If you only have 4 Days in Washington D.C.

Tomb of the Unknowns

We were fortunate enough to spend four days in Washington D.C. Those that have already visited D.C. know that three weeks is not enough time let alone four days.  As we looked at our travel schedule, we knew we had to plan wisely.  To help with the educational experience and ensuring our children learned from completing the Junior Ranger programs, we picked the Civil War as our theme for our visit.  To support this theme, we picked the following parks:

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

African-American Civil War Memorial
National Mall and Memorial Parks
Frederick Douglass House
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House (not Civil War, but a great place to visit)

The first step we took in planning our trip was booking tickets to see Ford’s Theatre.  Visitors can’t visit the museum or the Petersen House (across the street from the theatre) without tickets. There is a limited amount of tickets sold each day, so buy early enough to ensure you get enough for your party. We chose to take the audio tour and would highly recommend other visitors to do the same.  As we planned for our Ford’s Theatre visit, we decided to look into visiting the White House.  Tours of the White House are available, but you must submit a request through your Congress representative or through an embassy.  The NPS suggest you request your tour  three weeks to six months in advance.  We waited to plan the rest of our visit until we heard back from our Congressman.  We were fortunate to get a tour on the date we requested and continued to plan around the tour date.  We finished making reservations by reserving tickets to tour Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

As part of our preparation, we visited the following sites to print out Junior Ranger books:

Frederick Douglass Junior Ranger Activity Book: http://www.nps.gov/frdo/forkids/upload/FRDO_Jr_Ranger_Booklet.pdf

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site: http://www.nps.gov/mamc/forkids/upload/MAMC-Jr-Ranger-Book.pdf

Our Visit: February 20-24

When we visited D.C. they were experiencing record low temperatures which brought unique challenges to our visit.  I have traveled to the D.C. area during the summer with also brings unique challenges if you are not use to the humidity.  When planning your visit, make sure you dress appropriate and stay hydrated as you will find yourself walking quite a bit.  Due to our tour dates, we decided to start our visit by visiting Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site was the first memorial commemorating a women and African American on D.C. public lands.  The Junior Ranger program was appropriate for children ages 7-12. The program introduces children to the fight for racial and gender equality and significant women that contributed to making a difference.  My children truly enjoyed their visit and enjoyed learning about Mary McLeod Bethune’s work and the legacy she left.  The Scavenger Hunt activity requires children to listen to a ranger talk.  Ranger John was outstanding as he shared information with the kids as they completed the activity. Completing the Junior Ranger program and listening to Ranger John really impacted my children as they spent several days talking about the sacrifices Mary McLeod Bethune made to make a difference in the world we live in. I am glad we made this stop and completed the Junior Ranger program.  The program took two hours to compete which included a tour. Before we left, we picked up the “Road to Freedom – Underground Railroad Junior Ranger Activity Book.”

The next stop on our list was the African-American Civil War Memorial, which is part of the Road to Freedom-Underground Railroad Junior Ranger Activity Book.  To complete the Road to Freedom-Underground Railroad Junior Ranger Activity Book, a child must visit 2 of the national parks listed in the book and complete the corresponding activities.  Children must also complete a few additional activities that relate to the Underground Railroad. The African American Civil War Memorial had three relativity easy questions to answer.  I was grateful we picked this memorial as the theme was “The Spirit of Freedom” affording children the opportunity  to reflect on what is means to be free!

We ended our first day with a visit to Rock Creek Park.  We made the best of the few hours we had at Rock Creek Park.  There is so much to see that a person could spend a whole day walking around looking at the Fort DeRussy,  Pierce Mill, Meridian Hill Park, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Montrose Park, Georgetown Waterfront Park, and Francis Scott Key Park.  As part of the Junior Ranger program, children complete activities that highlight the NPS mission and the importance of leaving no trace when hiking. Children learn about the ecosystem while looking through the Nature Center.   There are activities that focus on Old Stone House and Fort DeRussy to encourage children to walk around the park. The Junior Ranger program doesn’t require children to see the entire park, but does encourage children to learn about both history and life science. The Junior Ranger program took about two hours to complete.

