Travel Learning

My family and I recently went on a wonderful homeschool adventure cleverly disguised as a family vacation. Of course, the ability to naturally incorporate all sorts of non-traditional learning experiences into "school" - not as bureaucrat-sanctioned "excused absences" from it - is one of the many beautiful truths inherent in home learning. And this trip was merely one opportunity we've taken in that vein.

Our official destination was Williamsburg, Virginia, and we initially thought we'd fly and remain there for several days. However, we decided that driving would be more economical and would also enable us to see and visit many more sites along the way. We put on about 2,500 miles in all - every one (except for those logged in the Pennsylvania Appalachians!) worth it.

Creation Museum
We drove for over ten hours the first day, arriving in northern Kentucky well after dark. And after a good night's sleep, we ventured over to our first stop, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, where we watched a planetarium show, toured the extensive museum itself, and enjoyed a well-done, interactive film called Men in White. Unfortunately, it was too cold and rainy to visit the petting zoo, and we were too early in the season to enjoy the botanical garden.

But everything we saw was done very professionally - especially the animatronic people and dinosaurs. In fact, we were greatly encouraged to see such a quality site, agreeing that it strengthened our faith and would also provide a wealth of new, useful information to any fair-minded skeptic who chose to visit.

The Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains
The next day, we tackled a 12-hour trip all the way to Williamsburg. It was a very long day, but driving through valleys surrounded by miles and miles of soaring mountains was the most beautiful part of the entire experience for me.

Photo Credit: In the Bee-Loud Glade

Colonial Williamsburg
My husband and I were familiar with Williamsburg, having honeymooned there. And we knew our girls would love the experience because they really enjoy American history. Additionally, my precious mother-in-law had sewn beautiful colonial-style gowns - complete with matching mob caps and "pockets" as well as warm capes - that were a great hit in the town. In fact, the historic interpreters interacted with the girls as if they were fine ladies, and many guests openly admired their costumes.

Our first day was rather rainy and chilly, so we focused on some of the indoor establishments, touring the site of the mental hospital that now also houses an extensive folk art museum, the Capitol, the jail (or "gaol," as the colonials would say), and the Governor's Palace. We also ate lunch at Shield's Tavern, where our waitress, Miss Devon, played her part to the hilt, much to our delight.


The second day was much drier and noticeably warmer after a while, so we were able to tour many buildings along the Duke of Gloucester Street, including the small Presbyterian church, the wig maker, a jewelry store, the blacksmith, silversmith, and tinsmith, a tailor, the printer, some merchants, the ammunition magazine, and Bruton Parish Church, which is still an active congregation to this day. We also spoke with one of several archaeologists working on a dig near the Capitol and took a carriage ride pulled by half-brothers General and Brigadier and driven by a very kind gentleman.

Jamestown Settlement
After lunch on that second day, we made the short drive to the Jamestown Settlement, where we toured the indoor museum and then enjoyed the outdoor interactive exhibits: a mock-up of James Fort, part of a Powhatan village, and an authentic replica of the Godspeed anchored in the harbor. Our interpreter on the ship was delightful, playing his part to the nines.

Mount Vernon
The next day, we packed up and drove a few hours north to the Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate. We toured the president's home and extensive grounds and went through the impressive education center and museum as well. What most struck me about the home itself was its simple elegance. I was also enthralled with the view from the piazza facing the Potomac River; I understood in a minute why the president always wanted to go home, and I wished I could have stayed there in peaceful quiet, too.

After Mount Vernon, we drove a few more hours into Pennsylvania where we spent the next day touring Gettysburg battlefield sites. We started with an introductory film about the battle and a viewing of the incredible Cyclorama - painted in 1884 - which has been painstakingly restored in recent years. Then we went through the museum - as with all the museums, very well done - and had lunch on the grounds before visiting Soldiers' National Cemetery nearby. That is where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address about four months after the battle, though many bodies still remained in shallow graves in the fields at that time. And, finally, we spent a couple of hours on a guided battlefield bus tour, driving to many significant locations as our guide explained what happened on each of the three days of the battle itself. It was quite surreal to realize we were at the actual site of such an event, not just a clever re-enactment.

The next day, we began a two-day drive home - uneventful except for a petrifying hour spent going up and down not one or two but three mountains (not big hills!) in the Pennsylvania Appalachians on a narrow state road (no pictures since I was having a panic attack) - and then we were home again.

So, all in all - and not counting the geographical experience of the drive through significant portions of nine states - we spent about 30 hours touring history-related exhibits beginning at Creation (4004 BC) and ending in 1863 AD. The Creation Museum gave us images to deepen our understanding of the events from Creation to Christ's resurrection, which the girls have obviously been reading and hearing about since they were babies. Williamsburg, Jamestown, Mount Vernon, and Gettysburg added to their understanding of events surrounding the American Revolution and Civil War, which they first learned about five years ago and have since read about informally via a number of books. And they can now draw on what they saw, heard, and read as we proceed in our formal study of world history, where we are now in the mid-16th century, just beginning to touch on European exploration of North America. I'm so excited to know that they'll have their knowledge of those real places to enhance what we read. And, like any self-respecting homeschool mom, I made sure to add many books to our home library when we perused the various gift shops.

Of course, we also just enjoyed each others' company and the adventure of traveling together.

And we were able to eat at Chick-fil-A! Since the nearest CFA to our home is about four hours away, we'd never been to one despite hearing so much about the company's excellent food and hospitality. Thus, I'd made it emphatically clear that I'd consider the entire trip a bust if we didn't get to at least one CFA while we could. But since we actually ate at three different CFAs, even that part of the trip was a rousing success!


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

CONGRATS on a beautiful trip! I'm new to your blog so I'll congratulate you on your weight loss as well. It's HARD work.

DebbyGMomof3 said...

What a great trip!

We get to the creation museum about every month, but we've never been to Williamsburg, or Jamestown. I wasn't sure how much there would be for the kids to do there, but it looks like something we need to add as a future plan. I went to Gettysburg when I was about 12, and I do remember quite a lot about it.

Thanks for sharing. :)

Conny said...

Thank you for sharing your trip!! :) What great places to visit. We lived in Newport News, VA for 2 years - right by the "Historic Triangle" (guess you all didn't have time for Yorktown?!) and were season pass holders to Williamsburg for that time period. LOVE the area!! :) Hope we can take our kids back some day.

Alice said...

Tina, this is wonderful to read as we are planning our trip to D.C. and Williamsburg! I love the pics, the girls in their dresses and the cute trench coats. And have to add that my husband got to a CFA on a business trip last week :)
This is really informative - will have Greg read it too!

Stacie said...

Wow, you guys fit in lots of great places!!! The Creation Museum is high on my "to-do" list. Nice pictures, too; I'm glad you all enjoyed your family trip.

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