Our day at Yorktown was slightly miserable because it had snowed in the night and, being Georgians, we didn’t have any boots.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed Yorktown so much that our family went back for an extra day at the end of the week so that we could see things we had missed the first day.
Our ten-dollar Homeschool Days ticket from the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation gave us 5 days of access to both Jamestown Settlement and to Yorktown Victory Center. The ticket price includes a 2 hour guided tour and a 1 hour grade-level classroom experience. These are musts, in my opinion, so register early enough to take part in the classroom experiences if you are thinking of going to Homeschool Days in the future.
We started our day with a walking tour around the Victory Center. There was a re-created 1780s farm, complete with a house, kitchen, tobacco barn, crop fields, and herb and vegetable garden. We enjoyed looking around the farm, especially warming ourselves by the indoor fires as we spoke to costumed interpreters about life on the farm.
The boys especially enjoyed the re-created Continental Army encampment, where we learned from historical interpreters what it was like to be an American soldier in the Revolutionary War.
The bitter cold, wet conditions gave me a new appreciation of what it must have been like to be a soldier (I thought of those who served at Valley Forge, with no shoes or appropriate clothing or housing). We were grateful that we could get a hot meal at lunch in a warm building. At the encampment we saw little tents meant to hold six soldiers, and a pot of beans (which would have been served 3 times a day).
The men that fought the war to gain our independence paid a high cost, with many privations. At least the nasty weather gave us a deeper appreciation of that.
There is also a beautiful museum with many displays about the Declaration of Independence, the Siege of Yorktown, and the impact of the war on the lives of several ordinary people.
In the afternoon, the children each attended another hands-on classroom experience, similar to what they were able to do at Jamestown Settlement.
The K-2nd grade class examined tools and materials that would have been used on a small Virginia farm to explore what life was like at that time. My youngest son absolutely loved grinding salt with a mortar and pestle and pretending to write with a quill pen. Costumes were brought out at the end of the class and he enjoyed dressing up in a colonial boys’ outfit.
The 3rd-5th grade class had lots of fun solving a mystery by analyzing primary source documents and reproduction artifacts. In the process, they learned about the lives of ordinary 18th century Virginians.
The oldest group attended “Life of a Private”. My teenager was selected as the “Private” in question, and he got to don all the clothing and gear of a Continental soldier, even holding a real musket.
We really enjoyed our day at Yorktown Victory Center, but I must say that the highlight for us was the end of the day, when we drove over to the Yorktown National Battlefield. There was only just enough time before dark to walk around the snowy battlefield, but the boys loved every minute of it. They ran the full length of the field, each one undoubtedly engaged in a battle in his own mind.
We knew that we had to go back, as we had only scratched the surface of what there was to do at the National Battlefield.
On the last day of our trip we had planned to get an early start for our last destination, Chincoteague Island (of Misty fame), but we decided to leave a little later so that we could head back to Yorktown National Battlefield.
There was no charge to walk around outside on the grounds, but the museum inside cost $10 for ages 15 and over. Again, just as at Historic Jamestowne, I was able to get this fee waived by filling out some paperwork about the educational purpose of our trip. Here is a link to the requirements for getting a fee waiver.
We explored the museum, which was small but very well done for children. There was a ship to walk through, a children’s exhibit area, and several of George Washington’s artifacts. There was also a movie, which we enjoyed.
My favorite part was touring the battlefield. We purchased a CD in the gift shop for $5 and set out in our car. The narrator on the CD and several well marked signs told us exactly where to go. At each stop, there was dramatic narration about what had occurred in that location.
A highlight for us was walking around Redoubts 9 and 10, which were seized from the British by the American and French infantry on October 14, 1781. We extended our driving tour beyond the main sites and took an alternate route which led us past fields that had housed equipment, a military hospital, the camps of various generals, and more. It was a very pleasant drive and led us to imagine what it must have been like to be on those very fields at that turning point in history.
We returned to the Visitor’s Center and ran around the battlefield a bit more. The boys could have spent all day just doing that, but we had to hit the road for Chincoteague Island.
I think the reason this was our favorite place was because of the sense of history we felt, standing on ground that had played such an integral role in our nation’s history. This was not a re-created village. This was actually the real deal. The Yorktown National Battlefield is less than 10 minutes from the Yorktown Victory Center, and should definitely not be missed.