Today’s studies quickly become yesterday’s test results. Students learn material, take a test and move to the next subject matter, leaving little room for U.S. history to make a true impression on children. Yet, history is so vital to a child’s education; after all, as the old adage goes, if we don’t know our history, we’re bound to repeat it.
Consider taking your youngsters to one of these historical sites, where they’ll not only learn about America’s history, but they’ll also become a part of it.
Written by Karon Warren
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center - Cincinnati
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is open Tuesday through Saturday to visitors. Guests also can research their family lineage at the onsite FamilySearch Center, where they can receive free, personalized assistance in tracing their family tree. This is a great activity for both adults and children in Cincinnati.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Cincinnati/Uptown University
Tenement Museum - New York City
Tenement Museum offers a number of guided tours (the only way to see the museum) that focus on varying topics: visitors can choose to tour the building by visiting different apartments, they can meet the residents, who are played by costumed interpreters and they can Ã¢â‚¬Å“walk the neighborhoodÃ¢â‚¬Â through several tours that spotlight different aspects of the area. Tour schedules and ticket prices are available on the museum Web site.
Recommended Hotel: Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Central Park
However, this district also is a treasure trove of American history. At the National Archives and Records Administration, visitors can see the original documents that formed the basis for the American government: the Charters of Freedom, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
The Smithsonian Institution alone covers more topics than you can digest in a single visit: American history, American Indian history, air and space, arts and industries. The material is so vast it fills 19 museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoo.
Then there are the memorials and monuments that commemorate many of our great leaders, along with the many men and women that gave their lives in service to our country. Many of these attractions are located along the National Mall, although several more are spread throughout the city. And, of course, there's the White House, where the president lives and conducts business.
Of special note: Although not based in U.S. history, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum should be included on every family's itinerary. At this museum, kids will get a deeper understanding of the persecution and murder of the Jewish people in Europe before and during World War II.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Washington, D.C., Downtown
Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg, Va.
Nearby at the Yorktown Victory Center, families can see where the British surrendered to American and French forces to effectively end the Revolutionary War, which set the stage for the official formation of the United States of America. This museum showcases life during these times through an open-air exhibit walkway, as well as many indoor exhibition galleries.
In neighboring Colonial Williamsburg, visitors can explore a re-created 18th-century town complete with original buildings, homes, shops and public buildings encompassing more than 300 acres. Not only can you see how daily life during this era was conducted, but you also can learn the stories behind the political movement that led to the fight for independence from England.
Recommended Hotel: Williamsburg Inn
A great starting point is the Independence Visitor Center, where you can get a comprehensive overview of the city's culture and history. To aid you in navigating the city's attractions, consider the AudioWalk and Tour, a 74-minute narrated walking tour of the city's historic sites and parts of Society Hill.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Monaco Philadelphia - A Kimpton Hotel
Located on the island of Oahu, the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum and Visitor Center is part of the Pacific Historic Parks, although the USS Arizona is managed by the National Park Service. The memorial is constructed over the remains of the sunken battleship, which is also the final resting place for much of its crewmen killed during the attack. Visitors can tour the site by purchasing tickets at the visitor center, where they also can see a 23-minute film documenting the attack. In addition, an audio tour is available to guide you through the visitor center and surrounding area.
Seeing this site and hearing the survivors' first-person accounts of this life-altering event are something both children and adults should experience.
Recommended Hotel: Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
Manhattan Project - Oak Ridge, Tenn.
In Oak Ridge, three main buildings -- K-25, X-10 and Y-12 -- housed the majority of the work that produced plutonium 239 and uranium 235 for the atomic bombs. Today, visitors can see some of these facilities as part of the free bus tour offered by the American Museum of Science and Energy. In fact, at AMSE, visitors can get an in-depth look at Oak Ridge's history at the museum's exhibit "Oak Ridge: World War II's 'Secret City.'" It's amazing to see not only what was accomplished in this new town, but also the great lengths everyone involved took to ensure its secrecy.
Of special note: Take the kids to nearby Clinton, the site of the first integrated high school in the country. At the Green McAdoo Cultural Center, they can see how these turbulent events unfolded in a small Southern town, and learn how the community refused to give in to outsiders who insisted on creating havoc wherever they could.
