The long President’s Day weekend strikes us as the perfect excuse for taking a history-minded trip with the kids, especially with so much important history nearby. Get psyched to revive some really great men and women in the fertile minds of your children.
As far as history goes, the country’s capital is an amalgam of quirky and traditional. Of course, a first trip here must include the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, surrounded by fifty flags representing the fifty states, or the marble Lincoln Memorial across from the reflection pool, best viewed at night. But to help the Lincoln history truly come to life, visit Ford’s Theatre to tour the historic setting of Lincoln’s assassination and see artifacts like the pistol that killed him. Another powerful classic: the Holocaust Memorial Museum, with a “Remember the Children” exhibit specifically created to relay the tragedy to elementary and middle school kids.
For a more creative take on the historic, head over to the Newseum dedicated to media and journalism. Older kids will love the gallery of original newspaper front pages for a one-of-a-kind timeline, while young children can appreciate going inside a three-story East German guard tower, watching a 4D movie about the most important moments for journalism, and viewing a gallery of First Dogs. Over at the National Geographic Museum, science and history intersect in a Birds of Paradise exhibit, in which stunning avian species unique to New Guinea and Australia remind us how drastically the world has evolved.
What better way to commemorate President’s Day than a cobblestone-lined city with 300 years of history? The Freedom Trail in downtown Boston, encompassing 16 historic Revolutionary War sites, is best followed by a Little Feet tour. Ideal for youngsters 6-12, the walk by landmarks like Paul Revere’s house and Faneuil Hall pays special note to whimsical details like a royal lion and unicorn and Benjamin Franklin flying a kite. If you’re hungry, try seeing the sites on a pizza tour, which takes you through areas like North End, the city’s oldest neighborhood, and Boston’s oldest standing church.
Though not quite related to the nation’s beginnings, Fenway Park is full of sports history as America’s oldest baseball stadium. Various tours take you out on the field, with a chance to see or catch a ball from the Green Monster. A unique way to glimpse the world in 1935, the Mapparium allows visitors to walk into a three-story stained glass globe, which lights up to demonstrate how geography has evolved over time. Finally, older kids interested in darker times like that of the witch trials can get their fill at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, just a short train ride from the city.
Colonial Williamsburg, VA
Families can travel through time in Colonial Williamsburg, the living museum where time has virtually stood still. Here, it is the year 1775. Men, women, shoemakers, blacksmiths, printers—all create an authentic colonial community in 18th century garb.
Jumpstart your children’s appetites for history with a quick trip to the visitor center, where they can rent colonial costumes and receive a “letter of introduction” with recommended activities. Hands-on fun continues at Robertson’s Windmill, where you can get a taste of daily life by making bricks and spinning wool with the town’s “residents.” Slightly beyond the town’s center, the Great Hopes Plantation is an amazing opportunity to try your hand at gardening, tend to livestock, and understand just what plantation life entails.
For a peek into the British monarchy’s wealth and power, the replica of the Governor’s Palace, rebuilt in 1930 after a disastrous 1781 fire, offers tours of its stunning ballroom with a “maid” who knows all the palace’s secrets. Older kids 8 and up can also use their imaginations in a mock 18th century court trial. Fancy more harrowing thrills? Brave the Tavern Ghost Walk, an interactive evening tour of ghostly tales and folklore for all ages.
As the city where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were born, Philly is a frontrunner for a historic road trip. Start at the Independence National Historic Park, home to icons of freedom like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Here, even the youngest set can enjoy playing amongst the archaeological items and building skeletons in Franklin Court, or head over to Franklin Square and use the landmarks on the Philly-themed mini golf course as talking points for mini lessons. And to make it gender-equal, let’s not forget Betsy Ross, whose house just west of the park displays a replica of the nation’s first flag and hosts special events like 17th century chocolate making throughout the year.
Nautical buffs can delight in learning about Philly’s past through a lens of the high seas at the Independence Seaport Museum, with exhibits that cover everything from the city’s port history to the colonial tools used to navigate the Delaware River. (If you’re keen on a scientific detour, the Franklin Institute is known for its larger-than-life heart that visitors can venture through, not to mention a great collection of Ben artifacts.) Hungry families should also hit up the Franklin Fountain—an old-school ice cream parlor with treats from the past.
New York City & State
If you’re not up for a road trip, New York itself offers plenty of insight on minds that have shaped our country, both in the city itself and throughout the state.
In Dutchess County’s Hyde Park, meander through Springwood, the 300-acre historic site and home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as the Vanderbilt Mansion and Museum. Start with a guided tour of FDR’s home, stroll the gardens and trails, and even become trainees of the Junior Secret Service program! Nearby, in an ode to the Roaring Twenties, the Vanderbilt sites encompass everything from the Gold Coast-era mansion to a marine museum to a seaplane hangar and boathouse.
Or opt for a more local excursion to 20th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue—the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, which was Teddy’s home until he was 14 years old. Amid the period rooms, galleries, and bookstore, kids will find the collection of political cartoons about our 26th President particularly accessible.