Our family recently traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia for a week of hands-on history focused school. Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown have weeks during the fall and spring when they provide homeschool programs. I planned our trip and made reservations six months in advance to ensure we would get into all the classes and tours we wanted to attend. They had special rates for admission tickets and hotel making this an affordable trip for families. The multi-day admission tickets to Williamsburg were $13.50 for youth and $19 for adults. The extra homeschool programs varied in price from $5-$15 per person per class. The hotel was $85/night for a room that sleeps 5.
After our first day traveling, we stayed in Wytheville, Virginia and enjoyed a break from the car while we swam, ate take-out dinner and taught Abby and Enoch to play Settlers of Catan. On our second day of traveling, we took a lunch break in the Shenandoah Mountains. We took a short detour on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Humpback Rocks visitor center at milepost 5.8. This prominent rock outcrop was a landmark guiding wagon trains in the 1840s. We visited their outdoor farm museum. There was a single-room log cabin and a series of outbuildings that represented late nineteenth century living. There were costumed interpreters making quilts, playing banjos, and cooking in the cabin. It was especially fun to have my mom with us who grew up on a farm similar to this one. The children were fascinated by the stories she had to tell when she was a child.
We arrived Sunday evening at the Woodland Suites hotel, conveniently located right next to the Williamsburg visitor center. I wasn’t sure what we would be getting for $85 per night, but I was pleasantly surprised. This price included a continental breakfast, which I would describe as a few steps up from a Hampton Inn breakfast. They had fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, muffins, cereal, waffles everyday and each day there was something different: bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy or an omelette. Included in the fee, we had access to on-site recreation and games: miniature golf, volleyball, shuffleboard, table tennis, horseshoes, and cornhole. There was a heated saltwater pool and Splash Park. Complimentary shuttle bus service to Williamsburg was another benefit. We also took advantage of the 10% off discount at official Colonial Williamsburg stores. The room we stayed in had two double beds (a little small when you’re used to a king-sized bed, but we made it alright) and a chair that pulls out into a small bed. There was a restaurant, Huzzah, open for dinner after 5:00 on the property that we ate at twice.
Monday we spent the day at Jamestown Settlement. The Settlement has four main areas to explore: a beautiful museum, replica’s of the three 1607 ships that sailed to Virginia to establish Jamestown, James Fort (1610-1614) and the Powhatan Indian Village. There were several homeschool tours to choose from: A general family tour for all ages, a program for ages 7 and under that visited all four areas of the site, but had a special focus on the Indian village with age-appropriate activities, and a tour for ages 8 and up that toured three of the areas with a special focus on the fort. We made reservations for the two themed tours that met at the same time. Elijah went with Ezra on the tour for younger children and my mom and I went on the tour with Abby and Enoch for older children. We had a very knowledgeable guide who was excited about what he had to share. The tickets we bought were good for the whole week, so we got detailed information about parts of the site, but were glad to know we could come back anytime during the week to explore the parts we didn’t get to spend as much time on. I enjoyed the small size of the group and that the information was geared for older children and they were not distracted by younger siblings who had tuned out because it was over their head. Ezra loved his tour and was able to share a lot more about what he learned with us. After the two hour tour, we ate lunch in the café. We were planning to go explore the parts we wanted to see, but it began to pour outside. Instead, we visited the museum inside which was beautiful, had several hands on experiences and several well done movies to watch. We came back Thursday afternoon to see the parts we wanted to explore in more detail.
Tuesday and Wednesday we rode the shuttle bus to Williamsburg. Two days were just the right amount for us here. I wish I would have had an opportunity to look at a map of colonial Williamsburg before the trip to get the lay of the land. It took me a little while to realize that all the buildings in red on the map could be entered with our admission ticket. There was so much to see. We signed up for 6 homeschool classes over the 2 days. Some, Ezra was not old enough to go to, so he had special time with Nana during those times.
The first class, Exceedingly Good Cook, was our favorite. This was a hands on class where the students learned about how slaves cooked for their masters and for themselves. Abby scooped oyster out of it’s shell and fried it in a spider pan on the hearth, Enoch used a mortar and pestle to grind herbs and they both helped make hoe cakes and beans. They didn’t get to taste any of the food they made, but it smelled good.
Objects and the Stories They Tell was taught by one of the curators who is responsible for doing the research that helps determine what objects go into the houses. She had just changed out the items in the Wythe house to reflect the two week period when George Washington stayed in this home to plan the strategy for the Battle of Yorktown. Enoch got to hold the key and open the door to the house. The students got to handle the objects in the house and she explained why she chose those items to go in the home. There is even a special department in Williamsburg where they make the fake food that goes in the historical homes.
The Brick Wall class took place in the brick yard behind the Randolph property. They split the class into two small groups, so we had a lot of individual attention. At the first station, they made bricks in a mold and then they took their shoes off and stepped in the clay to soften and mix it together. I do wish I would have known they’d get dirty. They had a place to wash feet, but no towels to dry with. Next, they learned to lay brick two different ways and how they made mortar back then. This was another favorite class that all three of our children could participate in.
The 5 of us visited the 3 million dollar stables during the Bit and Bridles program. We saw the horses, different types of carriages and an ox-cart team and learned more about horses and saddles. This was probably my least favorite program, but that might have been because we were so tired.
The Juba’s, Shakers & Bells program was at the Randolph house. The teacher explained more about slave life and some of the ways they would rest and relax together by playing music. This was one of the times the slaves really felt free for a few minutes. All of the children had an opportunity to play different African instruments that the slaves would have used using the different rhythms he taught. Ezra attended a Mother Goose class for his age group that Elijah attended with him. He seemed to enjoy it.
Tuesday evening behind the courthouse, there was a reenactment that lasted about 30 minutes called, “On to Yorktown and Victory” with George Washington on his horse, fife-and-drum march and the militia firing their guns. This was a big highlight not to be missed.
One night we ate in Williamsburg at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, George Washington’s favorite place to eat. The food was good, but it was a on the pricier side. We got more than just food, though. It was more like a “character dinner.” A historical interpreter was there dressed as Christina Campbell. She explained a lot of history about the building and George Washington. There was also a gentlemen dressed up who played guitar at each table.
Thursday we visited Yorktown Victory Center where we had reservations for a homeschool tour. This is run by the same people who run Jamestown. There is also a Yorktown National Park where the actual location of the battle was, but we did not visit this location. The Victory Center is a brand new facility just opened recently. We saw a very well done up-to-date video production in the theatre that gave an introduction to the American Revolution story of liberty and freedom. There was a nice timeline of the American Revolution on the wall in the hallway. The boys were able to try on costumes from the Revolutionary war uniforms from the English, French and Americans. The homeschool tour included a visit to the classroom with a power point presentation, the continental army encampment and a farm. Our favorite part was the army encampment where there was a presentation on spies, learning about the guns as they were shot, how to march with the soldiers and how military doctors would help the soldiers.