Happenings around the Colonial Town
As part of my series on the historic triangle, I wanted to go over some of the things we did in Colonial Williamsburg. My boys are ages 10-13 and I felt like it was the perfect age. First order of business for kids is to buy a hat or rent a costume! The price is about the same, so we went with what we could take home. The kids walking around town with costumes on were so cute. Especially the little girls…oh well.
After you’ve gotten your tickets for the town and received a map, you are ready to rock. Each map should have the daily schedule of activities for about a week. The best idea is to pick a few events that begin at a certain time, and work your way around that event. While the kids were settling in bed each night, I’d look at the schedule and pick out a few fun things. For example, my boys wanted to do a Spy Craft class that took place at the Art Museum at 12:30pm. So we visited all of the trades that were closest to it during the morning, so we’d be close by as the time approached.
My boys enjoyed learning all about secret codes, cyphers, and how to fold notes to secretly communicate orders. We could stay up to an hour, and a docent was on hand to help. There were 6 different stations of activities so that everyone in the room could rotate around to each station without it becoming too crowded. We decided not to stay and visit the inside of the museums afterwards. To me, the living museum outside is much more fun. So we headed out to take in more of the tradesmen places.
Close by at the Wigmaker we they let us touch the 4 types of hair that were used for wigs at that time. We were surprised at how soft the yak hair was. And when Junior asked about the long flowing curly men’s wig, that was only for the Governor, they had an interesting frame of reference. When you watch the Governor in the Pirates of the Carribean, he is the only one that has the fancy, long, curly wig! Junior wasted no time in pointing out that movies can be educational too, mom!
At the shoemaker, my boys held different sizes of shoe molds and watched him sew a sole onto the rest of the shoe. The Armory and Tinsmith are in the same fenced off area. We were all mesmerized by the fire and the giant bellows attached to keep the fire going for the armory and blacksmith area. Most of our questions revolved around making these objects without modern tools and how they actually did it. Sometimes the answer was with words, or examples, and letting the boys touch things.
One very important place to visit off of the main drag of the colonial town is the Great Hope Plantation. This plantation shows how 90% of the people lived during the time leading up to the revolution. There were interpreters that represented slaves, showing their living quarters, daily rations and talking about the difficult life they led. It was very tastefully done and helped make it much more real for my children. They have gardens, a chicken house, tobacco drying house, kitchen, meat storage and work areas where shingles and framing are made for the buildings on main street. We even watched a man split wood for shingles with a tool that we had seen them making at the blacksmith hours earlier.
The Cooper had pails and things you could hold. And the Gunsmith had pieces of guns laid about. A lot of repair work is done there, so if your kids have any interest in the inner workings of guns, you’re all set. The Apothecary had old splints you could try and talked about medicine from the past that has ingredients we still use today. The Weaver was very active on her loom as she talked about how expensive the clothes were to make. It was not uncommon to have only one or two sets of clothes back then.
The Cabinetmaker was my 10 year olds favorite place. They have several display items before you get into the workshop. An interpreter encouraged him to find all of the hidden drawers and hidey holes in a desk. After that it was hard to get him to leave. The other boys played gently on a harpsichord that was valued around $4000! These interpreters know exactly how to peak kids interests and many times we were the only ones inside some of the buildings. The lady at the Public Gaol even spoke about the fancy port a potty that was in each cell. I’ll spare you the posed pictures my boys came up with from that visit.
The short 30 minute tours of the Governors Palace, the Capitol and the Courthouse were all informative enough to learn something, but not too long as to bore your children. You could just walk up to a waiting area complete with benches and join the next tour. The Courthouse was the most interactive with tourists playing parts of the judges, defendants and plaintiffs. We were constantly amazed at the acting and speaking ability of the interpreters, as well as their ability to stay in character.
Hopefully, I’ve given you a taste of the things there are to do in Colonial Williamsburg with kids. But the most important thing is to not be afraid to ask questions and interact in the wonderful place. And before you turn around, your kids will be following your lead and asking questions you hadn’t even thought of. This “educational vacation” may not be as easy as say…Disney, but the sense of pride I felt about their inquisitive minds and fascination made it all worth it.