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How can I make history interesting for teens? (sigh) Any ideas?

bugzapper

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We're going to Williamsburg and Washington D.C. during our school's fall break at the end of October. We'll be staying for a few days at Wyndham Kingsgate and then we visit my brother in Maryland. We plan to go to Busch Gardens during its closing weekend, but it would seem like a waste to miss the historic sites--although my kids haven't shown much interest for that sort of thing in the past. I'm thinking that we'll skip the Williamsburg tour tickets, but I would like to see Jamestown and Yorktown and possibly Virginia Beach.

Any ideas about how to get teenagers interested in history?

I was thinking of doing a bicycle tour of Williamsburg or Washington, D.C. We've had success with that sort of thing in the past. (We did a bicycle tour of Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, which they enjoyed.) It makes them feel like we're doing more than just wandering around reading placards, and they know that the stops won't be for very long. Any ideas about where to go?

How about battlefields? Is there one that has an exceptional visitor's center or that still has war evidence--mining, bunkers, etc? (Something besides just grassy parks and memorials. :zzz: ) If you were going to do just one battlefield, which would it be? I already checked and I don't think there will be any re-enactments during our visit.

I'm planning on dragging the family to Monticello--just because I've always wanted to see it. When we get to D.C., I'm not as worried--my kids will be happy as long as they are hanging out with their cousins. We'll probably let the older kids wander the Mall while the rest of us do our own thing.

BTW, I have four kids ages 9-17. I feel no obligation to try to see everything during our vacation. I just want to expose the kids to a little of what the area has to offer. My wife and I will return someday without kids, when we will do the site seeing our way. ;)
 

TerriJ

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I would recommend the car tour at Gettysburg. They have volunteers there that drive your car around in the order of the battles and explain how it all happened. I can't guarantee how teenagers will like it, but it does help to bring it alive.
 

Big Matt

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If you kids aren't into history, then Yorktown will be a snooze. It even bores me.

Jamestown is pretty neat, and they should enjoy that somewhat.

I'd take them to Colonial Williamsburg and start out at Merchant's Square and walk around there. Then you can go down towards Bruton Parish Church and see if they catch interest. You may want to let them walk through the College of William and Mary also. They may find that interesting. Another thought is to go at night. It's really fun in the dark and there are ghost tours.

Charlottesville is two hours from Williamsburg, but from Maryland could be a little longer. Just an FYI.

I must admit that Busch Gardens will be the big hit for them with Hallowscream.
 

vacationhopeful

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Having taken summer teenage French Exchange students over 7 summers to D.C., I had the 'one day in town' tour perfected - pre 9/11.

I would get a TIMED walk-down tour of the Washington Monument - one of views and the history (& politics) of its building. I would drag them on a White House tour - Yes, the American President really lives here (must get tickets request in NOW - due to 9/11). And after the Vietnam Memorial and Lincoln Memorial and the Mall, I would let them loose in the Air & Space (while I chilled in the cafe).

So, somewheres in France, everytime the Washington Monument is shown on TV or movies, there are 20+ French men and women who mumble how they WALKED DOWN all those steps when they were teenagers.:D
 

dmbrand

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Your children might surprise you

My children also have stated that they don't care for historical sites, yet, when I did take them to D.C., Colonial Williamsburg, and Plymouth, MA, they had a wonderful time. Big hits for our group were... Ford's theater, Arlington National Cemetery(tomb of the unknown soldier), Korean War Memorial, and the "trial reenactment" at Colonial Williamsburg. When I plan trips, I usually make sure there is history(for me...and ultimately for them), amusement park for them(Busch Gardens sounds great), and water/beach/marina(for my husband). Then everyone is happy!!:whoopie:
 

Emily

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When we were in DC we took the tourmobile the first day. The tour driver explains all the stops, adds history and details. You can get on/off. Stay little or lots or not stop.

By going on the tour mobile the first day, you can decide to go back to different areas if you really want to spend more time. We didn't get off at the Smithsonion - we did that on a different day.

On a different trip we went to the spy museum and interestingly enough - everyone (including teens) liked the portrait gallery across the street better.

My parents are buried at Arlington and I really like the tour there but that may not be a very objective opinion.

The white house tour is memorable. My 15yo son says the best vacation that we ever took was new years 2 years ago when President Ford passed. We visited the president laid in state (capital) and as we came to the front of the casket, the line was stopped for Ford's family. Then Donald Rumsfeld visited. Through a series of events, my son walk down the steps with Mr Rumsfeld. All my kids were honored to be there but my 15yo was over the top.

