No matter where you live in the country, make the trip to Alexandria, Virginia, to see George Washington's Mount Vernon. It's a great place for family travel.
One of our family goals for 2013 was to visit Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia. My girls learned a lot about George Washington in 1st grade last year, and they were eager to see his home.
For any age child, Washington is recognizable as our first president, on dollar bills and quarters as well as in books and on monuments.
Tickets run $17/adults, $16/seniors, and $8/children, with kids 5 and under free. Discounts can be found occasionally on daily deal sites.
We saved a few dollars on the kids' admission with a coupon from their summer library program booklet. We had an absolutely wonderful day trip, so I'm sharing my family's experience.
What to do at Mount Vernon with Kids
When you buy your admission ticket, you're given a ticket stamped with a time for a docent-led tour of the Mansion, which my kids just loved. After seeing a miniature dollhouse version of the Mansion in the lobby, they were thrilled to see the same furniture, wallpaper and details in real life.
We skipped the orientation film offered in the lobby and wandered the grounds while waiting for our tour instead. Besides the mansion tour, you can take a 30-minute docent-led tour of the Garden & Landscape or the Slave Buildings for free. Other tours are extra, including the boat tour of the Potomac River.
Enjoy the stunning grounds and view
It helped that we had a lovely 70-degree day, but the view from the front porch of the mansion, overlooking the Potomac River, is just beautiful. The flowers and gardens were bursting with life, and I can only imagine how lovely it will all look in fall colors over the next few weeks.
We walked the gardens, saw the innovative greenhouse, and were fascinated by the fruit trees with lemons, limes, pineapples and more.
See all the Animals
Kids of all ages love animals, and the farms at Mount Vernon have horses, sheep, oxen and chickens. We spent quite a while watching them as we walked the grounds and trails during our day.
Use the Adventure Map
This was one of the most well-done children's programs I've ever seen at a museum or historical site! At the entrance, the docents got my kids excited about following the Adventure Map to find secret words and solve a puzzle, which you then take to the kids' gift shop for a souvenir.
We also used the map to get around, but it encouraged them to cover more ground than they might have otherwise. They handled several hours of walking, hiking, and learning without complaining. It also makes a great keepsake for the kids to remember their visit.
All around the estate, there are costumed staff sharing lessons about Colonial life. We could have watched the blacksmith for an hour! A docent was nearby, explaining what he was making and how he used each tool.
Out on Pioneer Farm, we watched men cooking fish over a campfire and learned how to separate wheat seeds from chaff using different baskets. The hands-on learning was one of my children's favorite parts of the day.
Talk about History
With 7 and 10 year-olds, our kids are aware of President Lincoln, the Civil War, and slavery, but seeing how slaves lived and were treated at Mt. Vernon was different. Washington felt he couldn't attend to the issue during his presidency.
Instead, he left instructions in his will to release the slaves after Martha passed away. She ended up doing so just a year after George died. Between visiting the sleeping quarters and helpful displays in the museum, it was easy to discuss this era in ways that our kids understood.
Play in the Hands-on History Center
Speaking of hands-on learning, inside the museum you'll find the Hands-on History Center, filled with Colonial-era and Washington-themed toys. The docent there talked them through dressing up in colonial garb and posing with the Mount Vernon backdrop.
There were logs for building a house plus a dollhouse-sized mansion. While the room is for 3-8 year-olds, they allowed my 10-year-old son in since there was no line waiting. The rest of the museum was very kid-friendly as well.
The museum building ends in a full-scale food court and gift shop which reminds me to tell you to pack water and snacks, since you're not near anything selling food for the duration of the day. Have you been to Mount Vernon with kids?