There are two ways to study history. Kids can memorize facts from textbooks, or they can do it the fun way – by visiting one of the many living history museums scattered across the country. At living history museums, actors in costume amble amongst historically accurate buildings, in order to recreate life in a particular time period.
Luckily, there are lots of sites across America where kids can experience first hand what life was like in the past. Here are just a handful of the living history museums dedicated to preserving our common heritage:
- Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (www.history.org) is America’s largest and most famous living history museum. Beautiful houses, period crafts, costumed actors and restaurants serving traditional food like peanut soup contribute to the feeling that you’ve slipped back to the 18th century.
- Conner Prairie, Fishers, Indiana (www.connerprairie.org). Kids can explore 19th century farm life (complete with live animals) at Liberty Corner, be pioneers at Prairietown and learn to throw a tomahawk at the Lenape Village. Conner Prairie offers lots of classes and special programs for kids of all ages.
- George Ranch, Richmond, Texas (www.georgeranch.org) Less than an hour from Houston, this historic ranch was founded when Texas was still part of Mexico. Explore the sharecropper’s cabin, watch a cowboy do his thing, tour the historic houses and try to imagine how tough the pioneers must have been to settle Texas before air-conditioning.
- Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts (www.osv.org) is the largest living history museum in the Northeast and offers a Kids’ Club and ‘Kidstory’ - a learning gallery just for kids.
- Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Massachusetts (www.plimoth.org) is just 45 miles from Boston. Families enjoy strolling through the period gardens, doing crafts, touring the Mayflower II (a reproduction of the ship that landed here), and exploring the Wampanoag Homesite. The museum offers summer camps.
- Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, Wisconsin (http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/oww/details.asp) offers a glimpse of all the different groups that settled the Midwest with African-American, German, Polish, Finnish and Norwegian homesteads. Kids can attend summer camp, bake cookies as the pioneers would have, study farm animals and participate in political debates.
- Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, Nebraska (http://www.stuhrmuseum.org/) is a great place to explore pioneer life. Sign up for one of the themed programs, like an American Girl tea or Huck Finn cookout, and explore the Pawnee earth lodge and pioneer settlement.
While some parts of the country loom larger in our historic imaginations than others, the odds are there’s a wonderful slice of history just waiting to be explored, somewhere near you. So hop in the car (or the horse and buggy!) and set out. Who knows, it just may inspire your child to pick up a textbook!