Exhibits and galleries are great places to spend a summer, but camps can take youth from observing history, art and science to interacting and creating them. Here is a sampling of museum programs that give students an opportunity to be the next Charles Gillette, Carl Sagan or Mary Cassatt.
Virginia Historical Society
(Photo courtesy Virginia Historical Society/Sean DeWitt Photography)
The uninitiated might assume that children’s camps offered by the Virginia Historical Society would take advantage of the society’s holdings at its striking Boulevard location.
That’s only half right.
The camps do take advantage of the society’s holdings — but at Virginia House, the English manor brought to Richmond in 1925 and now owned by the society. Located in the near West End’s Windsor Farms, Virginia House is usually open by appointment only.
“Virginia House is a great family resource for us, and we tie these camps to our unique site,” says Tracy Bryan, director of facilities for the historical society. “These camps are a way for us to expand our hours to the public; they serve as part of our education mission.”
At Virginia House, the youngest campers get hands-on experience with “Diggin’ in the Dirt,” where they explore the gardens designed by famed landscape architect Charles Gillette, and learn the basics of gardening. A “Junior Master Gardener” camp builds on that experience and delves in greater detail about native plants, sustainability and eco-friendly practices.
The “Junior Ambassador Passport Travels” camp teaches about different cultures and countries, showcasing the areas where Virginia House owner Alexander Weddell, a former U.S. ambassador, was posted in his diplomatic service. Bryan notes that campers often get to see artifacts dating from Weddell’s life and experiences that aren’t usually available to the public.
By keeping the camps small, Bryan says, children are able to engage in meaningful ways with the location and one another. “The camps are designed for children,” she says. “They can share the experience with one another and learn from one another.”
For registration information, contact the Virginia Historical Society, 428 N. Boulevard, 358-4901 or vahistorical.org.
Science Museum of Virginia
(Photo courtesy Science Museum of Virginia)
Occupying a singular building — the former Broad Street train station, designed by renowned New York architect John Russell Pope — the Science Museum of Virginia strives to offer a distinctive experience to all. This year, in line with that goal, the museum’s summer camps for children will be taught exclusively by Science Museum educators.
“In the past, we’ve worked with other partners,” says Chuck English, the museum’s director of playful learning and inquiry. “But people expect a Science Museum experience, and we have a lot of great educators who can make a great experience.”
Plans for the summer include six weeks of camps, built around three different themes: the human machine, which is the “science of ourselves,” English says, speed, and engineering. Campers should be prepared to think broadly. “Speed can be change over time, geology or the spread of flu,” English notes.
The camps take advantage of the larger museum, as well. Some museum exhibits, such as the “The Human Body” and the museum’s new exhibit, “Speed,” have obvious, direct connections. But relevant and supporting material is found throughout the museum, English says. “The summer camp projects help participants engage the museum environment around them and — hopefully — inspire them to see how their investigations tie to their everyday lives.”
The goal with each camp is simple: “This is an opportunity to get kids excited, to engage an audience who doesn’t see themselves as scientists,” English says. “I want us to get kids hooked on science.”
For registration information, contact the Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W. Broad St., 864-1400 or smv.org.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
(Photo courtesy VMFA)
The summer camps available to children and teens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are not quite what they seem.
Yes, there’s a wide variety, from painting to drawing to thematic. There’s time spent in the extensive VMFA galleries and the chance to delve deeper into a single artist’s work with the assistance of a knowledgeable guide.
…And there are also SOLs.
Perhaps it’s not the selling point for younger participants, but Megan Liles Endy, the youth and family studio programs coordinator, notes that all the VMFA camps incorporate material from the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).
“We really try to connect with what they learn in school,” she says, noting that the VMFA camps are a “fun and welcoming” environment — which school isn’t always. “Not all kids do well in a conventional school system,” Endy says. “Parents are looking for an outlet for them, and VMFA can provide that outlet.”
VMFA camps and classes are available to children ages 5-17. They begin just after the Fourth of July and conclude at the end of August. “That way, kids have something to do all summer,” Endy says.
As a state museum, the VMFA’s mission is deceptively simple: “to enrich the lives of all.” To that end, the museum is free (visiting exhibitions may have fees for admission) and open 365 days a year. Additionally, scholarships are available so that all children might participate.
“We want people to experience the museum,” Endy says. “We’re here to teach and inspire everyone.”
For registration information, contact the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, 340-1400 or vmfa.museum.
(Photo courtesy Ashland Museum)
At Camp Ashland, participants can expect to wash some clothes, dissect owl pellets (droppings) and spend time in the old town jail with their knapsack lunches, just as down-on-their luck “hobos” did years ago. These activities, as diverse as they seem, share one key element: They enable campers to experience Ashland’s history firsthand.
“We bring the past to life for campers in a way that cannot be done in a school setting,” says Rosanne Shalf, president of the Ashland Museum, which collaborates with the Hanover Arts and Activities Center to offer the camp. “We immerse campers in history, so they have something concrete to relate to.”
Every day, campers hear from a special guest. Last year, “Maggie Walker,” the first African-American woman to found and be president of a bank, came to talk about her experiences in Richmond in late-19th and early-20th centuries. Another visitor was a nurse who worked in the Ashland Baptist Church, tending to Civil War soldiers.
Campers also take daily walking trips to significant sites in town, perhaps visiting Cross Bros. Grocery for a snack and to sign their bill, just as customers did in 1912, and still do today. Or they may try their hands at a cannonball trajectory game, learning about both old methods of warfare, as well as physics.
“We know that kids who know their personal, family and local history have a framework for remembering what they learn in school,” Shalf says. “We make history fun for them; the kids have a ball, and so do we.”
For registration information, contact the Ashland Museum, 105 Hanover Ave., 368-7314 or ashlandmuseum.org.