No photos are allowed to be taken while visiting to keep the precious documents safe, so all images courtesy of National Archives.
When you vacation to Washington DC with your kids, especially the older ones, they know they’ll be getting an American history lesson around every corner. Now, whether they love American history or are learning about it the hard way it at this point (remember how much fun American History class was when you were in school? Yeah, neither do I.), there are easy ways to encourage a love of learning in Washington DC. One of our top spots to visit? National Archives!
The Archives are so much more than the keepers of old documents and the main building in the heart of the Capitol? Yes, it’s filled with plenty of documents that were poignant to the creation of our country (think Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and The Constitution!), but the interactive exhibits and museums are not only fun for kids, Mr. Locke and I had a blast checking them out and we learned about our country’s history the easy way.
After the security queue, The rotunda is the first spot you’ll undoubtedly want to head to. Filled with probably the most important American documents you’ll ever have the privilege of viewing. Once inside The Rotunda, technically there is no waiting queue, but folks generally line up from the left side and work their way around. The center area is where you’ll find the biggies: The Constitution of the United States, Declaration of Independence, and The Bill of Rights.
But, after you’ve looked at the amazing penmanship and tried to translate old English (personally, I’m a fan of how English was spoken and how eloquent we all were hundreds of ago!) look to the upper walls and even the ceiling.
Here’s where the fun learning really begins.
After gaping at the magnificent, painted murals (they are a story in themselves), check out the rainbow banner that will lead you to the museum exhibits and interactive learning areas. The banner connects the Bill of Rights to the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, where an Amending America exhibition is on display.
Printed on the banner are the more than 11,000 proposed amendments to the Constitution, arranged chronologically. Make sure to mosey and take a look at some of the crazy, and not so crazy, proposed amendments.
To put that into perspective, we were shown this case that puts into scale the 11,000 proposed amendments, 27 passed Amendments, and the 6 failed ones.
Just in case you need a refresher course for the kids, National Archives has partnered with History channel to create a fun cartoon for kids explaining the process. Think a new age “School House Rock”. Man, I loved that show!
Loved this display showing the American right to petition- including this massive one. Could you imagine having to count all of those signatures? The cumbersome task eventually changed from counting by hand to weighing the paper they came on- and probably where the foundation for the term “weighing in on an issue” began.
The Public Vaults
Did you know that any American Citizen can request access to the National Archives’ Public Vaults? A new tidbit for me, but it’s true. While most of the information and records are stored at other locations, the amount of fun information that kids can learn while in the Public Vaults is astounding. Not only is the Emancipation Proclamation (gave all slaves their freedom) is available for viewing, but letters to American Presidents are on display. One of the highlights? A well-written one from a young Fidel Castro in Cuba asking for an American ten dollar bill from President Roosevelt.
Records of Rights
Located on the Main Floor of National Archives, “Records of Rights” follows the struggles of African-Americans, immigrants, and women to gain rights in the years following the creation and institution on the Declaration of Independence. The Kid really loved this area as it’s so hands on. The exhibit puts into perspective for kids (and adults that needed a refresher course like I did) as to exactly what you were entitled to at specific points in American history.
The exhibit’s entrance was flooring for me as right in its center was the 1297 Magna Carta. Written on animal skin, the document was the inspiration for Declaration of Independence,United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
Head to the center of the exhibit to find a giant, interactive table where you can view documents and share them with other visitors on the table or on big screens surrounding it. The kids will find the learning table a blast to play with and might just learn a few new things about our rights as American citizens, too- my favorite way to learn! If you’d like to continue to learn after you get home (or before you visit!), National Archives has a super fun app available for download on iOS devices.
Thanks to the folks of National Archives for the super informative and fun visit and for encouraging a love of American history in all of us.