There’s no denying that a day at the beach or the theme park can be a great break from reality, but not all vacations need to be brain-atrophying time-wasters. Indeed, some trips can reap incredible educational benefits—and the best part is, many are right at our fingertips. Below we’ll explore some incredible destinations that will dazzle the mind of the young explorer.
In the East: From Maine down to Florida, the east coast offers an amazing array of things to see and do, as well as many opportunities to learn about American history and enjoy incredible cultural, educational, and natural experiences.
New York City: Too numerous to list, NYC’s museums offer a chance to learn about pretty much everything. If you’re into dinosaurs and the like, you can’t miss the Museum of Natural History. If art is your thing, you’ll spend all day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And this is only the tip of the iceberg: you can also explore the 9/11 Museum, Ellis Island, the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian, to name just a few. Of course, beyond museums, NYC boasts a rich history of architecture and culture, and has a little of everything. It’s truly a mind-expanding city.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: You need not visit a metropolis for a dose of history. Considered the seminal conflict of the Civil War, 1863’s Battle of Gettysburg holds an important and immortal place in the American narrative. The town itself is steeped in history and you will truly experience our nation’s great conflict as you drive through the national park and see the rolling hills and fields where the battles were fought or as you walk the quaint streets of town and check out interesting historical spots and shops. You will see Civil War reenactors in full garb, paying tribute to this sacred event in our country’s history. You’ll learn a ton in Gettysburg and you’ll also get to walk some truly hallowed grounds.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia: When you go to Williamsburg, you essentially step back in time. The entire town exists much as it did during the 18th century. You’ll see blacksmiths and other tradespeople using 18th century tools and techniques, folks dressed in the traditional attire of the time, and museums and tours that will make you feel like you’re walking through the dawning of America. If you want to understand the United States and its origins, Colonial Williamsburg is a great place to start.
To the West: This large swath of the country is home to many educational opportunities. Vast and impressive, the Midwest and Western United States offer the inquiring mind endless chances to learn and explore.
Hot Springs, South Dakota: What kid doesn’t dream of digging up a fossil that ends up being some incredible creature of the past? Well, in Hot Springs, you can actually observe the fossilized remains of wooly mammoths and other prehistoric creatures—this place is, without a doubt, a budding paleontologist’s dream come true. This is pretty incredible: about 26,000 years ago, outside Hot Springs, an Ice Age sinkhole trapped an estimated 100 young male mammoths—and, even more incredible, their remains haven’t all been found yet. So, if you’ve got a little Indiana Jones in you, this is a great place to explore. Aside from activities for the dinosaur enthusiast, Hot Springs boasts a plethora of incredible natural areas (Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore both sit about an hour away) as do areas rich with Native American history.
Homestead National Monument of America, Beatrice, Nebraska: The Homestead Act of 1862 was integral in America’s westward expansion, and at this national park, you can learn about the challenges that homesteaders faced and how America began to grow and expand. Homestead is one of many national parks that operates a Parks as Classrooms program, catering to large groups and class trips. To fully understand how America got so big and how people ended up so far from the original thirteen colonies, a trip to Homestead will offer a patriotic story like no other.
Chicago, Illinois: Like New York, Chi Town is a city bursting with educational opportunities. From renowned museums like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum to the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and the natural areas along the shores of Lake Michigan, this is a place where art, culture, history, and nature converge. The city’s location in the middle of the United States also serves as an excellent jumping off point for further exploration. This short blurb simply cannot do the Windy City the justice it deserves for being a place of rich history and significance.
Obviously, the above constitutes a very incomplete list of places to enrich your kids’ understanding of history. It would indeed be impossible in one article to touch on all the incredible learning opportunities our nation offers. So, remember, sometimes the greatest lessons are not learned in school— and our country is a classroom in itself.
Written by Phil Lane
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