"How did you children get here this morning?" asks the storyteller at Colvin Run Mill of a group of 15 four- to six-year- olds. "Did you come by car, bus or truck?"
"I came by a green Datsun," answers Alan Grimes, five, of McLean.
The storyteller takes this in stride and proceeds to describe a remarkably similar little boy named Willie whose mode of transportation was a wagon and a horse. Willie, in this 19th-century story, takes a trip to a blacksmith shop and receives a gift of a hammered horseshoe nail for accomplishing that most difficult task -- sitting still.
It's a task many of the children present find impossible to perform, so the wigglers are trooped outdoors to visit the park's blacksmith corner where they're allowed to touch both horseshoe and nail. They also visit the park's 19th-century mill, where puppets popping out of boxes, grindstones and doorways explain what life was like during its heyday.
This summer, several such tours will be held, transporting area children into the 19th-century world of Colvin Run Mill and the Clara Barton House, or the 18th-century days of Sully Plantation and Alexandria.
Most of these programs are now booked, but park officials say that they'll run them again if there's enough public interest. So if you hit the phones now, by the end of the summer your children could have a feel for the games, crafts and chores of their peers in earlier centuries.
Chores are the focus at Colvin Run Mill, where seven- to 12-year-olds will learn what it was like to be a miller's apprentice. "They'll sharpen the stone, weigh the grain and thresh and clean the wheat," says a mill spokeswoman.
Wait a minute -- does she really think that the average school-age child, the one who won't clean his room, is going to clean wheat? Just how is she going to get these kids to work? "Well, it's a game here -- not something they'd usually do at home." Long pause. "And we'll play real games -- blindman's bluff, hoops, things like that."
Hoops are also featured at a program at Sully Plantation called "Become an 18th- Century Child." For four hours, children 10 to 12 will learn quilling (a paper craft), stenciling, 18th-century songs accompanied by an autoharp player, and "Prisoner's Base," a line game similar to "Red Rover." Then they'll cook dessert in the yard kitchen and picnic in the plantation's spacious grounds.
These newly taught 18th-century experts will fit in well at "Tavern Days" held at Gadsby's Tavern in August, where "life in an 18th-century tavern" will be recreated with food and drink, demonstrations, music and special activities for children.
The program promises such activities as making a tavern sign, handling 18th-century artifacts, bed-roping and Twitchell-drinking (a molasses-based drink that must be an acquired taste).
For those whose tastes run more toward arts and crafts, the Clara Barton house next to Glen Echo is planning a Victorian crafts program in August for eight- to 12-year- olds.
But more than arts and crafts transcend the generations of childhood: James Sittig, five, of Leesburg, who came to Colvin Run Mill to study early 19th-century life along with the other kids. His examination was a little closer than most, for toward the end of the puppet show he tugged on the sleeve of guide Evelyn Williams and pointed solemnly to his shoeless foot.
The missing item turned up in the mill mechanism, and James, with an animal cracker in one hand and a paper-cutout wagon in the other, left with the memory of an incident that surely must have happened to a number of 19th-century children. CHILDHOOD PAST TIMES ONCE UPON A TIME -- A program for four- to six- year-olds using puppets, stories and crafts; may be repeated in August at Colvin Run Mill in Fairfax. 759-2771. CHILDREN'S CHORES -- Seven- to 12-year-olds pretend to be miller's apprentices; may be repeated in August. Colvin Run Mill. 759-2771. BECOME AN 18TH-CENTURY CHILD -- Designed for 10- to 12-year-olds, the four-hour program includes cooking, stenciling, quilling, singing and games. The August 10 program at Sully Plantation is already filled; it may run again, depending on response. 437- 1794. TAVERN DAYS -- Make a tavern sign, listen to 18th- century travel accounts or handle 18th-century artifacts at Gadsby's Tavern, Old Town, August 12 and 13, 10 to 5. For ages five and up; adults $2, children $1. VICTORIAN CRAFTS -- Will be made by eight- to 12- year-olds at the Clara Barton House next to Glen Echo on August 21 from 2 to 3. Call 492-6243 to register. ROSE HILL CHILDREN'S MUSEUM -- A late 18th- century mansion includes several hands-on exhibits -- looms, antique toys, spinning wheels. The mansion is north of Frederick and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 to 4 and Sunday, 1 to 4. Adults are $1, under 17, free. 301/663-8703. WOODLAWN PLANTATION -- An early 19th-century house down the road from Mount Vernon has a room of children's toys -- a dollhouse, rocking horse, dancing dolls and wooden toys -- available for youngsters to play with. Adults, $3, children, $1.50. Open daily 9:30 to 4. 557-7881.