Camps Ignite History Lessons

Camps Ignite History Lessons

Loudoun Museum offers summer camps.

Mark Summers refers to himself as a history missionary.

"I want to get everyone interested in history," said Summers, director of education at the Loudoun Museum for the past two years. He teaches Loudoun’s history to children and adults in a variety of formats, including giving museum tours for both age groups, providing adult walking tours through Leesburg, teaching in-class history lessons and administering summer history camps for children.

"I love history, and getting somebody to love history who used to be bored with it is fun for me," said Summers, 24.

Summers has four trunks or boxes filled with reproduced artifacts, pictures and maps to teach Colonial, African-American, Native American and Civil War history in hour-long programs at Loudoun’s schools. The programs, which reach about 3,000 students a year, coordinate with Virginia’s Standards of Learning and fit the county’s history with that of the state. Loudoun Museum has provided the programs for the past 20 years and initiated the summer camps four years ago.

"We wanted to offer something for children in the summertime that would be more hands-on and in-depth," said Summers, who will oversee three camps this year.

THE CAMPS are for one week, three hours a day and include:

* A Needlework Seminar, taught by the Loudoun Sampler Guild from June 16-20, for children ages 8-18. The 30-student session teaches students stitching techniques and the process for making samplers.

"The members of the Sampler Guild want to pass down the folk tradition to future generations," Summers said.

* A Civil War Camp from July 14-18, for children ages 8-13. The 40-student session provides lessons on the history of the war and the cavalry, infantry and artillery used, along with living history lessons on marching techniques.

* A Colonial Camp from Aug. 11-15, for children ages 7-12. The 40-student session gives a view of life in Colonial Virginia from the Native American period to the end of the Revolutionary War.

The Civil War and Colonial camps are held outdoors and include speaker presentations, reenactments and craft activities.

"We can do more creative teaching," Summers said. "We get a chance to try out new programs, crafts and games, and skits, some of which we end up using in our trunk programs."

The camps spark students’ interest in history, Summers said. "With a lot of children, they think history is in books or something that happened a long time ago. When they experience or live history, they feel like they were actually there," he said, adding that as the children run about and play during the camps, they are learning history. "They learn something they would be learning in school but have fun while they’re learning."

SUMMERS CREATES some of the lessons by thinking of history games he used to play as a child. A native of Petersburg in the historical Richmond area, he used to search for Civil War bullets and play Civil War games in the backyard wearing hats and using toy muskets that represented the time period. "I would drag my parents to museums. It wasn’t the other way around," he said. "When I was a kid, my dad was on a history kick. I never stopped. I’ve always liked it."

Summers keeps a picture of himself as a fifth grader on his desk to remind himself of what being a kid was like, said Mary Beth Mohr, executive director of the museum. "He’s incredibly knowledgeable. He’s energetic. He’s more energetic when he’s teaching than when he’s doing anything else, and he has a genuine interest in both his students and his topic," she said.

Summers teaches history to children at their level and provides hands-on activities. He believes that when he teaches, the most important question to answer is why, a question children tend to ask, he said. "If you tell them something happens, they’ll want to know why it happened. They force you to be better at your job. They ask the hard questions. … If you’re boring them, they’ll let you know."

If Summers cannot answer the question why, he said he is not doing his job. "History helps you understand your own time period," he said. "That’s what we want to teach children. That’s why history is so important. … It makes the news of the day make sense."

Summers received his bachelor’s degree in history in 2000 from the University of Mississippi. He worked at Valentine Museum in Richmond as an intern before he was hired at the Loudoun Museum in May 2001.