Depending on what concerts/shows are at the Kennedy Center when you are there - you may want to take them.

Unless you have never been to a zoo - I would skip the one in DC.

We spent a week in Williamsburg this summer. We chose to only go to BG and water country on this trip. I think BG is open on the weekends in Oct. Our kids had so much fun. Make sure you take them here after the colonial events.
 
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Teens and history

The Williamsburg Ghost Tour from Merchant Square is fun. Jamestown is OK. We went to a couple of plantations over the years, and the kids found them interesting.

We walked around Williamsburg, but new purchased admissions. My girls just weren't that interested.

Holly
 

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In DC be sure to take the FBI tour. The kids will love it. Also, consider the Newseum which is a museum near china town that deal with "news". It is new and gets rave reviews. The entire Unabomber cabin is on display there.

You can catch an on-off trolley tour of DC at union station. You could see all the most popular sites and just hop on and off the trolley.
 

NTHC

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With teens I would think Busch Gardens would be your best bet. My kids have always enjoyed Yorktown much more than Colonial Williamsburg.

We go to DC all the time because we are so close. Our teenage son enjoys Arlington National Cemetary, the segway tours, ESPN Zone(yuck yuck), the White House(need to get tickets in advance), any type of professional sporting event and Gravelly Park(I think that is the name...where you can get as close to a jet taking off or landing over your head as we have ever been), the Roslyn metro stop with one of the longest escalators anywhere, the Treasury and the Air and Space Museum. You also can't go wrong with teens by taking a trip to Crystal City or Tysons Corner for a little shopping.

Hope you have a great time!

Cindy
 

JUDIE25

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Even though my children are long past their teens -- my recommendation is to spend the extra money and get tape tours. Or being offered these days are IPOD tours that you purchase to download.

The audio seems to make all the difference. Usually in addition to an explanation, there are re-enactments and sound effects.

The audio completes the experience. Remember today's kids are used to experiences that touch all the senses – and will not settle for less.

My other recommendation is to get DVD’s of movies like “The Patriot” OR the recent “John Adams” miniseries, so that they can visualize what occurred in the areas you are going to visit.
 

Nancy

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DC Visits

We live in the area and one of the things our visitors over the years have enjoyed is the metro (subway). If your kids live where they are used to it, then forget it, but our midwest friends and relatives enjoyed that. Roslyn escalator is a great place to go. It is no longer the longest or second longest, but the longest closest to town. Smithsonians are also enjoyable. There is a newish wax museum downtown plus Verizon center for sporting events. There is another new museum, near Verizon center about crime. Haven't been there yet. Ford's theater has been closed, but maybe open again. There is a HardRock cafe plus the ESPN zone down town.

We just went downtown today to walk around. Downtown DC has really been cleaned up in the 20 plus years we've lived in the area. Nicest, closest in shopping is Pentagon City Mall.

As far as Williamsburg, you might be surprised at what they enjoy, or don't enjoy. The free movie at the Visitor's Center gives a feel for the area.

Hope this helps some.

Nancy
 

sstamm

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We took our 3 children, ages 9, 13, and 15 at the time, to Williamsburg several years ago, expecting them to be more interested in Busch Gardens than Colonial Williamsburg. They actually asked to return to Col Williamsburg several times over the week, and really enjoyed it. We did a Ghost Tour (good) and toured the Governor's mansion (not as interesting to them.) But what really caught their interest was the program called "Revolutionary City."

At the time, it had just started and they had 2 different programs. It looks as though there are more programs now. Basically, over a several hour period during the day, it was events in history re-enacted, but then there was interaction which included the crowd. The characters would be in the street and would engage spectators in conversation about the events that had just occurred. I wished that I was more knowledgable so that I could have contributed to the conversation more. But there were people around that challenged and conversed with the characters and it was very interesting. Our children learned a lot within that format. One scene that I found particularly moving involved representatives returning from the Continental Congress. As we, the crowd, gathered around, they read what was resolved- the Declaration of Independence. Seeing and feeling the reaction of the "citizens" of Williamsburg really exciting. My 9 year old said, "oh, now I get it." That was then followed by some scenes and events that show how the ensuing war took its toll on everyone. Our kids were much more interested and involved than we expected.

Anyway, my point is, you may want to explore this possibility before completely ruling out Colonial Williamsburg.

Good luck with your planning.
 

Charlie D.

