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Museum takes campers through the battlefields of history

National Museum of the Marine Corps camp covers Marine Corps and American history

August 27, 2013

Joanna Newcome, Intern National Museum of the Marine Corps

TRIANGLE, Va. - Decked out in dress covers and tall with pride, a group of young “recruits” lined up for graduation at the National Museum of the Marine Corps this summer. However, after completing exercises in tactics like foam sword drills and bouncy ball trench warfare, these little Marines experienced a more historical and fun glimpse of training than grown up Marines endure at Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps held its second annual Semper Fun History Camp the second and last weeks of July.  The two sessions for children ages 7-10 covered over 200 years of Marine Corps and United States history. Following the timeline of the Museum’s galleries, each day focused on a different era from the Revolutionary War to the modern Marine Corps.

“When planning the camp we wanted to utilize the Museum,” said Education Chief Marti Vose. “It’s a way for us to be able to teach the history a little more in depth.”

Semper Fun History Camp sticks true to its name with a variety of activities that incorporate the skills, traditions and history of the Corps. Campers begin each day with an opportunity to try on different era uniforms from the “Teaching Trunk.”

“The trunk gives us a way of showing the kids the evolution of Marine Corps uniforms,” said Education Specialist David Fair. “It’s every kid’s dream to play a Marine. I know it was mine when I was a kid.”

Holding a summer camp was always a goal for the young Museum since opening in 2006. The planning effort went through many changes before the program’s startup in 2012. The brainstorming process combined old and new ideas, pulling from past family events and intern contributions.

Education intern Jessica Eustace was able to incorporate projects she created while studying historic preservation and museum studies at Mary Washington University. Her original battlefield surgeon kit is a hands-on craft that allows campers to assemble their own set of Civil War era surgical tools.

“Making sure the campers understand the concept in a kid friendly, enjoyable way is always what is most important,” said Eustace. “I love seeing the kids’ interactions. They always seem so enthralled by what they are learning.”

Trench warfare was one of the more challenging concepts Museum staff had to cover in a fashion suitable for elementary students. Barbed wire and shell fire are far from comfortable elements on the battlefield. However, bouncy ball “grenades,” trench walls made from flipped tables and a camouflage tarp-covered “no man’s land” transformed the Museum classroom into what many campers see as the most exciting part of camp. Campers eagerly competed to see who could hit the blind target in the “German” trenches.

Each day at Semper Fun History Camp ends with an activity derived from Vose’s days as a high school fencer. Museum staff drilled campers in commands while they remained in formation with foam swords. Parents watched at the closing ceremonies as their children stood at parade rest with their heads held high like true Marines.

“Our program covers a combination of traditional Marine Corps practices with some fun stuff thrown in for the campers,” said Vose.

Word spread quickly over the Museum website and Facebook page about the free program. When registration opened up at midnight on March 18, all thirty spots were filled by 10:00 am the next day. This year’s group included a few returning campers. Kimberly Turner, mother of returning camper Camryn and first timer Collin, signed her children up due to the camp’s tie to school curriculums.

“The camp is a great reinforcement of what they learned in school,” said Turner. “Being here in the Museum is wonderful. They get to see the artifacts that actually make the history real to them. They’re really learning in an interactive way that is right up their alley!”

Vose admits that some campers come in with a timid attitude thinking a history camp may be boring. “We have the kids with historic interests and then we have those that come in with the worry that the week will be boring, but they soon realize it’s not as they stay busy and active,” said Vose.

Camryn Turner will age out of the camp this year, but says she has particularly enjoyed learning about World War II during her two summers at Semper Fun History Camp.

“I would tell everyone to go to the camp every year until you get too old because it is awesome!” she said.

The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation. Your charitable donations to the MCHF are tax deductible as allowed by law.
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