Inside JCPRD: Kids become junior curators at the Johnson County Museum’s History Geek Camp

Campers meet with Curator of Collections Anne Jones and Collections Manager Liz Lumpkins. During their tour of collections storage, the campers had an opportunity to view photographs retrieved from the 1952 Johnson County Courthouse Time Capsule. These photos depict the official time capsule placement ceremony held May 7, 1951.

By Curator of Education Leah Palmer

The Johnson County Museum just wrapped its fourth summer camp season. For a museum that just celebrated its 55th anniversary, that makes this a relatively new program.

When the museum moved into the newly-renovated Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center in 2017, the new space allowed for new opportunities, like camps, that were not possible at the old location in Shawnee. Over the past four years, even in the midst of a pandemic, the museum’s summer camp program has seen tremendous growth and that has allowed the education staff there to create some truly unique opportunities for kids. As the museum’s curator of education, I get to see the magic that happens in these camps every day; I wanted to share some highlights from our camp season with you.

What is History Geek Camp?

One of the most fun things we do during the summer is our History Geek Camp. The name says it all; it is for kids who love history, museums, and learning new things. Over the course of one week, kids ages 13-16 learn about everything that goes into running a museum – they meet with curators, tour collection storage, and even visit our off-site storage facility where we keep all the big stuff few people get to see.

But what is really cool about this camp is that at the end, the kids fully produce a museum exhibit. They select topics within the year’s theme, conduct research, choose artifacts and images, plan their display cases, write labels, and even select design themes. If that seems like a lot for one week, it is! But these kids were up for the task. Zoey K. (of Prairie Village), who is participating in the camp for a third year, said “I love learning about Johnson County history and getting the opportunity to make our own exhibit. It’s really fun.”

Although we have held History Geek camp for four years now, we continue to add new things each year. This is due in part to the passion of our education staff, and in part because of how awesome these kids are. “I love being able to provide opportunities for historians-in-the-making to engage with us and learn about history in a real-world setting within their community,” said Museum Educator Jessica Doyle. Each year we ask ourselves, what are we doing to facilitate this, and what might we be able to have them help with instead? For example, this year the museum director had them write the press release about their exhibit. And they did a fantastic job!

Museum Educator Madeline Thompson assists two campers as they place artifacts and photographs in an exhibit case. The bag belonged to Dr. Adelbert Reece, who built the first hospital in Johnson County in Gardner in 1934.

In previous years, the theme of the exhibit has been “Made in Johnson County.” For this year, we challenged ourselves, and the campers, with a new topic – “JoCo Change Makers.” Johnson County history is filled with people who worked to make our community a better place. What better way to get kids inspired than to let them tell those stories? This theme fit in perfectly with our current temporary exhibit REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation and allowed the campers to add to that story with first-hand accounts of people in our community.

The final exhibit covers three subtopics: housing, education, and health. For each of these, two individuals were profiled. The exhibit is on display right outside the iconic All-Electric House until late November. When asked what they hope the public takes away from their exhibit, camper Angel M. (of Lenexa) said, “I hope people can learn more about the amazing people that have helped shape our community.” Camper Miles B. (of Olathe) added, “These people helped make this community into what it is today.”

So come by, check it out, and learn from some young change makers from right here in Johnson County.

What other camps are offered at the museum?

In addition to History Geek Camp, the museum hosted an additional two types of camps serving two different age groups. Our ever-popular KidScape Summer Adventures Camp for kids 6-8 explores a different theme each week. We use the museum galleries, including KidScape – our interactive children’s exhibit – to explore everything from agriculture and transportation to the 1950s. And during our Museum Explorers camp, kids 9-12 take a deeper dive into all things made in Johnson County. Camps explore the galleries to learn about the inventions and innovations throughout the county’s past before taking on the role of junior inventor.

Keep an eye out for these camps and more next summer! Registration opens as early as late January 2023. Don’t want to wait until next summer to get your kids involved at the museum? Check out our out-of-school program, Kids’ Day Out, and other great programs on our website. Museum | Johnson County Park & Rec, KS (jcprd.com)

Special thanks to our History Geek campers: Olivia B., Bonner Springs; Miles B., Olathe; Zoey K., Prairie Village; Angel M., Lenexa; Griffin M., Shawnee; Elissa N., Shawnee; and Will R., Lenexa.