Williamsburg, Virginia is a cultural gem, a place of living history, a lovely colonial smorgasbord. As such, it rightly bills itself as a place to step back in time. That’s a great idea of course, and the costumed interpreters there do a wonderful job of engaging their visitors and explaining the significance of the place. But what if you child isn’t inherently interested in colonial American history?
Never fear – there are lots of ways you can make sure that a trip to Colonial Williamsburg is fun for everyone in the family, history buffs or not. Here are a few tips:
Planting seeds in the Colonial Garden
Let them dress up
What better way to get into the spirit of things than to put on the clothes? You can rent a costume for your child at the Visitor Center. Children in costumers are invited to participate in some of the interpretive fun of the city including picking up a letter at the post office and delivering it to its rightful recipient, planting seeds in the colonial garden, and mustering near the guard house with a brusque and burly sergeant who will have your boy children presenting and firing their wooden rifles like crack revolutionary soldiers by the time all is said and done.
If your child doesn’t want to wear a full costume, you might instead just purchase a hat or a toy rifle or colonial doll to help encourage the colonial mood. All of these are available in the open air Market right in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg.
Exploring tools of the trade
Help them learn a trade
There are numerous opportunities for kids to interact with tradespeople engaged in actually making things “the old-fashioned way.” The blacksmith hammers out nails right, the cobbler sews together shoes, the printer is hard at work producing playbills and newspapers. In many shops kids can either help or at least interact with some of the materials.
At the wigmaker, children are invited to touch the various kinds of hair used and to explore the blockheads and other tools of the trade. The cabinetmaker shows off chair legs in various stages of completion to demonstrate how the carving process works. And at the brickmaker (which was my kids’ favorite) children can not only help to mold and dry bricks – they can walk around in a huge pit of mud.
Be warned – they wash off the old-fashioned way as well – in a large barrel of dirty water.
Writing with a quill pen in the post office
Take a walk
There are two approaches you can take to strolling around Colonial Williamsburg. You might just grab a map from the Visitor Center and start walking around Duke of Gloucester Street where for several hours each day costumed interpreters take over the center of town (which during this time is called the “Revolutionary City”). Hear the townspeople talking as if they have just received the news from Lexington and Concord or the victory at Yorktown. Benedict Arnold and his troops may occupy the town or you may encounter General Washington reviewing his troops.
All of the programs are short and dramatic. While you’re doing this, let your children decided which shops they want to wander in and out of. You’ll likely find chances to do things like writing with a quill pen in the post office.
If you prefer something a bit more organized, you might try one a guided walking tour. Most of these are recommended for adults, but there are children’s orientation walks each morning. Another option is to stay into the evening and go on a Tavern Ghost Walk – just spooky enough for kids of all ages.
Note that the times for Revolutionary City and the walking tours change regularly – be sure to check the Colonial Williamsburg website to find the most up-to-date information.
Wythe Candy and Gourmet
Stop for a treat
A five-minute walk from the museums and other sites you’ll find the modern day Merchant’s Square, which houses numerous restaurants and shops including Wythe Candy and Gourmet. With homemade chocolates, fudge, candied apples, and just about every kind of sweet your kids can dream up (including the biggest jawbreakers I’ve ever seen) a visit here is a fun diversion and might also give your child a sugar boost that will carry him or her through a colonial afternoon.
Mara Gorman lives in Delaware and loves to travel up and down the East Coast and beyond. She shares her adventures at her blog The Mother of All Tips. Her trip to Colonial Williamsburg was generously sponsored by Acura, who also loaned her family an MDX to get there. For more information about family travel to Williamsburg see her tips for visiting Colonial Williamsburg with kids.
Photo Credit: Mara Gorman