Adventure, history trips, Kids, Midwestern United States, New England, Pacific Northwest United States, road trips, Travel Tips, United States

Awesome Living History Museums for Interactive Learning

Living History Museums for interactive learning.

As most parents know, traveling with kids can be totally awesome or totally catastrophic . Our secret recipe for success usually involves two ingredients – get outside as much as possible, and immerse yourself in activities that kids and adults will enjoy. Living history museums are an interactive way to learn about the past, and they’re a perfect side trip when you’re on the road. No matter where you’re traveling in the United States, chances are you’ll be close enough to plan for a family history adventure. There are hundreds of living history museums throughout the country. Here’s a sampling of our favorites.

Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut

Awesome living history museums for interactive learning.

photo credit: JJ via Flickr

This seafaring village on the shores of Mystic, Connecticut will immerse you in the rich fishing and sailing culture of the 19th century. Dozens of New England buildings  host storytellers, craftspeople, historians, and musicians. These beautiful buildings aren’t replicas– they’re businesses from all over New England, dating back to the 1800s, that were transported to Mystic. Here you can explore all kinds of bustling maritime trades, including shipsmiths, coopers, woodcarvers, and riggers.

While you’re exploring Mystic Seaport, be sure to tour the Charles W. Morgan, the oldest commercial ship still in operation. First launched in 1841, it was once part of a huge fleet of whale ships that numbered more than 2,500. You can also cruise down the Mystic River on a coal-powered steamboat or captain a wooden rowboat of your own.

The children’s museum is a highlight for kids under seven, and if you’re in town for more than a day, check out the Mystic Aquarium, where you can see beluga whales and penguins up close. Summer is the busiest time to visit Mystic, but also the most pleasant. If you decide to go in the off season, be forewarned that many exhibits will be closed and staffing will be limited.

Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Awesome living history museums for interactive learning.

photo credit: Scott Robinson

My kids loved visiting the original settlement of the 17th century English colonists in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This living history museum takes you back to the 17th century, when English settlers first arrived on the shores of New England. Here you’ll find historical interpreters that will interact with you “strangers,” teaching you about the life, customs, and cultures of the time.

The settlement at Plimoth expertly recreates they year 1627 in a way that is fascinating, incredibly fun, and educational. Climb aboard the Mayflower II, a replica of the original wooden ship that brought the pilgrims across the Atlantic. It’s so much smaller than you would imagine, especially when you think of the 102 passengers that had to cram aboard to make the original journey.

Awesome living history museums for interactive learning.

photo credit: Rob Mcready

The Wampanoag Homesite lets you get a glimpse of what life was like for the American Indians living nearby. Unlike the English Village, the Wampanoag people you will meet are not actors. They are members of the Wampanoag tribe dressed in historically accurate clothing. They will happily converse with you, but it will be from a more modern perspective. Plimoth is open from March until November, and if you’re planning a New England road trip, both Plimoth and Mystic Seaport are must-see attractions.

Connor Prairie, Fishers, Indiana

Awesome living history museums for interactive learning

photo credit: Mike via Flickr

Step back in time and immerse yourself in life on the prairie in 19th century Indiana. The time is 1836 and life is pretty hard. Mostly you’ll find men and woman (actors) doing chores — chopping wood, tending animals, gardening, creating pottery, and cooking. Both kids and adults are encouraged to join in, and the actors will happily answer all you questions while in character.

The highlight of this sprawling living history museum might just be the interactive 1869 balloon ride. Full of exhibits and activities that help you understand the trials and tribulations of manning a balloon, the fun culminates with a tethered balloon ride high above the prairie. I’ve heard the view is spectacular, but I’ll keep my feet planted firmly on the ground, thank you very much.

Awesome living history museums for interactive learning.

photo credit: Jerry via Flickr

Connor Prairie is open year-round, but some outdoor exhibits close during the winter months. Go out of your way for this one, it’s well worth it.

High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon

Awesome Living History Museums for Interactive Learning

photo credit: Rhiannon Boyle

A great combination of wildlife and culture, the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon has a little bit of everything. You’ll find 135 acres of animals, nature trails, and interactive exhibits. Visit the Miller Family Ranch to learn what life was like on a farm in 1904. You’ll meet the Miller family and their cast of farm hands and livestock. Participate in authentic homesteading chores and try your hand at a few frontier-style games. Then head over to the wildlife exhibits and  meet the resident bobcat, watch otters frolic in the river, and get up close and personal with some amazing birds of prey. Before heading out, be sure to stroll along the interpretive trail to learn more about forest succession and prescribed burning. There’s quite a variety here and the whole family will find something fascinating.

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia

living history museum soldier

photo credit: Tara Schatz

Saving the best for last! My favorite living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia, is so well crafted and so immense that a simple drive by will not cut it. In fact, I recommend a full weekend to really immerse yourself in colonial times! Pitch a tent nearby or reserve a room at one of the local hotels and give Williamsburg a few days.

The recreated city is teeming with revolutionary spirit as the colonies move toward war with Britain and an independent nation. Not only are the townsfolk in character, but there are reenactments throughout the day. You will you find yourself immersed in the struggles of daily colonial life, but you’ll also be there as the colonists decide whether or not to remain loyal to the king, you’ll witness the news of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and you’ll stand by as Benedict Arnold tries to take over the town, and is instead tried himself. Colonial Williamsburg is the larges living history museum in the United States and is open 365 days a year.

