Living like a pioneer

At day camps in forts, fur posts and frontier homesteads, kids go back in time.

Girls dress as Laura at Old World Wisconsin.
Girls dress like Laura at Old World Wisconsin.

It's the 21st century, but children still want to spend a day in Laura's world on the frontier-or Huck's world on the Mississippi, or Davy's in the woods.

Laura and Huck didn't have iPods or Xboxes, but they had adventure. In their worlds, people had to live by their wits, unaided by technology, and make what they needed with their own hands.

It's so romantic-and we're not talking Bella and Edward. If only these kids could go back in time to see what it was like . . . and as it turns out, they can.

Sometimes, the whole family can go along, staying in a tipi or covered wagon during a frontier festival, camping at a fur post during Rendezvous or dressing up like Ma and Pa.

Living like Laura

Not far from Milwaukee, Old World Wisconsin in Eagle offers "Little House Adventures" day camps for kids who wonder what life was like for Laura.

The open-air museum, made up of reconstructed frontier buildings brought from all over Wisconsin, offers one-day camps for children in third or fourth grade and for children in fifth through seven grades.

Participants will churn butter, jump in the hay, sew a quilt square, make rope and dress like Laura.

In Green Bay, Heritage Hill State Historical Park holds a one-day Life of Laura day camp, with such activities as making bullets, woodworking, stuffing mattresses, baking Jonny-cakes and rug braiding.

Interpreters at Historic Forestville.
Guests get home-baked cookies at Historic Forestville in southeast Minnesota.

At The Landing heritage park on the Minnesota River, in the southwest Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, older kids can learn to work the farm, cook on a wood-burning stove and take a test to become a teacher during the three-day Advanced Little House on the River Camp for ages 10 to 15.

At Bryant Lake Regional Park in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, children ages 6-9 can go to the three-day Laura's Adventures camp.

For more about Laura sites, see Laura Ingalls Wilder stories.

Life on the frontier

In the Twin Cities, Historic Fort Snelling offers four-day Back to the Past day camps, where campers can learn what Minnesota children's lives were like during different historical periods. They're for ages 7-11.

At the weeklong Time Travelers camp in Baker Park Reserve in the Minneapolis suburb of Maple Plain, youths ages 12-15 stay in a log cabin and experience a different historical era each day.

At The Landing heritage park in the southwest Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, children can attend a one-room schoolhouse like Becky, whitewash a fence like Tom and explore the banks of the Minnesota River like Huck during the three-day Adventures of Tom Sawyer camp for ages 6 to 12.

Old World Wisconsin offers one-day Time Travel Adventures during which children experience life in the 1840-1910 time frame. They're for grades 1-3, 3-5 and 6-8.

In Greenbush, near Sheboygan in eastern Wisconsin, the Wade House offers five-day Pioneer Camps for children ages 8-13.

They'll learn blacksmithing, woodworking, candle-making and other arts practiced by Wisconsin's early pioneers.

Joining the fur trade

In Thunder Bay, Fort William Historical Park, the largest re-created fur post in North America, has several programs for youths.

At the four- or five-day Voyageur Discovery Camps, youths ages 7-9 paddle a voyageur canoe, explore the forest and learn about Ojibwe culture.

A young Civil War reenactor.
A young soldier waits for battle at a Civil War reenactment.

At the 10-day Youth Interpreter Program, youths ages 13-15 develop historical characters, practice their speaking and performance skills and then get into costume and interact with visitors from all around the globe.

Fort William also offers camping from late May to late September, so families can immerse themselves in the fur trade any time.

For more, see Scenes from the fur trade and Exploring Thunder Bay.

Life during the Civil War

Old World Wisconsin has one-day Civil War Camps for children in fifth through seventh grade.

At The Landing heritage park in the southwest Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, kids can fight in a simulated skirmish, march, go to school and work on the farm during the three-day Civil War Camp for ages 10 to 15.

The Wade House offers five-day Civil War Day Camps for children ages 8-13. Kids will explore life as a soldier and also on the homestead, learning to march, set up camp and cook over an open fire.

For more about the Civil War at the Wade House, see Blasts from the past.

Many historic sites are hosting special events to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and many include activities for children and families.

For more, see Still fighting the Civil War.

Last updated on February 10, 2022

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