Our Educational Trip to Philadelphia with Second Plane Children

We recently went on a short educational trip to visit some historical sites of Philadelphia with our two second plane children, and I’d love to share the whole process with you! None of the links I’m adding to this post are sponsored in any way — they’re just things we experienced and what we loved (or didn’t!).

Lila did a project in Social Studies class (3rd grade) this year and her topic was the Liberty Bell. When she saw that it was in Pennsylvania, she asked if we could visit it. I’m always excited when the girls are inspired enough to ask for more educational material, so we quickly planned a trip to drive to Philadelphia from our home in Pittsburgh as soon as school got out for the summer!

While planning this trip, and every time the girls are actively learning about American history, I try to encourage them to think critically about historical narratives. U.S. history is usually presented from the point of view of white, land-owning men. Women and people of color are treated as asides or small notes in the margins, and only in relation to those white, land-owning men, if they’re mentioned at all. It is essential to talk about that as our children are learning the history that is being presented to them so that they can form a fuller picture of what really happened and the intricacies/nuances involved.

Before we went, and throughout the trip, we talked about things like:

  • Who wrote this history, and how do they benefit from this version of it?
  • What part of history / whose story is missing from this narrative that you’ve learned in school?
  • Why is it missing?
  • How can we access those missing perspectives to see this history from other angles?
  • Because our Philadelphia trip was all about the colonies gaining independence from Great Britain, we also discussed the contradiction inherent in advocating for freedom and independence while simultaneously enslaving other human beings as property.

As justice-oriented second plane children, my girls were quite opinionated during these discussions!

Before we went to Philadelphia, we watched 1776: The Musical. It’s pretty old, but lays out the events of June-July 1776 as the Second Continental Congress debates whether to declare independence or not — including some of the nuance of it, like what things were in the original Declaration of Independence that had to be removed as a compromise for certain states to sign on. If your kids like musicals, this is for you! If they don’t, they might find it long and tedious. But I really think that watching it before we went helped my girls to better imagine Independence Hall filled with the colonies’ delegations!

When planning this trip, I looked up all of the historical sites that would be open when we would be there and let the girls help choose which ones we would visit. I knew that we didn’t want to pack too much into each day, because my girls are still only 7 and 9 and need plenty of time to decompress. Because of that, we booked 2 days on a double decker tour bus so we could ride from site to site while resting. I also knew that we needed a hotel with an indoor pool — difficult to find in downtown Philadelphia! We ended up at a hotel on the Delaware River, about a 15 minute walk from Independence Hall.

When we arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, we had no plans for that day other than finding somewhere to eat dinner and then swimming in the hotel pool. To our surprise, we spied a carousel and ferris wheel from our hotel room, so we headed down the boardwalk to check it out. It was the Independence Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest, with a roller skating rink, double-decker carousel, ferris wheel, and carnival games all on the Delaware River. Tickets to ride were pricy at $5 each, but the smiles on the girls’ faces were definitely worth it.

The next day, we woke up and swam in the pool before heading out to visit the sites. We rode the tour bus to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, the largest coin factory in the world! You’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but it is free admission and you go on a little self-guided tour to see how our coins are made. You can even see on the factory floor to watch the coins being made from above. There are a couple of interactive stops along the way where visitors can touch coins in different stages of production and even design their own coins. It was more interesting than I was expecting!

Next, we went to the Museum of the American Revolution. This was a bit of a fail for the kids, which stinks because it was $55 for a family of four. Unfortunately, the section for kids to explore what 18th century Philadelphia was like (Revolution Place), is only open on weekends, and we were there on a Monday. I enjoyed the exhibits, but there were a lot of mannekins posed throughout the museum as if in the middle of battle, and Nora found them extremely creepy. It probably would have been better if Revolution Place had been open, but the rest of the museum is best for tweens/teens+.

There was rain coming up in the forecast, but we thought we had at least the hour and a half it would take us to ride the doubledecker tour bus on the full tour all the way back to our hotel. [Spoiler alert: we were wrong!] There are several tour bus options in Philadelphia, but we chose this one because it was a doubledecker bus with an open top. You can either ride the entire route or hop off and on at multiple stops along the way, so it was ideal for our purposes of rest + transportation. During the summer, buses stop at each stop every 20 minutes or so, so we never had to wait long. Riding in the top was not pleasant during the rain, but Nora thought it was an adventure.

The next day was our outdoor walking day. We started the morning with a tour of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was written. Again, I think this was made so much better by our viewing of 1776: The Musical — it looked just like in the movie, so we could totally picture the historical events that happened here! You do have to schedule your tour ahead of time, and it’s $1/person.

Then we headed right across the street to the Liberty Bell Center, where the Liberty Bell is housed! The day before, we had seen long lines all the way outside the building — so we made sure to head there as soon as it opened to beat the crowds. No reservations are needed and admission is free. There are some historical exhibits leading up to the bell, then it sits in this alcove with the perfect view of Independence Hall. I enjoyed reading about how the Liberty Bell was probably not even rung when the Declaration of Independence was signed, but it did play an important role in abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements!

We walked a couple of blocks to the Betsy Ross house, which was the most interactive of all of the places we visited. I think they usually charge a small admission fee, but it was free the day we went. There’s a self-guided tour of the house, including Betsy Ross’s upholstery shop, where an actress plays Betsy Ross and can answer your questions about the time period. The basement of the house had some things kids could try out, like lifting a bucket of water to do the laundry, and even a play colonial kitchen with recipes from the time to recreate. Outside in the garden, there were a couple of activities the kids could try. Lila loved getting to sew a few stitches on the flag!

We ended our afternoon at Franklin Square Park, where the kids rode yet another carousel and we played some Philadelphia-inspired mini golf! Then we rode the tour bus back to our hotel for the night.

Food in Philadelphia with two kids was tricky, I must admit! We only found one restaurant that would work for us, so we ate there two nights. The other night, we ordered pizza to our hotel room. For lunches, we ate at food stands in parks or at the Bourse Food Hall, which was like mall food court. All of the restaurants that were within walking distance of our hotel were either super expensive or had no kid menu/food the kids would eat, so we stuck with the Liberty Point right on the Delaware River.

Things we missed out on this trip but would have liked to see:

  • Constitution Center — only open Wednesday through Sunday, so we just missed it!
  • Underground Railroad sites — would have required prescheduled tours and driving around, and we were trying to stick to foot/bus transportation.