Add these field trip ideas to your next road trip and your kids will never complain about learning history again. For a more thorough list of living history museums in the United States, check out this comprehensive list.

Tips for Exploring Living History Museums with Kids

Before You Visit

  • Check the museum’s website. Living History Museums often work with schools and other youth groups to provide hands-on learning experiences for kids. In addition to maps, hours, and a schedule of events, you will often find a robust library of lesson plans, discussion topics, videos, and other supporting material. It’s a treasure trove for families interested in history.
  • Check the weather forecast. Most living history museum events take place rain or shine, which means you and your kiddos should be prepared for whatever Mother Nature sends your way.
  • Prioritize exhibits. Some living history museums are so big, that you can’t possibly see and do everything. Ask your kids to choose a few exhibits that they really want to see and make those a priority.

Make the Most of Your Visit

  • Ask questions. Many of the characters you meet at living history museums are playing the part of a real person who lived long ago. Living history reenactors are passionate about history and would love to share their knowledge with you.
  • Dress the part. Kids love to dress up, so if you’ve got some spare colonial garb or a prairie dress in the closet, now is the time to dust it off and put it on!
  • Encourage kids to document their experiences. Give them a camera, a journal, or a sketch pad and let them  share record their experiences and share them with others.

Does your family have a favorite living history museum? Please share with our readers in the comments!

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A stop at one of America's super awesome living history museums is such a great addition to a road trip with kids. These are our favorites across the USA.

 

 

22 Comments

  1. As a child the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts was such an amazing experience. It really left a lasting mark on my mind showing me just how rough life was back then. It made me appreciate our times even today.

  2. Chestnut Square Historic Village in McKinney, Texas is a wonderful living history museum.
    I would recommend it to anyone traveling to the Dallas area.

    • Thanks, Sherri. I’ve never been there, but I am planning a trip to Texas for next year. I’d love to check out Chestnut Square.

  3. I used to love going to places like this when I was little! We went to Plymouth and Colonial Williamsburg, but I’d never heard of the others. That balloon ride seems very cool!
    Cori recently posted…The remote worker’s guide to OttawaMy Profile

  4. These museums/historic state parks are becoming a favourite thing to do in the US! I recently visited Columbia State Park in California where the gold rush happened and it was fascinating. Your list has added to my future visits. I really want to go to the sites of the civil war and learn about it in an interactive way. Colonial Williamsburg sounds great. Thanks for some great inspiration

  5. Very cool! I’d love to visit all of these places. My company actually did work at the High Desert Museum in Bend. 🙂 I’ve never been, though!! I can totally see how things like this are great for adults AND children. Something to keep in mind… 🙂

  6. Live History – this is such a cool concept. Very ideal for students. Such a great way to learn! As a student I wish I had seen something like this it would have made the subject very interesting.

  7. I love living history museums! They’re such a great way to learn and experience history. There are a few really cool ones in Florida too that I’m sure you’d love. I personally would really love to visit Colonial Williamsburg one day.
    Vicky and Buddy recently posted…Happy Birthday BuddyMy Profile

  8. I live so close to Williamsburg but never made it. Really need to change that! As a history fan I need to go to ALL of these tbh!

  9. This is such a great idea, fun and learning at the same time. I visited the Gibbs Family Farm, living museum in Minnesota with my son on a field trip when he was young and we had a blast!

  10. Be still my nerdy history-loving heart! 🙂 I’ve been to Plymouth and Williamsburg several times and loved both of them. I’m adding the others to our must-visit list!
    Natalie recently posted…Our 2017 Travel WishlistMy Profile

  11. Sounds like a very interesting museum to visit! Although not exactly a museum, I would recommend visiting Chernobyl!

  12. I love the idea of Williamsburg but cannot for the life of me understand why it is open 365 days a year. Does anyone really visit on Christmas day? A great list of places I had never really thought about visiting
    Anne Slater-Brooks recently posted…Why Skopje Should Be On The Top Of Your Bucket ListMy Profile

  13. I don’t have kids, but I do think this kind of place is the best way to engage kids with history. It looks very well done too…I think I’d be quite happy to visit and learn as an adult too

  14. I always look forward to these type of museums. There is so much to learn and absorb. It gives a different perspective to travel. Would love to visit each one.

  15. I haven’t been, but would love to one day! There’s a few in the Midwest that I’ve heard about but haven’t been yet.

  16. This post brings me right back to when I was about 10 years old, my father took my brother and I to a very similar place here in Australia. I was blown away that people still lived like that. Child me didnt understand it was a replica of what life was like. Lol! Looks like a fun, I wanna visit. 🙂

  17. We have a few places in Australia like this. They are mostly to recreate the goldrush era when Australia first became populated and what life was like. I also love that a town is called ‘Mystic’! I want to visit!

  18. Very interesting selection of museums. Have to agree with you that having something to keep the kids busy is key!

    One museum I remember being quite nice and similar was the history museum in Atlanta, Georgia.
    Hugo Cura recently posted…The pyramids of Egypt: Giza, Saqqara, and DahshurMy Profile

  19. I remember going to Williamsburg when I was younger. I didn’t appreciate it then, but think it would be an amazing experience to go again now. Also, not really a permanent museum, but they reenact the Battle of Lexington & Concord each year on Patriot’s Day at 5:30am in Massachusetts. It’s an early morning but quite a sight to behold!

  20. Wow these are all really interesting, would love to visit some of them, not heard of any in the UK!

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