Last week my kids experienced the most amazing camp ever. It was Epic Patriot Camp, sponsored by the National Park Service, held at the Abingdon Muster Grounds, and taught, in part, by the wonderful author Jenny L. Cote.
For six hours each day, the lived the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain. Over the course of the week, they were given a real person who participated in some way at the Battle. They researched this person and wrote his/her story – while wearing period clothing and receiving technical writing lessons from Cote herself.
It wasn’t just costumes and quills, though – the National Park Service went all out. The week was full of hands-on lessons about colonial life. The kids did weapons drills with wooden muskets and watched a reenactor shoot a real one, and then they made musket balls and powder cartridges. They hiked around the Grounds and examined the native plants, learning about herbal remedies and properties of many of them. They learned how to write with a quill pen and ink and used wax and seals to mark their journals. Each day, they continued to research their historical people, add to their stories, and conference with Cote herself.
The final day was huge, though. The campers stayed the night at the grounds and slept in colonial-style canvas tents! They helped to cook their dinner over the campfire, washed dishes, played graces, and spent time around the fire. The Little Man in the picture above? The picture doesn’t do him justice. He was incredibly mud-spattered and stinky when I picked him up – but he couldn’t stop smiling.
The next morning we were treated to a special tea and ceremony. The kids had the chance to show off what they had learned by sharing parts of their stories.
They also performed a reenactment of the Battle of King’s Mountain for us. They really got into it!
I was impressed each day with the tight, well-planned lessons planned by Cote and the leaders from the NPS. I loved the hands-on activities and the enthusiasm which I saw pouring out of my kids – but there was one aspect I didn’t expect: homework.
As homeschoolers, we don’t encounter homework very often. We’re typically done with our schoolwork long before dinnertime – and so we had planned some fun outings for our evenings away.
Those didn’t go quite as expected, partly because there was homework. Extra credit assignments, really, that weren’t required, but the kids were adamant that they do them. They wanted to know more than what they were learning at camp. They wanted to do their very best for Jenny L. Cote – and they wanted to win her prize.
The kids excitedly shared after their first day at camp that Cote would be watching for the most epic story to be written that week and that the writer of that very story would make an appearance as an animal character in her next book.
As big fans of Cote’s work, that’s all it took: we adjusted our evening outings to accommodate (several hours of) extra credit work each night. As crazy as it sounds – because who gets excited about homework in the summertime? – the kids couldn’t wait to settle in at the kitchen table and get started each night.
At the final tea, however, we all found ourselves nervous. There were 18 campers in attendance and many were older than my kids. Knowing how badly they wanted to win, I was crossing my fingers for them both, but realistically speaking, I knew that the camp was full of smart, talented writers.
The campers turned out to be so smart and talented that Cote created many more awards than just her original one. I loved hearing the descriptions of what the campers had done throughout the week to earn these honors.
In the end, however, Cote announced that My Big Helper had won the chance to be an animal in her next book – and we were so shocked that neither of us were certain whose name she called! (Turns out we each asked other people when the ceremony was over.)
My Big Helper is looking forward to that future day when she’s found in the pages of a Cote book, but she didn’t learn only about writing. Writing was a big part of it – she came home with pages of notes and techniques, her mind full of stories and examples Cote told during the lessons.
Both kids came home with so much more, though. They’re more confident writers. They’re more enthusiastic about writing than ever before, but they’ve also fallen deeper in love with history. They’re able to put themselves into the story and see the events from multiple perspectives. They’re able to see each scene with all their senses, describing in detail how it might smell and feel and taste to be there. They’re full of stories of Patriots and Loyalists of whom I had never heard and know how they’re interconnected. They know how they changed history and know how to do the research to find out more. Better yet, they know how to analyze it to see what it all means. They even met other kids from Tennessee, New Jersey, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Missouri – because that’s how far other people traveled to attend.
When I discovered this camp on Cote’s website, I never imagined anything this amazing – and that’s saying something; I know I’m a pretty tough critic of lesson plans and teaching. I expected some writing excitement and fun history projects, but Epic Patriot Camp truly lived up to its name. With tight lessons, generous supplies, kind and enthusiastic teachers, and the encouragement to take their projects as far and as hard as they wanted, Epic Patriot Camp is the best experience we’ve had in years.
The NPS’s Camp Leader, Katherine Lynne, is sure that Epic Patriot Camp will return next year, possibly to some new locations. I’d encourage you to watch for the announcement that registration is open and to sign your kids up if it’s at all possible for you to get there. It’s well worth the effort.
*I shared only pictures that I personally took, but there are many more fabulous pictures available on Jenny L. Cote’s Facebook page. Scroll down to find her Epic Patriot Camp 2016 posts and check them out.