Both my husband and I are huge history buffs! So, when we take a family vacation you can bet that we visit all the coolest museums, battle fields and monuments. Since this years homeschool history lessons focused on Early American history; planning a trip to Williamsburg was a must. We decided to plan out our trip to see America’s historic triangle by visiting; Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Our favorite sites to visit while in town were Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown. These two museums do an amazing job at making history come to life and provide a truly interactive and immersive museum experience for adults and children of all ages.
Lets start with Jamestown Settlement. This museum focuses on living history exhibits by providing visitors with a realistic glimpse into 17th century Virginia and the English colonies that settled there. The culture is brought to life through live exhibits, gallery displays and films that tell the story of both the Powhatan Indians and the colonists that lived in Jamestown. It’s good to know that there are four main sections to explore: The Powhatan Village, the Shipyard, the Fort, and the indoor museum galleries. I will give a tour of each section so you know what to expect.
My three boys, ages one, six and eight; have a lot of curiosity and energy. Like most kids, my boys need to visit museums where they can encounter and touch what they are learning about. If your kids are anything like mine, I suggest starting with the outdoors exhibit. The first section you will see is the Powhatan village; where you can walk through the village and learn about what life was like in the native world. My boys enjoyed grinding corn, learning about how baskets are woven and touching different tools and weapons. It’s great that there are actors dressed in period garb demonstrating and providing information.
Next, we made our way down to the water to see recreations of the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery the first three boats to arrive in Jamestown. We climbed aboard each boat to explore and learn about ships from the colonial period. It was shocking to go below deck and visualize where the colonists spent a quarter of a year as they crossed the Atlantic. It was a lot of fun to learn how to steer the boat and navigate the ship. I really enjoyed hearing about the way they used the hour glasses, compass and other tools to track their location and progress.
The last outdoor section we explored was the Fort. There are many buildings you can walk through such as; the governor’s house, meeting hall/church, armory, and supply house. We easily spent an hour at the blacksmith’s station; where my oldest son eagerly watched and asked LOTS of questions. The staff are so knowledgeable and luckily equally as excited as I to see you young minds invested in learning something new. Be sure to check the schedule of events for the day; while visiting we were able to listen to reenactors talk about and demonstrate period weapons of the Powhatan tribe and the British colonies. My boys were fascinated to watch the speakers showcase period weapons. We were able to see both the long bow and musket in action.
Once the kids are worn out from walking around outside, it’s time to explore the gallery. Museums have certainly come a long way since we were kids. They are no longer dull, boring or limiting. The rules of be quite and don’t touch are long gone! In order to keep visitors entertained, Jamestown Settlements gallery is full of interactive displays and fun technology. My kids loved the interactive screens that allow patrons to take quiz’s, play games and navigate through displays. The exhibit galleries follow a timeline taking you to “Before” the settlers came, all the way up to Jamestown in 1700. The life like replica’s offer a great way for kids to explore what life was like for different cultures and classes during the colonial period. Make sure you take stop at the new 4-D experiential theater that retells the story of “Bacon’s Rebellion.” In the 4-D theater the battle is brought to life with a curved screen, surround sound and fog that immerses you in the sense.
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION MUSEUM
If you plan on heading down to Williamsburg this season, be sure to check out the American Revolution Museum which got a 50 million dollar makeover just a few years ago. As a strong advocate of learning through play, I recommend this as excellent place to take your kids to learn about Revolutionary heritage. From costumed interpreters to artillery demonstrations and 4-D theater to interactive games your kids will be thoroughly entertained.
The American Revolution Museum has a gorgeous indoor exhibition hall that features period artifacts, dioramas, interactive exhibits and short films. The museum now has a 170-seat Theater featuring a film called “Liberty Fever.” I suggest starting here were the show will captivate you with an introductory film narrated by an early-19th-century storyteller who has traveled the country gathering stories about the American Revolution.
Next, explore the galleries at you own speed. I admired how they integrated technology to provide an interactive experiences. My boys enjoyed the screen top battle board where you can play different sides of the battle and watch your strategies in play. Another favorite was the shadow screen, where it looks like you are walking along side soldiers. We were also a big fan of the interactive maps; they prompted a lot of great questions about geography and how far apart familiar places are in comparison to the battle and settlements.
If it’s not glassed off then you can touch it! Kids need to play and interact with what they are learning. There were tons of puzzles and artifacts that were hands on. Even our littlest family member enjoy toddling around and exploring the museums sights and sounds.
After you’ve explored the museum, head outdoors to experience the living-history exhibit which includes a Revolution-era war encampment and farm, as well as an artillery shooting amphitheater. My kids loved running around outdoors exploring the tents. They were fascinated by live demonstration of firing the canons. My youngest loves animals so the farm animals were also a big hit. There were also colonial period children’s toys in the cabin that you can test out.
- If you are planning to visit a few historical sites in Williamsburg, I recommend spending an entire day at Jamestown. We spent most of the day at the museum and still had more to explore. Don’t forget to visit Yorktown so you can see the brand new American Revolution Museum that just opened March 2017.
- There is a cafeteria at both sites with excellent food selection. However, you can pack a picnic lunch if you come during the warmer weather months. At Jamestown Museum there is a Riverfront Amenities Pavilion located between the native village and the ships which provided the perfect place for a picnic. (You will also find a family style bathroom in this area.) When visiting the American Revolution Museum, I recommend making a stop down in Yorktown; where you will find restaurants on the water with gorgeous views.
- If you need to bring a stroller both museums are wheel friendly and have paths that are easy to push along.
- Don’t forget to print off the kids’ guides and scavenger hunts that Jamestown Settlement offers at home and bring with you.
- Make sure you ask for a stylist when you check-in so you can use the interactive screen touch free so to speak (All the fun without the germs!)
- I recommend purchasing a combination tickets! History is Fun! combination tickets give you full access to both Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown at a discounted price. What’s great is the ticket package is good for seven days of unlimited admission, so you can explore at your own pace. The other package is called “America’s Historic Triangle,” this special features seven different historical sites included these two museums and historic Williamsburg.
- While in town be sure to visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg and their water park Water Country USA. Busch Gardens is our favorite theme park and is excellent for families with littles. See The Playful Parent Busch Gardens Guide
- The museum follows CDC guidelines and does a great job with keeping things safe and clean. Masks are no longer required. However, do what makes your family comfortable. To learn more or to stay up to date about the museums policies, click on this link.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Jamestown Settlement are both open year-round 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Christmas and New Year’s days.
Jamestown Settlement- 2110 Jamestown Rd, Williamsburg, VA 23185
American Revolution Museum- 200 Water St, Yorktown, VA 23690
Go to www.historyisfun.org/visit to plan your visit!
***The Playful Parent is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides non-bias information to advocate learning through play and to promote family bonding. All information and photographs in this article are intellectual property of The Playful Parent. A big thank you to Jamestown Settlement & American Revolution Museum for hosting us to write this article. I hope that these tips help with your families planning so that you have a great time during your next Williamsburg Visit! Thank you for reading…Play, Learn, Grow!***