The Civil War battlefields of this great nation are often visited, but the fighting fields of the American Revolution seem to be largely ignored. In every way you look at it, the Revolutionary War was a huge part of America’s history; indeed, our country would not exist were it not for this conflict. If we did exist at all, we would be an English principality with little freedoms. The United States of America has beautifully preserved many of its hallowed fields, and the battlefield of Yorktown in Virginia is one of these places.
Yorktown’s advantageous location makes it close to Jamestown and Williamsburg for families planning to visit the “Historic Triangle.” Visiting Yorktown as a family vacation rather than a field trip is a great choice because unlike field trips, which often just last a day and ferry kids back to waiting parents, you can get a hotel, eat a colonial dinner and have more time to experience history. Don’t let the kids be the only ones having fun. It never hurts to throw yourself into the historical fun.
You might want to start out at the Yorktown Victory Center. There are countless exhibits here and the average family might expect to spend at least two hours to take in everything fully. For kids who may not have known much of Yorktown’s history to begin with, this is a great way for them to discover the story behind what they will be seeing.
Presentations and a movie are just part of the allure. Stop by the 1780 farm, a recreated rural American residence. Outside you can usually see “American soldiers” camped out. This would be a great time for kids to ask questions, take pictures, and learn about the past. At certain times reenactments such as cannon firings are held, so be sure to check out the schedule ahead of time.
Also at Yorktown Victory Center you’ll find something called the Discovery Room. Kids can try on colonial clothes, and technology offers parents and kids to chance to use computers to learn about subjects concerning the Siege of Yorktown and the lives of colonial Americans. Don’t forget to dress up your little one in colonial garb if this activity is offered when you visit. It will make many great photos and help immerse children more fully in the time period they are studying.
Now you’re ready to visit the field and town. Yorktown proper is a quaint little town where modern amenities blend quite nicely with historic homes and other buildings. You will find old brick homes scattered about, buildings that witnessed the famous siege. The Nelson House is a beautiful colonial structure that’s both crammed with history and pleasing to the eye. If you time your visit right, you may be able to catch a guided tour of the old home. Within the Yorktown area you can find Cornwallis’ Cave; the place received that name because of the tales of British General Cornwallis hiding in this very cave. Whether or not the stories are completely true, kids should enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of colonial Yorktown.
On the battlefield you will find cannons and embankments set up just as they were during the 1781 siege. You can choose to drive the tour and read about each stop as you go along, or you may wish to walk the field. Passing by cannons and monuments slowly enough to stop and read about them is always a great learning experience, and children may enjoy it more. Make sure to tell kids about the importance of what they’re seeing. If they like “playing war,” this is the perfect place for them. Surrender Field is an awe-inspiring place where American soldiers won the days-long siege and helped to end the Revolution. It could be argued that it is one of the all-important spots that helped us win our independence from England. Take a moment to reflect on our nation’s great history.
The most important thing to remember when introducing kids to history is that to “reenact it” makes it more interesting. Yorktown has special things just for “little soldiers” that include learning about colonial life and participating in 18th century activities. The Junior Ranger program, offered at many National Park Service sites, allows you to purchase a book that kids fill in as they go along. If they finish all the activities in the book, they are presented with a “badge” of honor and a paper stating they finished the course. If you have the time, this would be a great way to involve your children in Yorktown’s exciting history.