PLEASANTON -- History detectives are taking to the streets of downtown Pleasanton -- one backpack at a time.

Downtown Detectives is a self-guided sleuthing challenge with clues, fun activities and old-fashioned outfits all tucked away neatly inside one easy-to-tote backpack.

"I thought it was amazing, fun, awesome," enthusiast Lilly Wood said after completing the backpack challenge on a recent hot afternoon. "It's definitely worth doing."

"It was really interesting," added her sleuthing partner, Macey Fisher. "You can learn a lot. People forget all those landmarks are there."

The 10-year-old detectives were accompanied by chaperon Chris Williams as the two girls enjoyed an activity day for their church.

Wearing skirt aprons and bonnets found in their Downtown Detectives Backpack, from left, Chris Williams, Macey Fisher, 10, and Lilly Wood, 10, all of
Wearing skirt aprons and bonnets found in their Downtown Detectives Backpack, from left, Chris Williams, Macey Fisher, 10, and Lilly Wood, 10, all of Pleasanton, read information leading them to the oldest building in town during the Downtown Detectives Backpack program in Pleasanton, Calif., on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. The three were part of a group from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints activity day. The Downtown Detectives Backpack program is an interactive experience held by the Pleasanton's Museum on Main. A family or group can checkout a backpack and learn about the history of Historic Downtown Pleasanton. The program is sponsored in part by The L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

"This is really interesting," Williams said. "I had no idea you could do this. I will definitely let everybody know."

The backpack can be checked out free of charge at the Museum on Main. There's currently just one backpack with the theme Time Travelers. Young detectives follow clues that lead them on a walking tour to the oldest building in downtown Pleasanton.

Using backpacks full of fun and educational games is common practice in the museum field, said Jennifer Amiel, the museum's education director. The idea is to keep kids involved on their level so parents can enjoy the museum.

"It's brilliant," she said. "It's a great way to engage kids in museums and keep them comfortable and having fun. It's hard to engage kids in history. If you can make it fun for them, they can connect in a more engaging way."

Amiel took the backpack concept a step further by expanding the idea outside the museum.

"We only have so much space in our museum to tell about the history of our community," Amiel said. "That was the push for me to say, 'How can we think outside the walls of the museum?' There's so much history outside our walls that people pass by every day, and they don't realize it." "Our downtown is such a huge opportunity," she continued. "Almost every single building we have downtown has a history. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could take the backpack program idea and have people check it out and carry it around downtown?' "

The Time Travelers backpack Amiel created is targeted at kids ages 4 to 10. Typically, families check out the backpack as a way to spend quality time together. The backpack is also popular with scouting troops and other youth groups. Right outside the museum, young backpack detectives are prompted to put on old-time aprons, bonnets and bow ties before following clues that initially lead them south on Main Street. A booklet tells detectives where to go and which buildings or historical markers to find.

"There's the clock! There it is!" Fisher exclaimed as she raced toward the first clue.

There are a couple of activities along the way, such as a crayon rubbing and a page to color.

"The clothes were fun to wear," young Wood said. "My favorite part was doing the crayon rubbing and having people stare at me when I was wearing the outfit." "It was fun to have all the attention," Fisher agreed.

Once the young sleuths find a building or historic marker, the kids can read the booklet for a bit of history about the building, including an important fact about the building's age. Detectives have a cool slate board for taking notes to solve the history mystery. The backpack challenge can be walked and solved in as little as 45 minutes, though the sleuthing can take longer with younger kids or those who choose to move at a leisurely pace.

"Creating a backpack that a family can use is a way to get kids to spark their interest in history," Amiel said. "If we can catch them young and get them interested in their community, it helps them to appreciate history."

The Downtown Detectives backpack program started last summer in June. Amiel's goal is to create three backpacks, each with a different theme. She's toying with the idea of having the next backpack focus on local transportation.

"Parents don't always have opportunities to engage with their children in a fun, educational way," Amiel said. "This is going to help bridge that gap. It's fun, but it's also going to help the family understand more about the history of this community."

HISTORY DETECTIVES
Visit Museum on Main's website at www.museumonmain.org for more information about the Downtown Detectives backpack (click on "Learn" and "Public Programs"). Reservations are encouraged to ensure the backpack's availability. The backpack program is sponsored in part by the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation. The museum is at 603 Main St., Pleasanton. 925-462-2766.