Also a short drive away, families can stop at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris. This living history museum features pioneer, frontier and early artifacts of mountain life in the southern Appalachians. While the museum is stocked with a number of items, the focus actually is on the people who carved a way of life for themselves out of some very harsh conditions.
Recommended Hotel: Wyndham Smoky Mountains
To further explore the park, you can embark upon a tour of the battlefield with a licensed battlefield guide or take a guided bus tour. You also can discover the battlefield at your own pace. In addition, there are year-round Ranger programs to aid visitors in learning about the people and events of Gettysburg. In fact, there are several geared specifically for children, including the Junior Ranger program, where kids complete three activities in order to become official Junior Rangers.
Of special note: A related site worth visiting is Shiloh National Military Park in Shiloh, Tenn. The site of "Bloody Shiloh," Shiloh National Military Park commemorates the April 1862 battle that resulted in more than 23,000 casualties.
Recommended Hotel: Lodges at Gettysburg
Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth, Mass.
Together, families can tour the Mayflower II, stroll around a Pilgrim village from the 1600s, view rare breeds at the barn or make period crafts. Similar to Williamsburg, staff at Plimoth are dressed in period pieces, making history more fun for children. The historical experience doesn't end at lunchtime. At Patuxet Cafe, families sit down to sample foods that resemble a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal, signifying the meeting of two the cultures. For picky eaters, the restaurant also serves American favorites, like cheeseburgers and fries. Plimoth offers an entire day to become immersed in another world and to appreciate the struggles of each community as they joined together to survive in the New World.
Recommended Hotel: Dan'l Webster Inn
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail - Southeast
The trail encompasses nine states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee -- and includes homes, sites, cultural centers and state parks with historical significance to the Trail of Tears. Because it is so widespread, visitors have the opportunity to learn about this momentous event in American history without necessarily making stops at every site.
Recommended Hotel: Staybridge Suites Chattanooga Downtown
Space Center - Houston
In addition, families in Houston can take part in a NASA tram tour, where they will get to journey through the Johnson Space Center, with such highlights as the Historic Mission Control Center, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and the current Mission Control Center. Because the space center is working year-round, you may even get to see astronauts training for an upcoming mission.
Especially for children, the Kids Space Place invites kids to experience life as an astronaut via interactive exhibits and themed areas that showcase the various aspects of space, as well as the manned space flight program.
Recommended Hotel: The Woodlands Resort
Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site - Atlanta
To assist you in making the most of your visit, the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site Web site features three, time-based itineraries ranging from 30 minutes to three hours.
Recommended Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead
Some of the most revealing exhibits are those of each man"s personal papers while serving in office; whether from heads of state from around the globe or local schoolchildren down the street, these handwritten missives show the humanity of the man behind the title. These libraries -- and their accompanying museums -- provide a wealth of information to help visitors learn about the leaders who helped shape this country.
Recommended Hotel: Embassy Suites Hotel Dallas Park Central Area
The Freedom Trail - Boston
To explore Boston's Freedom Trail, visitors can pick up a map of the route at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center. Individual sites are open year-round, but check with each one for current hours of operation and entrance fees. Guided and audio tours are available for an additional fee.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Commonwealth
Monticello - Charlottesville, Va.
James Madison"s Montpelier, located about 45 minutes from Charlottesville, is quite the stunner, too. Visitors can take a 45-minute guided tour of the mansion"s first floor as well as explore the surrounding grounds. Be sure to check out the active, onsite Archaeology Lab where archaeologists continue to discover more of Montpelier"s history. It even includes a hands-on area for children
Although a smaller home compared to the others, Ash Lawn-Highland served as James Monroe"s official residence from 1799 to 1823. Visitors will see many original Monroe family furnishings, such as the Hepplewhite dining table, a sampler stitched by Monroe"s daughter Maria and Monroe"s bureau in his bedroom.
Each presidential home offers guided tours; check their individual Web sites for current schedules and entrance fees.
Recommended Hotel: Omni Charlottesville Hotel