Children participating in Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation’s day camps in Laurel won’t have to go far to see photographs and artifacts, thanks to a traveling Laurel Museum exhibition.
“Our real goal is that they will come away with some piece of Laurel history in their minds,” said Lindsay Baker, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society. “We’re trying to reach everyone in the community, and this is one way for us to do so.”
Carla Benavides, a Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation specialist for the northern part of the county, said the county tries to get different guest presenters for each week of its six-week playground camp sites, which run Monday through Friday from June 24 to Aug. 2.
“We definitely jumped at the chance of having them visit,” Benavides said. “We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about the program.”
A trial exhibit was held last year with visits at a few locations, but this year, it kicked off July 15 with a tour of seven playground camps in and around Laurel. It began at James Harrison Elementary School in Laurel, then visited Calverton Elementary in Beltsville on July 16 and Montpelier Elementary in Laurel on July 18.
Baker told campers ranging in age from five to 12 that 150 years ago, children their age could not have enjoyed their summers at camp and instead would have been working in the mill for 11 hours.
Gabrielle Aiyegbusi, 8, of Bowie who attended the Montpelier playground camp, said she enjoyed the visit and is glad she’s not living in the 19th century, when children her age and younger often worked dangerous jobs for as little as 4 cents an hour.
“If I had to work back then, I’d get paid less, and I would want to get paid more than the adults,” said Gabrielle, a third-grader at Heather Hills Elementary in Bowie.
Baker, assisted by LHS board member Abram Fox and museum docent Amy Junewick, shared a trunk filled with photos and artifacts from 1863, including a candle maker, a chamber pot, a fire bucket and several photos from the Laurel cotton mill factory.
Fox said the program isn’t so much about teaching history, but letting children discover it for themselves.
“Hopefully, it will give them something to do that empowers them — giving them pictures and having them come up with interesting facts about those pictures,” Fox said. “They’re the ones doing the action, rather than having us tell them what’s going on.”
Benavides said she hopes the traveling museum tour can be expanded to more playground camps.
“A program like this, that’s educational and gets the kids involved, it’s great,” said Benavides. “We’d love to have it visit more of our playground camps.”
Eche Nwadiaro, 11, a sixth-grader from Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel, said he enjoyed learning about the past, but is glad he doesn’t have to live it.
“I would not want to endanger my life working when I wouldn’t get paid enough.”
The program concludes with a visit to the day camp at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School of Beltsville on July 31.