We really had 2020 all planned out, didn’t we? Our goals weren’t that lofty: get the kids through the school year, take a family vacation at some point, and make the most out of the fun summer months ahead. Simple, right? Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans for us. Now your kids will be missing roughly thirty percent of their school year, and you can’t stop thinking about how you’re going to keep them on track for next year while still making those family memories happen.
One way to do this is to plan your next vacation around a cultural and/or historical spot, teaching the little ones (and maybe even yourself) something about history, science, art, conservation and culture.
Because we’re big believers in the saying that “travel is the best teacher,” we’ve put together a list of five of our favorite cities that offer educational things to do for kids of every age.
Founded in 1630, Boston’s rich history is definitely not lacking in the family activity department. From the Midnight Run of Paul Revere to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the stories this city tells are sure to capture the attention of the entire family.
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum alone will quell those bored-history-sighs with lively reenactments of the wildly rebellious meetings that took place in 1773, and whose revolutionary message traveled across the Atlantic to shake Britain to its core.
And don’t miss renowned Walden Pond just outside of town. Considered the birthplace of the conservation movement, Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in simple living on the northern shore of the pond resulted in his writing Walden, a profound piece of American literature that has inspired generations of young people to connect with nature. And, as a bonus, the area also offers great swimming and hiking to go along with all those conversations about philosophy and ecology you’ll be having.
Some other great educational options include:
- The Boston Museum of Science
- USS Constitution Museum
- Old State House
- John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum & Library
In need of some Brotherly Love? If so, Philly is the place to be. It’s home to the well-known Liberty Bell and the brain-building Please Touch Museum where little ones between the ages of 1 and 7 “are boss.”
And the don’t-dare-miss Franklin Institute is America’s oldest and best-loved science museum which has been thrilling kids with interactive exhibits long before “interactive” was even a thing. It carries the name of the man himself, not just because Ben Franklin was a famous politician, author, master printer, Freemason, philosopher, postmaster, inventor, (hang on, we’re almost done) satirist, civic activist, ambassador, and diplomat, but because he was also a renowned scientist whose theories stand the test of time today.
Those are just a few of the must-sees, here are some more:
- Reading Terminal Market
- Independence National Historical Park
- The Betsy Ross House
- Battleship New Jersey
If you want a laugh, ask your children what state Washington D.C. is in and wait for the answer. If you want a great educational destination, head there this summer for an unforgettable trip. Our nation’s capital is filled with gorgeous parks, grand monuments, and amazing museums – most of which are free.
The striking 400,000 square-foot Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is a must-visit for any parent who wants their child to learn more about African American life: its history, culture, struggles and victories, and how all of it applies to our current-day reality. It’s also an inspiring place to have those sometimes-complicated conversations about injustice, racism, and inclusion in our country.
Check out these other educational treasures while you’re in DC:
Amazing food, incredible architecture, the only river in the world that flows backwards, and crazy history all bundled into one Windy City? Count this family in! Strike up an educational conversation by discussing The Great Fire of 1871, The Haymarket Affairs, or even infamous gangsters like Al Capone or John Dillinger. With eclectic history like this, Chicago will captivate the whole family.
And though the architectural river tours are mentioned in virtually every travel guide, believe us when we say they aren’t over-hyped. It’s easy to forget that the everyday buildings around us are physical mirrors of society’s evolution, its technical and cultural advancements and limitations, as well as our own values, hopes and dreams made visible. And no American city has embraced more unique architectural styles than this one. Go see them for yourself from the best seat in the house (the Chicago River) and, who knows, you might just discover that you have the next Frank Gehry in your family.
Don’t miss out on these other great sites during you visit:
Asheville, North Carolina
Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains you’ll find the town of Asheville, equal parts free-spirited hipster and gracious Southern charmer. Rich with history and diversity, it was home to novelist Thomas Wolfe as well as the crazy-rich art collector George Washington Vanderbilt II. So, basically this town is a haven for your historical adventures.
Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate is the largest home in the United States, offering 8,000 gorgeous acres of over-the-top bygone wow-ness for visitors. The kids will have fun deciding which of the 35 bedrooms would be “theirs,” and you’ll be awestruck at the realization that this 250 room – 43 of them bathrooms – mansion was originally a bachelor pad for many years, before Mr. V. married and had his only child. Imagine his bride’s reaction when she saw her new digs for the first time upon arriving in Asheville from her European honeymoon.
It’s hard to choose our favorites, but here are a few other sites that embody the character of the city:
- Thomas Wolfe Memorial
- Vance Birthplace State Historic Site
- Craggy Mountain Rail Line
- Carl Sandberg Home
No matter where you choose to head this summer, it’s a good idea to amp your kids up about it first by letting them in on the planning and teaching them in advance about some of the sites they’ll see.
There’s no doubt that if 2020 was a movie, it’d be getting a thumbs down from many of us right now, but this new time of uncertainty is also offering us the opportunity to draw closer to one another through connection, a gradually growing optimism, and exciting new educational experiences. Now may just be the perfect time to bring history and culture to life for your kids outside of the confines of the classroom.