks at westward expansion, including the Lewis and Clark, Santa Fe, Oregon, Butterfield Overland Mail trails and the transcontinental railroad.
Each day of the camp focuses on a different aspect of westward expansion trails. There are 52 campers and they are split into four groups where they do a rotation on living history, cooking, science, arts and crafts and they have a guest educator each day.
Monday, for example, focused on Lewis and Clark and campers made Native American fry bread and cowboy beans with salt pork. They also learned how to read a compass, identify and observe plants, animal tracks, fossils and pelts. They created a journal for their craft and heard from Cliff Fowler of the Missouri Trappers Association.
There is nearly a one-to-one ratio of volunteers to campers, said Cara Miller, camp director.
“We have four core areas that they go to, alternating. The first is living history, which is basically Paul Baum retelling stories of the past,” she said.
Foods the campers make all will relate to the day’s topic, such as Tuesday when they churned butter when learning about the Santa Fe Trail. Wednesday the campers studied the Oregon Trail, the Donner Party and Hasting Cutoff.
Remaining lessons today and tomorrow include the Butterfield Trail and the transcontinental railroad. Students will learn about arrowheads and a buffalo hunt today, and Friday will look at the Gold Rush.
“Everything is based around our theme,” Miller said.
The camp is held from 8 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. each day, so it’s go, go, go from the start, she said. The four main sessions last about 45 minutes, while each day’s guest educator speaks for about 25 minutes.
One benefit to the camp is it gives the children a jump start on history, Miller said. The society and Miller received an email from a parent of former campers, who wrote that when her children started learning about the U.S. Civil War in school, they already knew some of what was taught thanks to history camp.
“It’s just a bonus to them because kiddos the more they hear about a topic, the more they learn about a topic, it just sticks better. It goes into their long term memory. They just know it better,” Miller said.
History camp focuses on hands-on learning and activities, she added. Each year has a different theme. Previous themes have included modern history from 1950 to 1989, the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, the wild west, colonial America, World War II and Lewis and Clark.
“For the last three years, we’ve created a new theme each year. We have different yearly things that we kind of resurrect from time to time, and kind of give them a new face, but still it’s the same time period in history,” Miller said.