Parenting: Local History

The Murphy kids at Valley Forge

January 12, 2011 6:37:20 AM PST
Looking for something to do with the kids? How about checking out local history?

In the Murphy family, this was a given as our kids came up through the ranks, since Mom was an American History major who was once a National Park Service Ranger on Independence Mall. But for any family, taking in some pieces of local history can be a fun, not-as-stuffy-as-your-kids-may-think experience.

I'd start with a day trip out to Valley Forge. Bring along blankets, a picnic lunch and some Frisbees, balls, or maybe a kite. Plan on spending part of your day lounging around the grass in the shadow of old log cabins and Colonial-era cannons. But before you leave, visit the Washington's Encampment area. On weekends in nice weather, there are sometimes re-enactors who will talk to you about the events that occurred there during the American Revolution. Especially enjoyable is the George Washington character who will politely correct you on such points as the winter the Continental Army spent with him in the Park area (it actually happened more than once). The Visitor Center also offers a break from the weather and some interesting exhibits.

Independence National Historic Park is sadly under utilized by people from our area, but another great day out. Approach the experience like a tourist and you'll find plenty to do. Again, I would recommend taking advantage of the interpreters who portray Colonials, most of whom have stories to tell. Go outside of the summer season, and you may actually be able to tour Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell without too long of a wait. Park Rangers give great talks at each location. Franklin Court, located through the archway on Market Street two blocks east of the Mall offers a break from the outdoors, and has a historical movie which can be fun for the kids. Again, bring some food along or buy some and camp out on the Mall for a spell. Then, grab a Park Service map and head over to the Betsy Ross house, Elfreth's Alley and Franklin's Grave.

I'm also a fan of the Constitution Center, where your tour begins with a short live presentation in a climate-controlled theater with comfortable seats. The Center also hosts temporary exhibits that are fun. My son and I enjoyed one sponsored by the Baseball Hall of Fame a few years ago.

The new National Museum of American Jewish History and the African American Museum are also nearby, and can expand your kid's view of other cultures, or perhaps their own. The museums don't take all that long for a family to tour, and there's a nice lunch spot over at Penn's Landing if you want to break out the sandwiches and drinks.

And speaking of Penn's Landing, the Independence Seaport Museum is another nice locale that has great ship models and other exhibits that can hold a kid's interest. You could make a trip every week for months to Center City and still have historic sites and museums left to see.

Across the river in Camden, my boys both loved the tour of the U.S.S. New Jersey. We even bought a plastic model of the ship and built it later on.

The website has a list of Philadelphia Museums that's far more comprehensive than what I've included here. Another nice site is which lists historic sites. A general web search for museums or historic sites in your state or city will almost certainly turn-up additional options.

---David Murphy

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