Children tackle different topics in history day camp
The Old Governor’s Mansion is once again filled with the patter of little feet.
From the time Gov. Huey Long built what has often been called Huey’s House in 1929 until the present Governor’s Mansion was opened in 1962, Long’s look-alike White House served nine first families with quite a few rambunctious children.
This month, children are back in the stately old building at a history day camp sponsored by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the mansion’s longtime occupant.
The campers are decorating binoculars in the East Room, hunting birds’ nests in the Rose Garden, drying their works of art on the side veranda and celebrating Louisiana in one of Baton Rouge’s most historic venues.
Amelia Gilmore, the foundation’s director of education, has developed a camp curriculum to help the children explore the wonders of the state.
“In the first session, we are emphasizing what we see in Louisiana and are going hands-on with it,” said Gilmore, who wants the children to appreciate the fine old building and other downtown historic sites.
The weeklong session began June 4 with a walking tour of downtown. The children, maps in hand, stopped at the Old State Capitol, the present State Capitol, the USS Kidd and the Louisiana Art & Science Museum. At each stop, they learned a little about the site. They also discussed the Mississippi River and the I-10 bridge.
Before and after the walking tour, the kids talked about such things associated with Louisiana as hurricanes and seafood. They made wind chimes with old keys and Louisiana-themed postcards that they mailed to their parents.
Tuesday was a study of the birds of Louisiana, beginning with a discussion of the brown pelican and other resident birds. Then it was out to the Rose Garden to view a bird’s nest in one of the garden’s old magnolia trees and to collect sticks and leaves for the campers to make their own.
When one camper asked if he could just take down the nest rather than create his own, Gilmore responded with a quick but pleasant, “No!”
Gilmore and her assistant, Libby Landry, a recent LSU graduate, handed each camper a ball of clay to make the foundation for his or her nest, and the campers then stuck sticks and leaves into the clay for a pretty good copy of the real thing. These were left to dry on the veranda off the East Room, and, by day’s end, were ready for the children to take home.
The next activity was to decorate small binoculars using crayons, jewels and animal cutouts. Gilmore was not surprised that the boys colored their binoculars a la camouflage, and the girls decorated theirs with diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
With the binoculars completed, the children were ready for a bird-watching excursion through Beauregard Town, then back to the mansion for lunch and an afternoon activity of making birdhouses.
On Wednesday, the children studied the Mississippi River, a few short blocks from the Old Governor’s Mansion. They learned about erosion and how man has worked with the river for thousands of years. They later built a truss bridge out of toothpicks and gumdrops and a suspension bridge from ropes and chairs.
Thursday was a study of the plants and animals of Louisiana from crocodiles to crawfish. Activities included planting an herb garden.
And on Friday, the campers learned a little about the history of the Old State Capitol and the present State Capitol. In the morning, they made stained glass to copy the ceiling of the old building, and, in the afternoon, they made their own little capitols with marshmallows and dried pasta.
Between the planned activities, Gilmore allowed the children to have playtime with plenty of Legos, coloring projects and other creative toys. They had provided snacks and sack lunches they brought from home. At rest time, they watched movies.
The children seemed to enjoy every minute of the camp experience.
Noelle Braud, 8, loved making her birds’ nest. She said she watches animal shows and sees lots of “actual real birds’ nests.”
However, Ashley Lang, 6, needed some encouragement about her nest, which another camper called “girly.”
The foundation started the camp this year to attract a younger crowd to the Old Governor’s Mansion. “Most of the mansion tours are intended for an older group,” Gilmore said. The camp is designed for children 6 to 10.
And it is not a fundraiser. The registration fee covers camp expenses.