Gettysburg is known as the turning point in the American Civil War. This small town, only 90 minutes from the Washington D.C. Area, is a well-preserved site of great conflict and reconciliation. Kids understand the gravity of these events, yet Gettysburg is also fun, packed with family friendly activities that trick kids into learning while being entertained.
In 2008, the National Park Service opened the current Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The goal was to help explain the historical significance of the American Civil War using modern exhibits that capture the full meaning of this pivotal battle.
Best for children ages nine or older, the visitor center offers multimedia educational experience that includes a 20 minute film, a museum featuring comprehensive timeline of the Civil War, and a Cyclorama – a 3-dimensional diorama with light and sounds demonstrating the bloody battle of Pickett’s Charge.
The Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center has a cafeteria, Civil War-era saloon, and expansive museum store. Visitors interested in following a detailed progression of the battle, can drive in their car to key locations on the battlefield using the AutoTour Map.
There are 6,000 acres of battlefields dotted with haunting monuments to regiments and heroic generals. Visitors discover, whether a soldier wore grey or blue, he never questioned his duty to fight. These men looked into the face of death and pushed forward. On each stop along the battlefield, there are searing tales of fearless foes, determined to make the greatest of sacrifices. In the case of 51,000 soldiers – more than any other battle on American soil – they sacrificed their lives.
Most children find the fine points of battle tedious, so instead, drive to a few key spots like Devil’s Den, to scramble up massive boulders. Or gain a panoramic view by climbing the Observation Towers on Culp Hill or Warfield Ridge. Check out the Ranger programs to see if any fit your children’s interests.
Kids love good storytelling, and will relish the living history experience found at the Shriver House Museum – a restored home where one Gettysburg family lived through the horrors of war. A guided tour of the four floors of the home, including an authentic sharp shooter’s hideaway in the attic, helps kids visualize children like themselves who bravely endured unspeakable hardships.
Another worthwhile stop is Gettysburg National Cemetery, where thousands of fallen soldiers are buried. With older children, schedule your visit around the National Park Ranger free walking tour. This is where President Abraham Lincoln gave his most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address. Historians believe this speech captures the true essence of what it means to be an American. Kids seem to revere this hallowed ground; it’s a teachable moment, illustrating how the Civil War shaped our country’s future. Seeing these losses will help them gain empathy, and possibly, comprehend the fragility of our nation.
Hungry families enjoy a stop at Dobbin House Tavern, a home built in 1776 that sheltered runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Inside you’ll find a natural spring that provided thirsty travelers with refreshment. Offering casual and fine dining, the tavern is decorated in colonial period furnishings.
A showcase of bravery, commitment and honor, Gettysburg is a must see place for kids studying the Civil War in school. And it’s a good place to stretch their legs while you share this important story with them.
Tip #1: Plan and reserve activities in advance during busy summer months and weekends online at thegettysburgfoundation.org. For National Park Service programs check here.
Gettysburg National Park Current Hours of Operation: Until March 31 the park is open daily from 6 am – 7pm. After April 1 until October 31, the park is open daily from 6am- 10pm. Visitor Center Hours in March & April – Open Thursday to Monday (closed Tuesday/Wednesday) from 9 am to 4 pm.
Safety Protocols: To visit America’s national parks, face masks are required in all NPS buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks, and historic homes.
Current Pennsylvania Regulations : Maximum occupancy limits for indoor events to allow for 15% of maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size. Core public health measures such as face-covering (mask-wearing), social distancing, and hand hygiene still must be enforced. The 15% of maximum occupancy is permitted only if attendees and workers are able to comply with the 6-foot physical distancing.
If you can’t travel, you can learn about Gettysburg National Historic Park using the Virtual Tour here.
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