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Giv’em a hundred bucks each if they can pass a test on Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown after the trip. You can get some of the questions from the historical pictures and write-ups on the chronological walk at Yorktown. Jamestown has a taping talking about its history and Williamsburg has many presentations at the various sites by individuals. Money can be a powerful motivator. Set the amount earned based on your lifestyle and what would get their attention.

Charlie D.
 

applegirl

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I find that for young kids to enjoy historical places, they need to know some of the history that went on there and why it's a neat place to visit. Also, if the parents are excited and enthusiastic, I think the kids may very well "catch" the enthusiasm. If you expect them to be bored and not interested, they won't disappoint. If you expect them to like it and find it interesting and help them see why it's a cool place, they may have a better attitude.

My husband and his first wife took the kids to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens when the kids were teens. Their BIG mistake was taking the kids to Busch Gardens before Willliamsburg. If you can arrange it, I would highly recommend Busch Gardens to be last, gives them something really fun to look forward to.

Do as much research as you can about what there is to see at Williamsburg before you go, so you choose carefully the events and things to do that will stimulate their imagination.

Good luck!
Janna
 

Jbart74

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I like Charlie D's idea. The test for cash is cool! I'm only 33 but i remember 12-16 like it was yesterday! I would gladly pay attention for a day if it meant that i could have $20 for video games the next day. SOme people might find this unappealing, but in all reality, the kids will learn and remember, and the they will have fun. It's pretty Pavlovian, but that's sort of the point, in the end, isn't it?

JB
 

bugzapper

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Lots of great ideas!

I especially like the Ghost Tour in Williamsburg. I found another ghost tour at Endview Plantation in Newport News: http://www.endview.org/ghost.html Is anyone familiar with this ghost tour?

Normally, I would plan Busch Gardens for the end of this kind of trip, for the reasons cited. Unfortunately, the park closes for the year on Oct. 26th, which is at the beginning of our trip, so we don't have much choice if we want to visit Busch Gardens. What my kids are really excited about is visiting their cousins, which occurs in the latter half of the trip--so they will still have something to look forward to.

The reason I believe my kids don't like historic sites is that a couple of years ago, during a vacation in New Mexico, we took a guided tour of Santa Fe and visited a few museums, including the alien museum in Roswell. My wife and I were fascinated by the tour and museums and we thought the kids enjoyed them as well. Later, my son was telling everyone that the trip was the most boring vacation we ever had. Since that trip, it has been like pulling teeth to get my kids to go to any kind of museum or historic site. In San Francisco, we got our kids to go to the Maritime Museum by pointing out that they didn't have to go inside any buildings. Last week, when we were at Capistrano Beach in southern California, we let them stay at the condo and watch TV while my wife and I visited the Mission San Juan Capistrano, since I didn't want them there if they were just going to grumble. We had a much better experience at Angel Island, riding bicycles between the historic sites. I think it may just be a matter of how it is presented.

I'm hoping that Williamsburg and Jamestown will be more interesting for them. I notice that they still do the Revolutionary City presentation. Does it require pass purchase?

I also found that the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum has an audio tour written and recorded by teenagers for teenagers: http://www.history.org/history/museums/dewitt_gallery.cfm Is anyone familiar with this?
 

Big Matt

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Just an FYI, Williamsburg is really spread out with a lot to see and do. I wouldn't really call it a museum although there are museums throughout the property. It's really more of a reconstructed colonial city (about two square miles) with reenactments and lots of interactive stuff. The visitors center is where you get your tickets and can see a preview film to get you going. You can walk the whole thing or take buses. There is also a very nice commercial shopping area (Merchant's Square).

Jamestown is much smaller, but has a similar feel. Yorktown is a battlefield with a museum.
 

Lisa P

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When our kids were middle school aged, we just walked through Colonial Williamsburg, only seeing whatever didn't cost for the admission. There was little of interest to them and they came along willingly but without any real interest of their own. We were glad we hadn't paid for admissions. They were okay with Jamestown and Yorktown, though we were committed to not lingering. As they saw our willingness to be efficient with our time there, they took a positive attitude. Still, Virginia Beach and Busch Gardens were the highlights and the colonial sites were the requirements.

Going back once they were in high school, none of us expected to like it much. But we homeschooled and they were then taking U.S. History and U.S. Government courses so we revisited Wash DC and Col Wmsbg with a focus on relevant sites. Since these were strictly "educational" trips, they were not anticipating "all fun" like a vacation.

