It's no secret that children love hands-on activities, whether they are at home, at school or on a trip. This is why living history museums are so successful; children and adults alike are drawn into the past via demonstrations, encounters with interpreters, and, most importantly, opportunities to try things for themselves.
Living history museums also offer grandparents a wonderful opportunity to share their own history with their grandchildren as, together, they learn about another place and time.
Once you have decided to take your grandchildren to a living history museum, it's time to plan your trip. Here are some issues for you to consider:
Museum Location and Theme
You will need to decide which living history museum to visit before you can do any other type of planning. Of course, you should choose a museum that focuses on a time period you and your grandchildren might find interesting, but you should also think about the drive to and from that museum. At the end of a busy day of sightseeing, you will still have to drive your grandchildren home.
Examples of living history museums and their themes include:
- Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts – The Pilgrims
- Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia – Colonial and Revolutionary War Virginia
- Conner Prairie, Indiana – Early and mid-19th century Indiana
- El Rancho de las Golondrinas, New Mexico – Spanish colonial New Mexico
- Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, Canada - 18th century New France
- Historic St. Mary's City, Maryland – Early colonial Maryland
- Kings Landing Historical Settlement, New Brunswick, Canada - 19th Century New Brunswick
- Old World Wisconsin, Wisconsin – Late 19th century Wisconsin's immigrants
Length of Visit
Young children tire easily, and so do some grandparents. You and your grandchildren will have more fun if you choose the activities you would like to do in advance and plan a day that won't wear you out. You do not need to see every building and demonstration in order to have a good time.
Check your chosen living history museum's website for information about special programs, demonstration schedules and activity schedules. Talk with your grandchildren about their options and be sure each child gets to choose at least one activity. Possible activities might include candle-dipping, walking on stilts, holding or feeding farm animals, tanning hides, washing clothes or preparing and tasting food. Special programs could involve watching a stage performance or concert, viewing a weapons firing or blacksmithing demonstration or learning about clothing from various time periods.
Explore meal options before you leave home. Some living history museums have many on-site dining facilities, while others have none. Decide whether you will eat at the museum, at a nearby restaurant or at a picnic table, and be sure your grandchildren know when and what they will be eating. Remember to bring water bottles and snacks.
Living history museums typically have intriguing souvenir shops that offer everything from quill pens to life-sized toy muskets. Ask your children how they handle souvenir shopping when they travel as a family, and work with them to decide whether or not you will visit the gift shop with your grandchildren. Then, communicate your plan clearly to your grandchildren so they know exactly what to expect.
Plan rest and run-around breaks for yourselves. Tired travelers can sit on a shady bench, while the energetic members of the party watch for birds, play tag or take photos.
Living history museums vary in size, but all involve some amount of walking. Look at an online map or talk by telephone with a staff member to find the size of your chosen museum. This will help you decide how much time you will need to see everything on your list. Be sure to have everyone in your group wear comfortable walking shoes.
Accessibility / Strollers
If you have a young grandchild or you use a mobility aid, you will want to ask about pathways, hills and steps. Some of the historic buildings at your living history museum might not have wheelchair ramps, which means you would have to tip and lift a stroller or wheelchair in order to enter. Pathway construction is important, too, because strollers and wheelchairs can get stuck in deep gravel. Hills might also present problems, depending on how steep they are.
Most living history museums have outdoor spaces and buildings to explore. Some have museums, while others do not. Drenching rain or excessive heat might present a problem, so you will want to plan ahead for bad weather. Bring ponchos and umbrellas if rain is predicted, and use sunscreen regardless of the forecast.