National Treasure Summer Camp
[Today’s post, written by guest poster Michelle Habrych “National Treasure Summer Camp or Unit Study” is part of the Summer Camp Series.]
From Movie to “National Treasure Summer Camp”
Are your kids really into movies? There are some great movies which can be turned into learning experiences for kids of all ages. When my kids were younger, I used to run summer camps out of my yard for other homeschool families. The National Treasure Summer Camp is one of three movie camps I put together for them. (See Night at the Museum and Star Wars camps linked here as soon as they’re posted.) Happy learning!
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post.
National Treasure synopsis
In the movie National Treasure, Benjamin Franklin Gates (played by Nicholas Cage) hears a family legend about a treasure. It was passed down from generation to generation. He spends his adult life looking for it until he finally has a breakthrough and discovers this clue: “The legend writ. The stain affected. The key in Silence undetected Fifty-five in iron pen. Mr. Matlock can’t offend.” He realizes that this is referring to an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence!
While the treasure map is (likely) fiction, the movie and its sequel based on yet more historical clues, are filled with facts. My kids were obsessed with watching these adventures, so I capitalized on this interest and decided to make a camp to teach them the history behind the real people and events mentioned in the movies.
[From Gena: If a National Treasure summer camp doesn’t work for you, this post can also guide you into doing an amazing unit study with the movie!]
Treasure Hunting Handbook
A great way to keep track of what they learned was to combine lapbooking and notebooking. I gave each kid a 3-ring binder with a clear front and printed out a title page for each, with pictures or colors based on their preferences. The title was “___’s Treasure Hunting Handbook.”
At the front of the handbook, each treasure hunter had a map of the United States and a map of the world. This would help them to see the big picture of where events took place. I believe strongly in taking any chance to teach geography in context, so this was perfect!
As we explored, I had them mark where in the world or United States Ben and his partners were hunting. You can print out maps here.
Watch the movies
You will need to watch the movies National Treasure and National Treasure 2 to be familiar with the storyline before you teach. You may even want to watch with the kids before camp if they’re not as familiar with the story as my kids were (they could recite lines!). We watched the movies at the end of camp as a celebration.
We started our adventure by learning a bit about both movies. I printed out the movie posters and we glued them to blank matchbook templates. We created our own from the blank lapbook template sold by In the Hands of a Child, but here are some free ones if you want to print out and not worry about customizing the booklets on your computer. (Hand of a Child has type-in feature to create my own booklets with titles on them).
National Treasure starts with a story told to the main character by his grandfather; it mentions the Freemasons and Charles Carroll.
For the Freemasons booklet, the kids could either draw the symbols of the Freemasons or use printed out ones from the internet. I took a lot of the basic information for our lessons from Wikipedia back then, though there are other sources you can use if you prefer, such as Kiddle. Make sure they include the all-seeing eye!
Follow the Clues
Next we had a pocket called “follow the clues,” and the kids wrote each clue on a little card which fit neatly into the pocket. Here are the clues. Be sure to make a card for each one. This page will also give you more information on the clues, including photos you may be interested in printing out for your campers’ handbooks.
Charles Carroll and Timothy Matlack
Ben’s grandfather mentions Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence (DOI). He was a real person! We placed his portrait on a booklet next to one of Timothy Matlack, the calligrapher who inscribed the DOI. Along with the information we learned about them, my son even printed out Matlack’s signature for his booklet.
Declaration of Independence
For more booklets, we talked about the 5 Ws of the Declaration of Independence with a picture of the original document as the booklet cover.
Here’s what I typed for them to put inside:
- Who: Thomas Jefferson
- What: Declaration of Independence
- Where: Continental Congress in Philadelphia
- When: July 4, 1776
- Why: To announce that the 13 colonies in America were no longer part of the British Empire.”
Another booklet had them write facts to answer these questions about the DOI:
- When was it signed?
- In what order did the states sign?
- Who was the first to sign, the youngest to sign, the oldest to sign?
- Why are there 56 signatures? (The movie clue says 55—one signature came later, possibly after the clue was made.)
Other Topics to Study
Also related to the Declaration of Independence, depending on how deep you wanted to study in your National Treasure summer camp, you could learn about the Dunlap Broadsides, “Inalienable Rights” (what it meant and who it applied to and did not apply to), the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident…. pursuit of happiness” phrasing and how it inspired Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Benjamin Franklin was a Freemason, and so he is an important figure to study and is mentioned throughout the movie. In our booklets, the kids had photos of the Freemason symbol, a graphic about Daylight Savings and Congress passing the bill (also see here), a Silence Dogood letter, and a portrait of the man himself.
It was important to note his status as an inventor, scientist, printer, Founding Father, and inventor of bifocals, which are an essential tool to reading the map in the movie.
Daylight Savings plays a part in the movie too. You should explain “who” Silence Dogood was, which also is in the movie, and what the letters were written for.
Benjamin Franklin is on the $100 bill and so we studied the information about that, including the back imagine referenced in the movie. Remember, there are clues everywhere!
The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell was an important part of the clues in National Treasure.
My treasure hunters learned these things about the Liberty Bell in their booklets:
- What Bible Scripture is inscribed on the bell?
- Why was it named as it was?
- When was the Liberty Bell named?
- Where is it located?
- We printed off a photo of it to include in our booklets.
The Treasure’s Location and Contents
More real places and things mentioned:
- The Library at Alexandria
- Smithsonian (Take a virtual tour!)
