There was no need to wake kids on the morning of our highly anticipated homeschool field trip this past Friday. Before daylight, whispers and giggles and the patter of feet told us they were ready and raring to go! By 7:30 a.m., I set off with Eva, Isabel and Owen towards Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's house across town where we would join ranks with Aunt Jenn and cousins Mati and Micah Rubin. Plans were to convene with Aunt Terri and cousin Benjamin Fisher at the Visitor Center in Gettysburg, PA around 10:00 a.m. that morning.
Prior to this field trip, our social studies unit had led us to examine the lives of General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln. With their stories fresh in our minds, we filed into the darkened theater at the visitor center for an excellent documentary of Gettysburg's famous battles, powerfully narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. The six cousins listened intently and I wondered how much of the depth of this epic struggle their young minds understood.
From the theater we proceeded to the Cyclorama, where an amazing painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux depicts "Pickett's Charge." Originally 42-feet high by 365 feet in circumference and completed in the 1880's, this amazingly detailed artwork has been restored and wraps around a circular room. Viewed from a rounded platform above, light flickers and emphasizes different scenes in the painting while narration is heard through loudspeakers. As we moved around the dim room, the mood was solemn and contemplative.
My sister Terri had discovered upon arriving at the visitor center that our kids were eligible to participate in the Junior Ranger program offered by the National Park Service. A free workbook provided exercises for the children to complete and directed them to discover different gems of information throughout the exhibits. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the museum which was quite thorough and offered a wealth of information, their attention spans were waning and it was with extra encouragement that I tried to keep my three kids engaged. In the end they did earn their badges and also a set of historical cards highlighting important people and monuments from Gettysburg, which were definitely a hit!
But perhaps the biggest "hit" of the day - at least for the four boy cousins in our group - was a surprise prior to boarding our "kid-friendly" motor tour of the battlefield. Our tour guide, Steve, handed two Civil-War era muskets to the boys and two at a time, taught them to load (with imaginary ammunition, of course) and fire them just as soldiers would have done back in the day.
We did not know what to expect of the "kid-friendly" tour but without a doubt it was well worth the financial investment! In addition to knowing his way around the battlefield and with the use of a cd complete with sounds effects from the battle, Steve led us skillfully and also shared from a wealth of his personal knowledge of this pivotal battle of the Civil War. For the most part our children stayed fully engaged and even occasionally offered thoughtful questions of their own. Part of the excitement of the tour for all of us was our touring vehicle - a 1933 Ford touring bus which originally functioned at Yellowstone National Park!
Our final stop on the Gettsyburg tour was one of our own choosing. We drove to the Soldiers' National Cemetery, the site of Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address and the final resting place for thousands of known and unknown soldiers of the Civil War. How sobering it was to witness the graves marked only by numbers or the quantity of bodies buried there, without names to be remembered or recognized by future generations.
"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here," Lincoln declared. I hope this will be a field trip that my children will not forget, but even if the details fade my earnest desire is that we will all remember the lessons learned from our nation's history!