The Col Wmsbg trip turned out to be fantastic. We got annual passes and spent a lot of time at Col Wmsbg that week, usually in the afternoons, watching the actors and participating. DH & I only chose a couple things to see and we told the kids how many things altogether that we wanted to do as a family, leaving it to them to make the specific selections. DH & I also toured some buildings without them when they wanted to wander outside with something to drink or eat. It was a low pressure thing, once a plan was made and followed. Definitely make your expectations known and involve the kids in the planning. Print out a list of the options and encourage them to choose some "or parents will end up choosing them all." Ours enjoyed the Ghost tour, a trial and the Jail, and the outdoor events and skills demos the most. DD liked some of the residential building tours.

We were surprised to hear at the end of the trip that the kids all hoped to return in the next few years, DD even sooner. Our DSs are science-oriented. DD is creative, artistic, business-oriented. For all three, "History" is still dead LAST overall in their enjoyment of school subjects. But the trip was a great success anyway. HTH.
 
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Charlie D.

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Keith,

One of the things I would have changed when we went to Colonial Williamsburg would have been to not get off the shuttle bus at the first stop but rather stay on it for the entire loop. After we had worn ourselves out and got back on the bus to go back to the visitor’s center we passed a couple of stops that I think would have been even better than the one we got off at. The bus driver describes what all is at each of the stops. An example was we stood in line for 20-30 minutes to get something to eat and drink in the area we were in and then stood some more waiting for a place to sit and eat it. A 5-10 minute ride on the bus would have gotten us to an area with lots of eating places. Of course we did not know that until after getting back on the shuttle bus. After the first complete loop you can then decide with your kids which area you would like to concentrate on and go back to it to start your walk-a-bout.

Charlie D.
 

Big Matt

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Charlie D has good advice.

I even suggest that you park at the Merchant's Square end and check all of that out first before going to the visitors center. You'll be able to see where all of the commercial shops are located. Most dining is there too. Then you can drive over the the visitors center and go from there.
 

shagnut

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Get the kids involved at wmsburg. A little story. When we arrived Kelli said this is nothing but a bigger Old Salem, ( old boredom) and was ready to leave before we got started when suddenly a gardner came up to us and asked Kelli how many weeks it took us to get here? Weeks!! we drove here. "Well I'll be, I've only seen one or two of them in my life" What is that thing your sister is holding? "Sister, that's my mom and that's a camcorder!! I was taping everything. After some more conversation Kelli say's "this might not be so bad afterall!! He said, " ladies you have a good day. I must get back to work" He knew he had got Kelli hooked and he had done his job.

Go on a ghost tour and then the next day go to Cry Witch. Wow, is all I can say. We said she was guilty of being a witch and I walked out wondering what had happened to me? I knew there was no such things as witches but we were so far back in another time we lost site of reality.
Lots of things to get them interested. shaggy
 

justnosy

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you never know about kids...

We went to Colonial Williamsburg in April. My kids are younger (7,7,10) but they really had a good time and we're going back during Christmas break. I was the one groaning and whining and expecting to have a really boring "history" vacation but at the end I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot!!!

We went to the NPS run Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield. They have a Jr. Park Ranger Program at both places. We only did the one at the Yorktown Battlefield (you had to buy the CD for the audio tour) Unfortunately the age limit for this program is 13 but the older kids can help find the answers too...

We didn't get a chance to see Revolutionary City during our stay (hence the return trip) but we went into the museums and trade shops. My kids really liked those and my son asked a lot of questions too! We did a "lantern" tour of several trade shops at night and the kids wanted to revisit the shops during the day too!!

Definitely try and plan out what to do before getting there - like other posters said - try and go to the more "interactive" sessions (like a meeting with one of the colonists where you can ask questions) (schedule of events listed on the colonialwilliamsburg.com site) For something different - check out the Crystal Concert (featuring one of only 2 "glass" violins in the world)
 

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Giv’em a hundred bucks each if they can pass a test on Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown after the trip. You can get some of the questions from the historical pictures and write-ups on the chronological walk at Yorktown. Jamestown has a taping talking about its history and Williamsburg has many presentations at the various sites by individuals. Money can be a powerful motivator. Set the amount earned based on your lifestyle and what would get their attention.

Charlie D.
Gee, would you please adopt me!:rofl:
 

Charlie D.

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That's cute!! Keith has gotten several fine suggestions to help with the trip. I spent many weeks while in the Naval Reserve at Cheatham Annex, a Navy supply facility right near Williamsburg. I love the area. I also like history so it was such a neat place to visit.

Charlie D.
 

bugzapper

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Thanks for all the great ideas. I'll let you know what works!
 
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