Have you ever through of doing a Night at the Museum Camp? Your kids (and you) will love it! Read on for all the details!
[Today’s post “Night at the Museum Camp or Unit Study: Summer Camp Series” was written by contributor and homeschool mom Michelle Habrych.]
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post.
Night at the Museum
My kids love movies; they always have. When they were younger, Night at the Museum was one of their favorites. In fact, they still enjoy it as teenagers. This movie also made for a great learning adventure as a summer camp with their friends. It’s one of three movie camps I put together for my kids. Here are links to the other two: National Treasure Summer Camp and Star Wars Summer Camp.
Read more to learn how to do something similar with your own kids either by yourself this summer if you’re social distancing or invite a few kids over to join you!
Night at the Museum Camp
The Night at the Museum (NatM) movies combine history with fantasy. They are great for kids who love comedy and adventure. When my kids were younger, there were only two in the series. A third was released in recent years.
In this post “Night at the Museum Camp” I will include links for learning about many of the real-life people and events referenced in these three movies. (Also when we first did this over a decade ago, there was a mom who made a free lapbook or unit study online for it, but I am unable to find that link anywhere.)
What’s so great about NatM movies? The characters are extremely loveable; at least my kids and their friends thought so. I was inspired to put on a camp for my kids and their best friends after they spent afternoons playing NatM dress-up together.
Real Historical People and Events
The movies spark an interest in real historical people and events. In the first movie, Larry (played by Ben Stiller) does some research to understand the historical artifacts in his care, especially because they come to life each night! If you have not watched the movies, I recommend watching the first one, then completing the study on items related to that film, continuing to alternate throughout.
My kids were very familiar with the movies, so we just watched them to celebrate at the end of camp. In fact, this past spring, my teenager and I watched all three again just because we love them so much! We often find ourselves quoting the movies in everyday life, too.
Lapbook for Your Night at the Museum Camp or Unit Study
First, we created lapbooks for their learning (see photos) but you could have them write in notebooks if you desire. There are plenty of free resources for printing booklets for lapbooks. We created many of our own from the blank lapbook template sold by In the Hands of a Child. If you want to create a multi-file lapbook as we did, check out this page. Scroll down to the directions which say “Creating a lapbook base.”
For the two movies, we only used two folders, but there is a lot more we could have learned about and included. I will provide more than we actually used and you can pick and choose what to study.
On the front page, each camper chose his or her favorite character and created a paper version of it. My daughter, who dressed as Sacajawea, choose that as her cover. My son chose Jed, and their friends chose Al Capone and Amelia Earhart.
Since the action for the three movies moves around and the artifacts are from all over the world, you could give each camper 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 you explore, have them mark where in the world or United States Larry is or where the exhibits are from. You can print out maps here.
Study the Movie Franchise
Include the following information:
- Release dates for the movies
- Information about the star (Ben Stiller)
- How much each movie grossed
- The director
- Anything else your students find interesting about movies.
We did a Venn Diagram inside a lapbook with printouts of the movie posters and the cover of the book The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc, upon which the first movie is based. Inside, the campers compared the story of the book to the story of the movies:
- What is just in the book?
- Anything that overlaps.
- What is just in the movies?
In order to be able to do this one, you’d have to get the picture book from the library or Amazon.
American Museum of Natural History
The action takes place at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Make a booklet with the location of the museum, how long it’s been open, what exhibits it features aside from the ones you see in the movie, and anything else you find interesting.
We went to NYC last spring and visiting this museum was on the wish list but not in the budget. The subway stop where you get off for it is really cool (see photos).
We looked at the outside of the museum:
When we walked into the lobby but didn’t want to pay to go into the museum, got yelled at by a security guard. At least we could say we were there! (I’m guessing we’re not the only people who want to see inside but can’t afford the museum admission price.) I took a photo of a dinosaur in the lobby as we left.
This link from the museum website tells you all of the exhibits available from the movie It’s a great place to get photos of some of the iconic characters from the movie for your study.
Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea
In the first movie, Teddy Roosevelt is an important historical figure, and he continues to be important throughout the series. Learn about the 26th president of the United States, Rough Rider, Nobel Prize winner, and outdoorsman: Teddy Roosevelt. His love interest is Sacajawea, a very interesting woman to study as well. While studying her, you could learn more about the men she guided (Lewis & Clark), her son, and her people.
A capuchin monkey plays a humorous role in all three movies. Dexter has everyone laughing.
Learn about these amazing creatures:
- Where do they live?
- What do they eat?
- What are their habits in the wild?
- We also talked about the real animal who played Dexter in the movie. Her name is Crystal.
Jedediah Smith and Octavius
Jed and Octavius are the littlest stars of the movie (they are miniature people, from the hall of miniatures at the museum, possibly based on real people). They are two of our favorites though. Jedediah Smith was an old West hunter. Octavius was a Roman Emperor known as Augustus. We printed out a photo from the movie of the two characters together and put that on the front of the booklet, with pictures of their real-life counterparts inside with the information.
My kids loved the talking Easter Island head in NatM, so we made a little booklet with a photo of the heads on the front.
Inside they wrote the following information:
- Where is Easter Island? (We printed a world map so the kids could see it better in relation to our country.)
- What are the Moai? (That’s what the statues are called.)
- How many Moai are there and who created them?
- How many people live on Easter Island today?
Then we sculpted our own Moai with modeling clay and took photos so they could “keep” them in their lapbook.
Here are more people and things to learn about from the first movie: Rexy (the T-Rex), Attila the Hun , cavemen, Egyptian pharaohs (movie characters not based on real ones but here is info about Ahkmenrah if you’re interested), Christopher Columbus, the American Civil War (the movie featured the battling faceless mannequins ), all of the animals (see the movie and then look up the animals you’re interested in learning more about), mammoth, Teddy’s horse, stagecoaches of the Old West, and Central Park, the scene of the final chase in NatM.
The Night Guard Manual
Here’s a link to the manual the guards gave Larry. It has a picture of the first page and might be fun to add to your lapbook. You could even make it the cover photo.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (NatM2) picks up a couple of years later. Larry has been busy away from the museum, and now his friends are being moved to deep storage in the Federal Archives at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
They answered these questions:
- How many museums make up the Smithsonian Institute?
- Who was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian?
- Who willed the funds used to start up the Smithsonian Institute?
- How many items are in the Smithsonian’s collection?
- What is the name of the original Smithsonian building?
- How many animals call the National Zoo home?
- Who designed the Castle?
- How many research centers does the Smithsonian Institute have?
- We put a photo of the Castle inside the booklet with the answers to the questions.
The Smithsonian museums are located around the National Mall. We created a pocket for the National Mall and in it we put an aerial photo of the Mall with facts about it on a piece of tiny notebook paper. (see photos) () Write down what people do in there aside from visit museums, such as picnics and protests. Also include some features of the National Mall, especially the reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial (which we will study as well).
The Federal Archives houses “federal documents worthy of storing for all eternity” as the tour guide says in the movie, and they are located beneath the museums, according to the movie. However, according to the Smithsonian Institute website, this is a myth!
More Real People & Things to Study
There are many real people with significant roles in this movie. Make a booklet for each one. Put his or her picture on the front, and then write in it the answers to these questions:
- What I am known for
- When and where I lived
- Anything your students find interesting.
Here are more people and things to learn about from the second movie:
- George Foreman
- “Cube of Rubik”
- Joey Motorola (pictured in 1944, he picks up Larry’s cell phone; it’s not historically accurate but if your kids want to know why it’s funny, see here and here.)
- Ruby slippers
- How an hourglass works
- Muhammad Ali who said, “I feel like a floating butterfly”
- Darth Vader
- Oscar the Grouch
- White House
Here is a list of all the characters in the first two movies.
Art History and Art Appreciation
Art plays an important and fun part of the movie. We made a booklet with four of the main pieces pictured on the outside and typed facts inside. The pieces featured are The Thinker, American Gothic, V-J Day in Times Square, and Little Dancer of 14 Years. Here is the information typed for the kids:
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin 1902 Bronze and Marble Paris; More than 20 monumental size bronze casts of the sculpture in museums around the world—but not in the Smithsonian!