- The Louvre
- The meaning of “status quo.”
Near the end of the first movie, the lanterns being hung were mentioned as a false clue trail for Ben’s enemy who did not know his history very well. Study these things: Who was Paul Revere? Where were the warning lanterns hung and why? Who hung the warning lanterns? How many lanterns were hung? Did the British come by land or by sea?” What was the Old North Church?
Further Optional Topics
Topics we didn’t study but that you could depending on the interest of your treasure hunters:
- The ship Charlotte
- Preservation techniques of the Declaration of Independence and methods of protecting it (more than just a brief mention of National Archives)
- Methods of invisible ink and detecting it
- Ciphers (such as the Ottendorf and Playfair ciphers mentioned)
- Independence Hall
- USS Intrepid
We printed out photos of the logo, Agent Sandusky (from the movie), a real agent in gear, and an FBI badge. The questions we answered were as follows: What does FBI stand for? When was the FBI started and who was its first director? Who was J. Edgar Hoover? What is the job of the FBI? List some jobs available at the FBI. List some of the crimes the FBI investigates.
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
National Treasure: Book of Secrets opens up at the end of the Civil War with yet another flashback from Gates family history. This time the focus is on a conspiracy regarding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. There was a page torn out of the diary of John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot the president. According to the movie, there was another cipher on it, leading to yet another treasure.
A booklet on John Wilkes Booth is also needed. We talked about who we was, what he believed, and what he did on April 14, 1865.
There were others tried and convicted for conspiracy to assassinate the president. The diary page from the movie lists some and that’s where Ben gets involved. He explains to Riley the origin of the saying “his name was Mudd,” so we looked up Samuel Mudd and made a booklet with his photo on it.
Clues and Log Book
Since there were a bunch of clues to keep track of, we used another booklet to keep track of them. It looked like a Steno pad, attached at the top with brass fasteners and labeled “Clues and Log Book” or “My Book of Secrets.”
Here again is the list of clues for the movie; you’ll need to scroll down to get to the second movie.
Statue of Liberty and Laboulaye’s Lady
The first cipher leads Ben to tell his partners about Laboulaye’s lady, the Statue of Liberty, but not the one in New York. To learn about Laboulaye, read these and write down facts in a booklet with the picture of the statue on it. Here is more information about the Statue and replicas of it.
Answer these questions:
- Who made it?
- Why did France gift to the United States?
- Why is the Statue green?
- What are the Statue’s symbolic features?
- When was the Statue dedicated?
- How many replicas of the Statue can be found around the world?
- What is its full name?
The next clue leads our hunters to Buckingham Palace in London, England, to see the first of two “Resolute” desks. Study the HMS Resolute and the Resolute desks. Our booklets included the title “These twins stand Resolute” and photos of the Paris Statue of Liberty, the ship, the queen’s desk, and the president’s desk. We wrote just a tiny bit about each. You could elaborate if you wished. You could also dig into information about Buckingham Palace and reasons why England would want the Confederacy to win the Civil War (mentioned in the movie).
Ben discovers the desk is like a puzzle box. You might want to study Chinese puzzle boxes here if you wish. Ben finds a plank with ancient symbols on it. His mother happens to be an expert in early civilizations and is able to translate the Olmec planks to keep the hunters looking for treasure. Your treasure hunters could print out photos of the planks on the cover of a booklet and write about the Olmec civilization and Cibola, the Seven Cities of Gold.
The White House Oval Office
Of course, don’t forget the side trip to the White House Oval Office for your National Treasure summer camp! A booklet with a printout of the White House or the Oval Office would be great, along with writing its location and any other basic facts you want the kids to learn.
This led to the (probably) fictional President’s Secret Book with the eagle and scroll secret symbol. If you desire to dig into this, there are plenty of stories and ideas about it all over the internet. History Channel even has a show called “America’s Book of Secrets.”
Using a photo Mount Vernon or one of the maps drawn by George Washington, have the treasure hunters write down the location of Mount Vernon, some of its history, and any other interesting facts. This Mount Vernon website has fun activities and information for kids)
Library of Congress
Don’t forget to make a booklet about the Library of Congress, where Ben, Riley, and Abigail find the President’s Book of Secrets.
Finally, National Treasure: Book of Secrets takes viewers to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore. Print out a nice photo of the statue for the front of the booklet.
Include this information:
- Who sculpted the monument
- Who is featured on it
- Why are they on it?
Final Thoughts and Ideas for your “National Treasure” Summer Camp
In the handbook, I included these movie-inspired worksheets as well. They look nicer if you print them in color. I also found a bunch of free puzzle worksheets on topics such the Declaration of Independence, the Bald Eagle National Seal, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and Abraham Lincoln. Since worksheets on the internet change so frequently and I did this study over a decade ago, if you are interested in additional worksheets, try a search of your own.
Both movies are currently available to stream on Disney+ with membership, or for rental on other platforms.
- Here are some simple patriotic crafts if you’d like to expand your learning.
- Great information on U.S. currency through the years and what the bills looked like
- Here’s a fun fact or fiction blog post blog post I discovered while writing this post.
- Here’s a very modern (2019) article stating truths about Trinity Church, where the treasure was discovered in the first movie.
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Bio of Guest Poster:
Michelle Habrych, mom of two teens, fell in love with American history when she started homeschooling 14 years ago. She enjoys watching movies and learning the real history behind legends. She has taught camps like this out of her home for over a decade to help other families share in the learning adventure with her kids.