Bringing Archives Sleepover Activities to the Classroom

This summer we welcomed children ages 8-12 and their accompanying adult to our History, Heroes, and Treasures sleepover at the National Archives in Washington, DC.  Our guests not only slept in the museum with our nation’s founding documents, but also took part in a range of fun and educational activities related to exploration.

One of our sleepover guests writing a letter to President Obama.

One of our sleepover guests writes a letter to President Obama.

While some elements of these activities are unique to the National Archives—such as the costumed interpreters and the activities facilitated by our special guests—many of the games can be adapted to the classroom setting.

One such activity is writing a letter to the President. This always-popular station at the sleepover is a personal favorite of Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, head of the National Archives. He wrote several letters to Presidents as a child—and we have the proof!

This is one of many letters Archivist of the United States David Ferriero wrote to the president as a boy. Letter from David Ferriero to President Eisenhower, 3/10/1960. From the Collection DDE-WHCF: White House Central Files (Eisenhower Administration).

This is one of many letters Archivist of the United States David Ferriero wrote to the President as a boy.
Letter from David Ferriero to President Eisenhower, 3/10/1960. From the Collection DDE-WHCF: White House Central Files (Eisenhower Administration).

Depending on the age of your students, writing to the President can lead to a discussion on important leadership qualities and issues, or current events topics that the students are passionate about.  It also encourages a conversation on civic responsibility and how citizens can be leaders.

To make the letter writing more exciting for young students, try using colorful stationary or have your students include a drawing.  Reminding students that the letters they write might end up in the National Archives helps too!

Another activity that our overnight guests participated in was “What do Explorers Eat?”  This game is paired with historical documents in the holdings of the National Archives to give players an understanding of the provisions explorers bring on their journeys.  We talked about: astronauts, underwater archaeologists, arctic explorers, and those on the famous Lewis and Clark mission.

Rotunda Sleepover

A sleepover guest and National Archives intern decide which explorer would pack these food items for their journey.

The goal of the activity is for participants to correctly identify each of the foods with the different exploration groups.  It is a good way to teach students about packaging and food storage in earlier time periods, and what life was like on these explorations. You can gather up foods that explorers would eat, or simply provide a list:

  • Astronauts in space need food that will not crumble and get into the air filtration system.  Their food is often in single serving vacuum sealed packets to help them keep track of what they consume.
  • Polar explorers need food that is fully cooked, and can be warmed over fire.  A tin of tea or canned vegetables are easy items to use.
  • Lewis and Clark expedition explorers needed food that would last when packaged in paper or jars.  Some examples are blocks of tea, beef jerky, and dried fruit.
  • Underwater archaeologist supplies would be the easiest to find, as what they eat can be prepared and eaten on board a ship—they aren’t eating underwater!  Try using boxes of cereal, juices, and snack crackers.
Underwater archaeologist Blair Atcheson onstage with costumed interpreters Meriwether Lewis and Sally Ride.

Underwater archaeologist Blair Atcheson onstage with costumed interpreters Meriwether Lewis and Sally Ride

Lastly, while schools can’t always hire interpreters or special guests to come to the classroom and talk about their expeditions, students can do their own interpreting by completing and presenting a final project on a famous explorer.  Students can choose which explorer or leader to research and at the end of their project, present their research to the class as the person they studied.

This activity can help students learn more about their explorer’s era in relation to clothes and language, and then on a more academic level, strengthen their researching skills, and provide a more comfortable and fun avenue of public speaking.

These activities from the National Archives sleepover are fun and engaging for adults and kids alike—and can be just as fun in the classroom!

Today’s post came from Alison Pigott and Holly Chisholm, who interned at the National Archives this summer.

History, Heroes & Treasures was made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the support of John Hancock Financial, Susan Gage Caterers, American Heritage™ Chocolate, and The Coca-Cola Company.

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2 Responses to Bringing Archives Sleepover Activities to the Classroom

  1. Yikwon Kim says:

    I believed this program would be a wonderful program to be explored among local level, perhaps, there are 13 presidential Libraries and Museums a cross our country can participate annually host the program and share their experiences can even make a better future to grow at NARA.

    One more thing, at NARA what professions are out there to make what NARA’s mission, Vision and Goals to reach to make NARA a better place to work for all participants when they grow up.

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    • Stephanie says:

      Thank you for your comment and idea. Our sleepovers have been a great success and we’re always looking for ways to reach history lovers of all ages!

      The National Archives employs a wide range of professionals — from archivists, to educators and public outreach specialists, to curators, writers, conservators and records managers. We also have intern and volunteer positions! You can learn more on our careers page at: http://www.archives.gov/careers

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