- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, a stone’s throw from the White House, may not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re planning a children’s outing — but maybe it should be.

Within its massive marble walls is a wealth of child-friendly educational material: antique toys and exhibits of family life during Colonial times and later.

“I think children walk away understanding that life was very different then,” says Kelli Scott, curator of education at DAR Museum. “There was less time to play and more chores.”

DAR is a volunteer service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism and preserving American history for future generations.

Among the toys in the museum’s collection are antique dolls, a miniature iron cannon, horse-and-carriage models, small dollhouses, a hoop-and-stick game and miniature tea sets from the Colonial era and later.

Unlike today (when the emphasis on toys seems to be that they are fun) toys back then were supposed to teach something. Girls played with dolls and baby carriages to become good mothers, and boys played with horses and carriages to become better riders or farmers, Mrs. Scott says.

“Children were seen as miniature adults, and all of their toys were about making them better prepared for adulthood,” she says.

Toys also were much simpler, Mrs. Scott says. Dolls’ dresses often were made with leftover fabric, and dollhouses usually were small, consisting of only one room.

Only wealthy families could afford imported porcelain doll heads, to which the mother of the family would sew and connect a body made of fabric. Poorer families would make all-fabric dolls, she says.

The toy collection is on the museum’s third floor, which can be accessed only when visitors are accompanied by a docent or during special programs, such as the Colonial Adventure program.

Colonial Adventure, which is tailored to children ages 5 to 7, takes place at 1:30 p.m. every first and third Saturday of the month (September through May). Docent-led tours are available from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays.

During this program, children can play with reproduction toys such as a hoop and stick, miniature tea sets for make-believe tea parties, dolls and horse-drawn carriages. The children also get an opportunity to dress up in reproduction Colonial clothes such as aprons and mob caps for girls, and vests and tricornered hats for boys.

The DAR Museum also comprises dozens of period rooms. Mrs. Scott says children particularly like the Wisconsin room because it shows a mother and her three children (mannequins) in an everyday situation. A young child is holding onto her toddler sister by “leading strings” attached to the toddler’s dress.

The toddler is also wearing a “pudding cap,” a kind of padding in the shape of a wreath that was wrapped around the head of young children to ensure they didn’t hurt their heads badly if they fell, Mrs. Scott says. The baby in the room is swaddled, which was believed to keep the limbs straight, she says.

“This room is an example of how some families lived out of one room,” Mrs. Scott says. “When the furniture is pulled back away from the middle of the room and leaned against the walls, it’s referred to as the ‘room is at rest.’” Among the furniture are a spinning wheel, a cradle, a desk and chairs.

Another period room is called the Georgia Tavern. When docents show this room to children, they tell the children that it was common for husbands to own a business or property and for wives to run the business.

“In this case, a woman might have managed the tavern, while her husband owned it,” Mrs. Scott says.

The tavern back in Colonial times was not just a place to grab a bite to eat. It also was a place to learn the latest news, talk about politics, dance and listen to music.

“People would go to the tavern instead of reading a newspaper,” Mrs. Scott says. “It was a pretty lively, vibrant place to be.”

Another activity that’s typically family-friendly is the temporary exhibit on the first floor, which is always accompanied by a written family guide, she says. The guide explains the exhibit in simple terms and asks questions about artifacts.

The next exhibit will be “Something Old, Something New: The Lavish American Wedding.” It opens on April 16 and runs through Sept. 4. About two dozen wedding dresses from the 18th century to today will be on display, as well as grooms’ outfits, wedding presents and other elements of traditional weddings.

“It should be fun,” Mrs. Scott says. “It’s something I think both children and adults will enjoy.”

DAR activities:

• Family programs: DAR offers the hands-on Colonial Adventures program 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. the first and third Saturdays of each month September through May. (The next one is April 3.) The program, which is appropriate for children ages 5 through 7, gives children a chance to dress in reproduction Colonial clothing, play games and give make-believe tea parties.

The free program is booked through May, but cancellations occur, and there is a wait list for those interested. Organizers recommend that families book a spot in the early part of the 2004-2005 school year, as they sell out quickly.

The May Day Celebration (May 1) runs from 1 to 3 p.m. Children ages 6 to 10 can learn about the history of May Day, make a craft and dance around a maypole. Reservations are required. Fee: $5 per participant.

• Exhibits: “Something Old, Something New: The Lavish American Wedding” opens April 16 and runs through Sept. 4. This exhibit explores the evolution of the wedding and its traditions. Nearly two dozen wedding dresses from the 18th century to today are on display, as well as grooms’ outfits, wedding presents and other elements of traditional weddings. Information: 202/879-3240.

DAR summer camps:

• Sampler Camp, which runs June 21 through 25, is geared toward children ages 11 to 15. The 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. camp teaches needlework and sewing and provides an opportunity to make a sampler just as young girls did in the 18th century. Cross-stitch, backstitch, satin stitch and the French knot will be featured. Fee: $125 ($100 if paid by May 1) per participant.

• Colonial Camp, which runs July 26 through 30, is appropriate for children ages 8 to 12. They step back in time to experience life in the early days of this country’s history in this hands-on, interactive camp.

Participants will have a chance to wear historically accurate costumes, meet 18th-century characters brought to life by costumed interpreters, attend field trips, play Colonial games and learn period dances as well as prepare and serve 18th-century foods. Fee: $300 ($250 if paid by May 1) per participant.

• Quilt Camp, which runs Aug. 9 through 20, is intended for children ages 10 to 15. Create your own quilted wall-hanging. Campers will learn the entire process as they craft their project, including choosing fabrics, making templates, hand-appliqueing and hand-quilting.

Campers also will have a chance to learn more about other American folk art. Most of the quilts in the DAR collection are made by hand. Fee: $350 ($300 if paid by May 1) per participant. Basic sewing skills are recommended. Information: 202/879-3240.

Location: Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, 1776 D St. NW, Washington.

Directions: From Northern Virginia (and the Beltway), take Interstate 66 East. Take the Constitution Avenue exit. Turn left onto 18th Street. Turn right onto D Street. The museum will be on your right.

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Docent-led tours, which are required to see the antique toy area on the third floor, are available from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Admission: Free

Parking: Limited on-street parking, but the museum is accessible from the Farragut North stop on Metro’s Red Line or the Farragut West stop on Metro’s Orange and Blue lines. The walk from either station takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

Miscellaneous: For each of DAR’s exhibits, a two-page family guide is available that explains key points of the exhibit and asks questions tailored toward children. A new exhibit, “Something Old, Something New: Inventing the American Wedding,” opens April 16.

Information: Phone 202/628-1776 or visit www.dar.org.

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