I referenced a few months ago that my kids and I volunteered this summer at a local State Park, called This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.
Part of the park consists of a historically re-created village called, Deseret Village, similar in concept to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Williamsburg in Virginia, only this village is a recreated mid-19th-century western frontier pioneer setting. (Think Little House on the Prairie era.) The buildings consist of both re-created and original structures built by early Mormon settlers in Utah that have been moved to the site.
We've visited the village in summers past and my kids have always loved it. Last year we visited our cousins volunteering there and this summer my children begged to do the same.
This volunteering including dressing up in period-style clothes and greeting visitors for 4 hours, once a week. I have to admit I wasn't as enthusiastic about the idea (hello, who's the one that needs to track down those pioneer clothes!) as they were, but figured I'd better run with it since A) volunteering somewhere worthwhile together is a good thing and B) there probably won't be many more summers where my kids ask to leave ipods, and computers, and the likes behind and dress like a pioneer.
Well, it turned out to be an awesome experience to do together. First and foremost (and kind of obvious) getting away from all those tech-y distractions. I feel like so often in the summer I'm saying, "Okay, turn off the screens and go play outside" ad nauseum. (To myself included.) Here, no screens and hence, no need to tell anyone to turn them off. Perfect.
One of the surprising things I loved about the experience is that it gave my kids a lot of autonomy. When my kids were little, I didn't like the idea of them roaming far from home alone. While that is totally reasonable for little kids, as they've grown bigger - esp my boys - I want to encourage them to do that more - go exploring with out me. I think that's something that's missing from many of our over-protected kids' lives - the freedom to roam. Sadly, since we don't live in Mayberry, it's hard to just turn them loose all day.
But while we were volunteering at Deseret Village I could do that! (It was even encouraged by the staff because the cute kids in their pioneer garb roaming through the village added the sweetest ambiance to the place.) It was so great to let my kids roam a fairly large area and do what they wanted to do - without me hovering over them. Above is the house we were 'stationed' at. I spent most of the time on that front porch and my kids would go visit the animals at the petting farm, or "pan for gold" in the mountain-man camp, or go buy sweets at the mercantile store. All by themselves. It was this great little taste of Mayberry. And it has made them more confident in their explorations without me. And it has helped me have the courage to let them do it. :)
And now a payoff for wading through all those words: Quilts! I have some good ones to share. Also housed at the park is a museum of the Utah Quilt Guild with a wonderful library of antique quilts.
Coincidentally, to enhance my pioneer experience this summer, I also got to pull a handcart on a 20 mile, 3-day "trek" through some dusty wilderness, re-enacting the 19th-century Mormon pioneer migration across the plains with a bunch of the greatest teenagers I'd ever met. This experience was to give these kids the opportunity to get away from electronic distractions, do something that pushed them out of their comfort zone a little, and give them an appreciation for sacrifices made for them by fore-bearers. And wow, those kids rose to the occasion.
The reason we went is that my husband and I were asked to be a "Ma and Pa" for a "family" or group of kids. Our oldest daughter participated as well. I'll be honest - it as hard. And we were nasty, sweaty, dirty by the end. But it was a great experience. I came away with a deepened appreciation for those who made sacrifices for their faith - my faith - from which I benefit every day.