History camp comes in many shapes and sizes
FAIRFIELD — Summer camp may mean toasted marshmallows and bug bites to many, but to the campers at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, camp means traveling to distant lands, sewing quilts, making ice cream, and museum field work.
The museum’s camp programs for children from 4 to 16 ranging from “Colonial Life Camp,” to “Art Around the World,” to a leadership camp for teens, have been so successful for so many years that next summer the museum plans to expand the program to include a summer children’s museum on the Town Green, according to Christine Jewell, director of education and community programs for the museum.
“We offer unique programs that tap into children’s special interests,” she said. “They definitely come away with new skills and friendships.”
One camper earnestly used a cotton swab to paint a dot design on construction paper during a recent session of “Art Around the World” for 4, 5, and 6-year-olds. “It’s an aboriginal dot painting from Australia,” Soren Honarvar explained. “There are a lot of boys in Australia and they make these paintings,” he said.
Art Around the World camp leaders Annie Isler and Karen Cusanelli, both pre-school teachers during the school year, start each week of camp “traveling” with their campers to a different part of the U.S., then explore the art, language and music of other countries as the week progresses. They visit places where a children’s illustrator might have lived, or a special kind of food is made. “We bring the world to their level to make it easier to relate to each other and to the whole world,” Isler explained.
“It’s our tiny way of creating peace in the world,” Cusanelli said.
Jewell leads one of the camps herself, “History by Hand,” where campers learn the sometimes forgotten art of sewing. The children ages 8 to 12 sew a variety of pieces including four-patch quilts both hand stitched and sewn on sewing machines, and they access the museum’s quilt collection to see how their forbearers quilted. A third-generation seamstress herself, Jewell said she enjoys passing on her family’s prized sewing skills to another generation.
One of the longest running and most popular camps offered by the museum is “Colonial Life Camp,” held in the town’s historic 1750 Ogden House, 1520 Bronson Road, and also in historical buildings on the Town Green. Bee-keeping, herb growing in the Ogden House’s colonial kitchen garden, and making butter and ice cream are all explored in the week-long camp. The colonial camp runs this year through Aug. 26.
The newest addition to the museum’s camp program is for 13-16-year-olds who want to learn about working in a museum. Called “History Makers Leadership Camp,” the camp, held this year in July, gave teens a behind-the-scenes look at museum research, curating, and field work.
“Every summer we get calls from parents and teens looking for opportunities,” for that age group, Jewell said. “There’s also a huge demand for kids who want to volunteer.” The teens in the camp program this summer helped research the Rising Tides exhibition exploring the past and future of Fairfield’s coast, opening Sept. 29 at the museum. The museum also has an internship program for college students, Jewell said.
From a parent’s point of view, the history camps provide both summer fun and a learning experience for their children, according to Courtney DeRisio of Fairfield, who was sitting in the museum lobby waiting for her daughter, Stella, 6, to finish her camp day.
“They do wonderful projects that have an ethnic and global bent to them,” she said. “These are the best weeks of the summer.”
Ogden House Colonial Camp runs through Aug. 26. The exhibition “Rising Tides,” exploring the Fairfield Coast and the impact of rising sea levels, opens Sept. 29. For more information on Fairfield Museum and History Center programs, visit fairfieldhistory.org or call 259-1598.