Earlier this year we traveled to Washington DC, where my oldest son participated in the National MathCounts middle school math competition. While DC has plenty of sights and museums to visit on its own (it’s a treasure trove for homeschoolers, especially) we couldn’t imagine not renting a car and driving down to Williamsburg, Virginia.
Williamsburg is home to one of the largest living history museums in the US, Colonial Williamsburg. While we’ve been to quite a few living history museums in the US (from the Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts to the small Tinsley House homestead right here in Montana) Colonial Williamsburg has been on our radar for a long time.
We spent parts of three days there (and I say parts, because in those three days that we were down in that area, we also visited original Jamestown settlement, and Yorktown battlefield), which completely didn’t feel like enough time for any of us.
Living history museums are quite different from your regular run-of-the mill museums, because instead of looking at the artifacts and reading little signs that go with them (and we’ve done plenty of that too!) you are immersed into the time period almost entirely. The houses and buildings are preserved in the same manner they looked over 200 years ago, all of the workers there wear historically accurate clothing, they demonstrate essential life crafts that were popular in the day. Our kids loved visiting and didn’t want to leave any of the three days! The especially enjoyed watching and trying their hand at weaving and book binding.
Here are our top 10 tips for visiting Colonial Williamsburg when you decide to go:
- Study the time period before you go! All 3 of our older kids had a blast researching Colonial times extensively, reading on the subject, and getting excited about our visit.
- Plan to arrive early! You will want to spend as long as possible there. Obtain a schedule of all the live demonstrations, talks, or parades when you are purchasing the admission tickets or download their app in advance and plan out your visit that way. The app has handy maps, hours that various shops and merchants are open, etc.
- If you are a homeschooling family, be sure to ask about Educator discounts. When we were buying our tickets the lady informed us that buying teacher annual pass for both my husband and myself was cheaper than just buying the regular 3-day adult pass (that we were planning to purchase)! All I had to show was my educator ID from the local superintendent of schools.
- Wear comfortable shoes! You will be doing a lot of walking (and the town is not super compact) so you’ll want to make sure you are prepared.
- Dress up in period clothing, if that’s something that appeals to you. It definitely adds to the experience and it was one of the favorite parts of the visit for my daughter.
- Don’t forget to prompt kids to ask questions of the cast who work there! They are very knowledgeable. A lot of them are historians by trade and volunteer at the museum. They can share little tidbits of information that definitely enhance your visit. If your kids are timid (mine aren’t but they did need to be reminded to ask the cast when they would try to ask me to the side), think about preparing a little “conversation script” for them beforehand.
- Bring water and snacks with you to spend more time visiting various live demonstrations rather than waiting in lines for food. There are plenty of historical taverns right there on the premises where you can eat lunch or dinner, but especially kids sometimes get hungry in between meal times, too. Some of taverns there are only open certain hours and require reservations, so plan accordingly.
- If the timing of your visit is flexible, plan to visit during their homeschool days. Our visit time was fixed, so unfortunately we weren’t able to take advantage of that. During those days they offer discounted admission tickets to homeschooling families and a lot more of the hands-on demonstrations that make history come alive in unforgettable ways.
- Have your children prepare some sort of presentation after the visit! It helps them remember the most special parts of the visit as well as enhances their presentation skills.
- And the last tip is very applicable if you have a daughter (or several) who love American Girl dolls as much as mine does! Have your daughter read all of Felicity Merriman’s books beforehand. They are set in Colonial Williamsburg (which was Felicity’s hometown). If she has a Felicity, allow your girl to bring her special friend with her on this visit! Everyone in Williamsburg recognizes Felicity and my daughter just loved carrying hers around and “showing Felicity her hometown”. It was so sweet to watch her!
Have you ever been to Colonial Williamsburg? What did you like/not like? What were your favorite live demonstration? Please let us know in the comments!