|Learning about the soldiers that Clara Barton helped — Fredericksburg’s Junior Ranger Program|
|A few years ago, I was dusting off some old, moldy books from my childhood that have somehow made it through multiple rounds of yard and garage sales over the past 20 years. The Childcraft series of craft and story books (copyright 1949) was a focal point of my of my childhood reading adventures, along with the World Book encyclopedia set (copyright 1959, complete with references to the 48 States of America). Even though much of what I learned on my own through these books has become outdated or obsolete (like the capitals of countries that no longer exist, or the top ten manganese-producing states in the U.S.), I still had a yearning to share some of these books with my kids. Besides, it’d be a great trip down Memory Lane for me.
Tucked between pages 83 and 88 of Volume Six of the Childcraft series (ironically titled “Great Men and Famous Deeds”), was a story of a little girl that caught my attention as a potential bedtime story for my 4-year-old daughter. Sure, I had heard of Clara Barton before, but didn’t really know much about her at the time.
I read the story to my daughter one night before bed. In the span of six pages with a mere four illustrations, she became completely enthralled. While the story focused on Clara’s experience as a teacher who overcame her fears and shyness, and even though the rest of her life’s important work was summarized in one tiny closing paragraph, I knew I was on to something.
The next morning at breakfast our daughter was telling my wife all about Clara’s dealings with the troublemakers at her school, how she showed them she could play ball as well as any boy, and how she cared for those less fortunate than herself. Having scanned the national map of Park Service units numerous times in the past, I remembered that there was a Clara Barton National Historic Site, and luckily for us, it was less than an hour away near Washington, DC.
I went to the park website and found a number of ideas for taking advantage of my daughter’s newfound interest in Little Clara. One link took me to the website of a group called Adventure Theatre, which puts on a once-per-week play called Clara Barton – The Courage Within. The plays are held at Glen Echo Park — also an NPS unit and within walking distance of the Clara Barton home. To cap off a wonderful day, the play was followed by a 45-minute ranger-led tour of the Barton house, which also served as National Headquarters of the American Red Cross.
At the Barton House’s bookstore, we bought a children’s book on Clara that had more details about her entire life. My daughter has read the book many times. As I also learned more about Clara, I discovered even more learning opportunities for my daughter (and to be honest, for me as well). Fredericksburg and Antietam in 1862 and the Johnstown Flood of 1889 — all are National Park Service administered areas. At age five, my daughter earned Junior Ranger badges at all three parks. Facts about Clara were enthusiastically shared with every ranger and park visitor who would listen. The movie of the flood in Johnstown was a bit too intense for her age, but otherwise she had a grand time on our first annual Daddy-Daughter trip. We even dressed like 19th century travellers as we walked in the footsteps of Little Clara.
Now, I firmly believe that ROLE MODELS for our children can be an important aspect of the National Park experience. My son has spent time reading about the childhoods of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, and I know deep in my heart that follow-up visits to places like Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Kentucky, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in New York City, and George Washington’s Birthplace along the Potomac River have made all the difference in not only his education, but also his development as a well-grounded boy of 11 years.
These trips have made it possible for both my kids to see these American heroes as real people who started out as children not much different than themselves — with bedrooms and toys and friends and fears and joys and interests and parents and chores and pain and suffering, just like the rest of us. And best of all — most of these famous people were homeschooled!
Just about anywhere you live, there are convenient role models for your kids too… George Washington Carver, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Muir, Pocahontas, Dwight Eisenhower, and many others whose stories are brought to life in our National Parks and Historic Sites. Pick up a book at the library and start your adventure. Follow it up with a visit to a national park, state historic site, or local museum. Participate in the hands-on activities offered at the parks. Round off your visits with further reading, writing, art, or photography assignments.
Be sure you not only learn about WHAT these great people did, but spend some time talking with your kids about WHY as well. Ask them what they’d do in a similar situation. It may not be on any lesson plan, but for many of us, this is one of the underlying reasons we choose to homeschool. Whatever role models you discover from American history, get out there and take advantage of everything our parks have to offer!