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Living history during summer camp at Carroll County Farm Museum

By Katie V. Jones, katievjones@aim.com

4:30 PM EDT, July 15, 2013

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In the one-room schoolhouse on the grounds of the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, there was only one thing that was to be explained, but not demonstrated.

"You can show it, but don't demonstrate it," Marian Witiak chuckled, nodding to the hickory stick mounted on the wall, as she checked on her volunteer teenage "teachers" before the next group of campers arrived.

Other than the ominous wooden exhibit off to the side, items at the museum's Summer Discovery camps are designed to provide young visitors with a glimpse of what daily life was like for children their age in the 1800s, according to Witiak, coordinator of the camps.

"They go fishing, dip candles, make a wood project," Witiak said, describing some of the activities planned for each week for students in grades three through five.

"Typically, there is four short sessions and two long sessions (a day)," she said of the schedule for third-graders (July 8-12), fourth-graders (July 15-19) and fifth-graders (July 22-26).

A tin pail filled with a small chalkboard, chalk and a bandanna marked the spot each camper was to sit in the classroom when they entered. Each item's purpose was explained — paper was scarce and the bandanna carried your lunch then was used to wipe your neck — before the young students were quizzed in math and spelling.

"We teach them how every grade was in the same classroom and basic math and spelling," said Evan Powell, 14, a volunteer "teacher". "They get to use a quill pen and ink. It's not easy."

Under a pavilion on the museum's grounds, another group of young campers was busy cleaning out gourds by scooping out the dried insides before painting them.

"I really like, it" said Eleanor Franzen, 8, of Westminster, as she worked on her gourd birdhouse. "Only it's hard to scrub it off."

Valerie Dunn is a loyal fan of the Summer Discovery camps. First as a camper for three years, then a youth volunteer, Dunn is now serving her second year as a group leader, responsible for taking a group of youngsters to the various stations and assisting them.

"The activities we do here are so different ... than other camps," said Dunn, a rising junior at Washington College. "Everything was so hard (in the 1800s), but (there was) beauty and the simplicity. I like the simplicity. You appreciate things more."

While the format of the camps remains basically the same each year, Witiak tries to rotate in new classes.

This year, the gourd making is back after a few years' absence. Weaving has returned, while spinning did not.

Some activities, such as candle dipping and fishing, are special to the museum, and are done every year.

"I liked the candles," said Hazel Helm, 8, of Catonsville, as she painted her wood quilt pattern. "It wasn't that hot."

On the last day of the five-day camp, participants and their families make lunch, squeezing lemons for lemonade to peeling apples for apple betty, Witiak said.

"They love it. They absolutely love it," Witiak said, of her campers, many of whom come back as volunteers and group leaders, as did Dunn and Stephanie Shipley, 14, a volunteer and former camper.

"Something about the camp seems very magical to me," Shipley said. "I love the kids and all the projects we do. The look on their faces when they catch their first fish or when they learn something new. I just love it."

The Farm Museum's Summer Discovery Camps are sponsored by Carroll County Recreation and Parks. There are still openings for both the fourth-grade camp this week and the fifth-grade camp next week. For information, call 410-386-3880.