Day 2:

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

We started our second day with exploring President’s Park.  Completing this Junior Ranger program is a great way to prepare your children for a White House tour.  I really liked how the program not only focuses on what it is like to be the president, it also looked at family life.  It is an easy short program to compete (took us an hour to finish). Once we completed the President’s Park Junior Ranger program, we arrived at the White House tour entrance.  Make sure you read the requirements to enter into the White House as they will not let visitors in with cameras or bags (among other things). The staff was very nice and tried to make the process faster which we appreciated as D.C. was experiencing one of the coldest days on record.  As you walk into the second security checkpoint, make sure to ask for the Junior Ranger program.  The Junior Ranger program starts with an overview of the White House followed by historic facts.  It is easy to understand for younger children yet still appeals to older children. The Junior Ranger program acts as a guide through each room and helps children stay focused on important historical facts about each room.  My daughters’ favorite activity was counting all the eagles they found throughout the White House.  As you are visiting, make sure to ask the room monitors questions about the rooms. They have a wealth of information!  Overall, I feel that the developers of the Junior Ranger program did an outstanding job with the White House program.  We spent about two hours at the White House (which included time spent in line).

We continued to brave the cold weather and collect the required worksheets for the National Mall and Memorial Parks Junior Ranger program. The following parks are included in the National Mall and Memorial Parks Junior Ranger program:

Abraham Lincoln Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Washington Monument
World War II Memorial

To complete the program, children must complete 4 memorial sheets and then return them to a Ranger station.  We visited all the memorials in one day.  If the weather is right, this isn’t hard to do.  It was a challenge for my girls as it was extremely cold outside. I appreciated the fact that the Junior Ranger program asked children to complete a worksheet per memorial as it provided focus and background on each place.  Thomas Jefferson Memorial was my favorite worksheet as it required children to read the passages on the wall and fill in answers based on what they read.  I found the program to be easy yet effective!  I would suggest that parents pick up the worksheet prior to visiting the memorial site if you want your children to read and have a better understanding of the importance of each memorial.  Walking to all the Memorials took about three hours.

Day 3:

We started our third day with an early tour of Ford’s Theatre.  After picking up the Junior Ranger books and our audio tours we entered into the museum.  NPS did a great job with the layout of the museum and the audio tour comes in both adult and children versions.  I would highly recommend the audio tour as it kept my children engaged and helped them understand the different parts of the museum.  Once we completed the museum section of the tour, we listened to a Ranger talk in the theatre.  The Ranger talk was highly informative and my children found it easy to listen to. The visit to Ford’s Theatre concludes with visiting the Petersen House and exit through a second museum.  The visit to Ford’s Theatre took about three hours and was worth every minute.  There is so much to see and experience that it is hard not to stay longer.  The Junior Ranger program did a great job guiding children through the events that lead up to Lincoln’s death and how the country reacted.  If you only had a day to spend in D.C. this would be one of my top picks!

Day 4:

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Our forth day started early with a tour of Frederick Douglass’ house.  We reserved tickets several weeks in advance to insure an early tour time.  Before starting the tour, we watched the park video.  My children learned about Douglass the day before while visiting Ford’s Theatre and the video helped reinforce the importance of Frederick Douglass’ work contributions to civil rights.  Douglass’ house is beautiful and I was impressed that the house is in original condition. Our tour guide was extremely informative and keep our childrens’ attention during the tour (not always easy to do!). When we returned to the visitor center, we meet Ranger Kate who worked with the girls to complete their programs.  The Junior Ranger program was easy to complete at the same time it was very informative.  My children liked completing the “Inside Your Home” and “Douglass’ Autobiography” activity. I really appreciated that Ranger Kate was extremely helpful and encouraging as my girls completed the program!  Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is a must see while visiting D.C.

Marine Corps War Memorial
Marine Corps War Memorial

We finished our forth day by visiting Arlington National Cemetery.  We were disappointed the Arlington House was closed.  We watched the Changing of the Guard and walked around to the different historical grave sites.  When you visit Arlington National Cemetery, make sure to have your George Washington Memorial Parkway Junior Ranger program as there are questions about the Netherlands Carillon, Women in Military Service for American Memorial and U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.  There is a separate Junior Ranger program for Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial which we did not complete due to the park closure. In reality, there is so much to do at Arlington that a few hours won’t let you see everything. I would suggest visiting Arlington with older children as they might not understand the importance of this historical place.