V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt; Photograph was originally part of a spread in Life magazine. It was a spontaneous event that occurred in Times Square as the announcement of the end of the war on Japan was made by President Truman.
American Gothic by Grant Wood 1930 Chicago, Features his sister Nan and his family dentist; it also features a fancy Gothic window which contrasts with the plain farmhouse.
Little Dancer of 14 Years by Edgar Degas 1881 Wax with bronze cast National Gallery of Art; Made from a skeleton of paintbrushes and a wig out of real hair, which was then covered in wax. A ribbon given to him from the model and a real tutu were left uncovered. 27 casts made.
When Larry walks by the Lincoln Memorial with the tablet, the very tall sculpture inside comes to life! Make a booklet with the photo of the statue and write down the answers to these questions:
- Who was Abraham Lincoln?
- How tall is the statue?
- What is it made out of?
- What words are inscribed behind the statue?
- Where does his advice “a house divided against itself” originate from?
The Air and Space Museum
The Air and Space Museum has many exhibits in the movie, including Earhart’s “Bessie” and the Wright Flyer. Mission Control starts to launch all of the aircraft inside! Look up as many of the rockets as you would like to study. We made a pop-up booklet with the Wright flyer inside (see photos).
Able the Space Monkey
Able the Space Monkey was a rhesus monkey who actually went into space! He was not a capuchin as Larry said in the movie. (This website has information but the visuals are a little creepy. Even my teen thought so!) find more information about two monkeys who went into space here.
We used the cover of Able on Life magazine for our booklet. Answer these questions:
- What type of monkey was Able?
- What did Able and squirrel monkey Baker do and when?
- How did they travel?
- What did Able’s trip do for science and space travel?
One of the funny parts of the movie includes the Einstein bobbleheads. Based off famous scientist Albert Einstein, the bobbleheads help Larry and Amelia learn the combination for the tablet, pi. We made a circle booklet for this. We put the pi symbol on the front and inside we added a photo of Einstein, as many digits of pi as your camper wants to write, and Einstein’s years lived and what he was known for.
Night at the Museum 2 Worksheets and Bookmarks
This site has some fun free worksheets as well as bookmarks and a poster from NatM2.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
The third movie, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (NatM3), begins with a flashback to Egypt in 1938 and the archeological dig in which the tomb of Ahkmenrah was discovered. While he was not a real pharaoh, you could start by studying a bit on the Valley of the Kings. The site mentions the curse of King Tut, which may have been on their minds as the Egyptian warned the archeologists.
Planetarium and Constellations
The British Museum in London
The British Museum in London is the main scene of the third movie. You could make a booklet about what exhibits you would most like to see, including history and facts about the museum. The first exhibit they meet who has come to life is a dinosaur, Trixie, so learn about the Triceratops. Then they meet up with Sir Lancelot, who is from the King Arthur legend and Camelot. For a booklet on him, you could do use a booklet shaped like a castle or a sword.
Jed and Octavius accidentally find themselves in a miniature Pompeii just as Mount Vesuvius is erupting! Make a booklet to answer the five Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why) about this historic place and event.
Mythical Creatures Xiangliu
They seek out Ahkmenrah’s parents in the Egypt exhibit; you can explore the real one here. Mentioned in the pharaoh’s story are Ra the sun god and Khonsu the moon god. If you want to do some research and make a booklet on these mythologies as well. You could even combine all of the mythologies in NatM3 into one booklet.
M.C. Escher and Relativity
- Who was M.C. Escher?
- Where was he from?
- When did he create art?
- What style of artwork did he create?
Other People and Things
Other people or things you could study at your Night at the Museum Camp include these topics mentioned briefly:
- Regis Philbin
- History of Jews in Egypt (Exodus and Passover)
- Hugh Jackman
- Camelot the musical
- Red double-decker buses
- Trafalgar Square Lions
Final Thoughts on Night at the Museum Camp
The NatM movies are available on various streaming platforms.
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.
Summer Camp Series Posts:
In addition to the Night at the Museum Camp, check out these other fun summer camp posts!
- Big Messy Art Camp
- National Treasure Camp
- Night at the Museum Camp
- American Girl Craft Camp
- Star Wars Camp
- Spy Camp