Teens and tweens are the perfect age to visit Washington, DC. Not only are they sturdy enough to walk miles a day, but they know enough about American History to appreciate and respect what they see – and to develop a much deeper sense of the sacrifices made by so many to form and sustain our country. We only had a day so we started at the National Mall and decided to play it by ear to see how much ground we could cover.
Our first stop was a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. Standing on the steps, looking towards the 555-foot tall Washington Monument we found ourselves giving an impromptu history lesson about Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and the Civil Rights movement. The kids had heard of the “I Have a Dream” speech at school, but seeing the vast expanse and imagining it filled with people peacefully protesting for Civil Rights really brought home the scale of the movement.
Turning around to visit the stern likeness of Abraham Lincoln of course turned our thoughts to the Civil War and other historic battles. There are many war memorials in DC including Arlington National Cemetery, the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which continues to be as moving today as when it opened in 1993.
The more than 58,000 names and the scale of the wall are almost overwhelming. Our kids focused more on the various objects left at the wall in remembrance of the fallen. Artwork, flowers, and many momentos, each with a unique story, left them quiet and thoughtful as we walked past the wall.
At this point we needed a break from the rising heat of a summer’s day in DC so we took shelter in the National Museum of American History. We had lunch and toured several exhibits including the revolutionary era Gunboat Philadelphia, which was recovered from the bottom of Vermont’s Lake Champlain in 1935, as well as the transportation section, Julia Child’s kitchen and Jerry Seinfeld’s fluffy shirt. Some of this was of more interest to mom and dad than to the kids who were beginning to think their parents must be truly ancient if they remember when the things in museums were brand new.
Moving on, we decided to brave the lines to visit the National Archives - it was worth the wait. We didn’t realize until afterwards that you can make advance reservations – we highly recommend them. This is a true don’t miss American Experience. We watched a film about the project to restore the Declaration of Independence and learned about some of the systems that protect our country’s most important founding documents. We then visited the Rotunda where we viewed the Charters of Freedom exhibit that includes the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The amount of fading experienced by the Declaration of Independence was surprising so we are glad efforts have been made to preserve what is left.
At the end of the day we had to head out to Virginia to meet up with family but we stopped by the impressive Gothic-style National Cathedral, which was completed in 1990 after more than 80 years of construction.
Our only regret was that we had to skip so much. We didn’t see the White House and only saw The Capitol from a distance. We would also have loved to have visit the Mint and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum as well as the Spy Museum and more.
Although our time in DC was short, we found it very worthwhile. In just a day or so our kids made direct connections with many aspects of their national history and developed a much deeper sense of pride in being Americans, and perhaps more importantly, began to grasp the risks taken and the price paid by so many American heros over the past two centuries.