Kids Can Explore 18th Century at Claude Moore Colonial Farm

By Christina Barron
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

The Washington area is steeped in Colonial history, but oftentimes it's a look-but-don't-touch experience. This weekend kids can engage all the senses in exploring the 18th century as Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean hosts a market fair.

On Saturday and Sunday, a clearing in the woods will be transformed into a spot to watch a blacksmith at work, make a cornhusk doll, smell chicken roasting on a spit, sample ginger beer or listen to bits of "modern drama" -- from 1771, that is. Costumed men, women and children will re-create a gathering where families could trade their wares and stories and celebrate the end of the harvest.

"This is a way kids can be inspired by history," said Katherine Rogers, a longtime market fair volunteer who used to work at Claude Moore Farm. "You have all these opportunities to teach and instruct in a beautiful environment. . . . And because it's such a safe environment, parents can let their kids run around."

That running around includes high-energy activities such as sack races, rope swinging and bobbing for apples. Those who enjoy crafts can paint a fan or make a potpourri sachet.

Mary Chaffe Brooks, a volunteer who often works the toy stand, said even the simplest activities fascinate young visitors.

"It's amazing how much the 21st-century children love the tops," she said.

Brooks, whose daughter Nancy, 11, also volunteers at the fair, said watching the artisans work is one of the highlights.

"My daughter likes the potter. He's got a period-correct wheel . . . a wheel he's driving just with his foot," and he makes beautiful pieces, she said.

The entertainment includes puppet shows, fencing demonstrations, a wandering gypsy, theater scenes, a slack-rope walker and a "rare show," which Claude Moore site supervisor Katie Cannon described as "a cross between a museum exhibit and a circus sideshow." Food for sale includes the roasted chicken, sausages, bread and cookies, or biscuits, popular at the time.

Visitors can also wander around the farm, which is set in 1771. The simple farmhouse, where volunteers portray a family of tenant farmers, is unlike other area Colonial attractions.

"This is how most people lived. Most people didn't live in a house like Mount Vernon," Brooks said. "For adults, I think it's an eye-opener."

If one weekend of experiencing 18th-century life isn't enough, children ages 10 to 17 can apply for the farm's apprentice program and become a member of the family for a day or two each month. Rogers's daughter and son completed the program, which includes doing farm chores and learning such skills as making candles and spinning wool. Daughter Laura, now 23, runs the stillatory stand (which sells soaps, lotions and scents) at the fair.

"We give them a lot of responsibility," Katherine Rogers said of the young volunteers. "This is a place where kids can go way beyond what they expect."

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