We THANK them!

It’s not everyday that you get to stand in a place, a specific spot, and know that your life is what it is today because of an event that happened here over 237 years ago.  This summer my family got to do just that!  We had the awesome opportunity to visit Washington Crossing Historical Park in Washington Crossing, PA.

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Weeks before we drove up to the park, my 4 year old and my 7 year old and I researched and read (children’s) stories about General George Washington and his army.

We knew that in the winter of 1776, the War for Independence was failing.  General Washington and his army knew only defeat and discouragement.  Early on in December of 1776, he and his men were forced to retreat across the Delaware River into PA.  Cold, wet, many soldiers hardly clothed, and with very little food, this was not the likely sight of war heroes and flags waving.  In fact, Washington saw his army shrinking daily due to desertions and enlistments expiring.  How’s that for a happy Christmas?

But on December 25th, after much deliberation and preparation, and truly most of the odds totally against him, Washington and his men began to cross the Delaware.  “Ok,” you say, “I know that story.  So he crossed, they fought, they won and the rest is history.”  But no, that’s not it!  That’s not the whole picture.

So my kids, my husband and I are standing right next to McConkey’s Ferry Inn.  It’s a beautiful grey stone, house-like two-story building, with a simple pediment over the front door and an ice-house right next to it.  Beautiful park like setting.  But you close your eyes and there’s so much more…

This is the spot…RIGHT HERE…in 1776 on Christmas night at 6:00 PM (about the time you and I sit down to our Christmas dinner with family), when 2,400 troops began assembling for the crossing of the Delaware.  The river was choked with ice.  Flat, sharp jagged pieces flowing down river.  A blinding snow storm blows in, sleet, wind.  There are no Ugg boots for these men, no wool hats to protect their head and ears, no NorthFace water-proof down jackets, no.  They are lucky to have their wet wool coats and thin leather boots.  Maybe socks – but they’re wet, too.  Dinner before a big fight?  Probably not.  Oh, and some men are not even wearing shoes.  They are bare-foot.  Feet are bleeding and yet they are still walking in the snow.  In fact – not just walking.  They are loading guns and cannons and cannons balls and horses on to heavy Durham boats.  And these boats were not custom made for this fight…nope.  These boats were usually used to carry pig iron down the Delaware River.  The troops just grabbed what they could.

So as I am standing by the Inn in this lush green grass, I see a small trail that leads down to the river.  I grab my kids hands and we head down the path.  “Where are we going, Mom?” my four year old asks.  “On an adventure!” I reply.

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I took them to the river’s edge.  There was a log that had drifted up.  We sat down – them on either side of me.  I asked them to be quiet for a moment.  We just looked out over the water.  It was a gorgeous day.  And then I began to tell them what you just read above.  I wanted them to imagine the immense hardship, the infinite odds against these amazing men, the blizzard like weather…and how it didn’t stop these guys.  There was a passion in their hearts that would. not. die!  “These are the times that try men’s souls…” said Thomas Paine in “The Crisis” on December 23, 1776.*

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We sat there in silence.  This was the place, this was the spot on the river, where history took a hard right turn.  This bold move by General Washington changed the tide of the war in the American’s favor.  It reignited the cause for freedom and rushed new life to the American Revolution.  We are Americans, free and fortunate to be living in this great country.  We THANK them for their ultimate sacrafice!  And on that beautiful, peaceful day by the river, my family and I did just that!

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*The Crisis by Thomas Paine

(This is just a small portion of Paine’s article, The Crisis.  Google it, if you want to read the whole post.)

December 23, 1776
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

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The Birth of Two Young Patriots

At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

Since the beginning of July, our homeschool began studying the Revolutionary War and surrounding time period.  One symbol we gave significant amount of study to was the Liberty Bell and George Washington.  So, during our homeschooling road-trip, we went to Philadelphia, PA to specifically see the Liberty Bell.  During our study of the bell, we:

  • Read children’s books about the bell
  • Learned that it weighs over 2,000 pounds…(and they managed to move it down from its tower and into a wooden wagon!  Amazing!)
  • Learned that the British wanted to seize the bell to melt it into ammunition.  In its day, it was considered the “Mother Load” of bells and the Americans went to great lengths to protect it and themselves should the bell fall into enemy hands.  So…
  • …During the revolutionary war, the bell was secretly removed from Liberty Hall in PA and hidden away (under the floor boards of a church) until after the war.
  • Learned that to move the bell in secret, it was hidden in a wooden wagon under a hoop skirt and hay so it was disguised like a pile of hay.
  • And Lastly, we learned that the Liberty Bell had its last clear note rung on February 23, 1846. It was rung to commemorate the birthday of George Washington.

Because of our study, my children understood this was not just a bell…it was a symbol of determination by the people of America to preserve and protect their freedom.  Our American brothers went to great lengths to hide it from the enemy and rang their bell proudly when the war was over.  And through the stories and facts, my kids came to love this bell, this American symbol of freedom, of heart-pounding passion.

Having read stories and learned all the facts, having seen pictures of it in books, and after driving almost 1,000 miles, we finally arrived at the Liberty Bell Center.  We walked down the corridor towards the bell.  Like waiting to see an old friend at the airport whom you haven’t seen in a long while, my children were eagerly anticipating their first encounter with “the bell.”  I could tell their excitement mounted as they walked briskly to see this symbol in the “flesh”.

And then…the waiting was over.  There it was.  Both of their paces  slowed – almost to a stop.  They were unaware of the people all around.  My four year old son’s jaw dropped.  My daughter just stared.  Their eyes were fixed…it was real!  That was it!  It was really real!  I don’t mean to sound corny or overly patriotic.  This is exactly how it happened.  And to be honest, I was amazed at how taken they were with this moment.At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

As I stood behind them, watching them more than the bell, my eyes blurred.  They were looking at the bell, but saw so much more!  As a parent, this was a moment frozen in time.  They had captured the spirit, felt (if even for a moment) the passion cast into this bell.

As the privileged parent of these wonderful little people, their inspired moment has inspired me with further resolve to continue teaching them true American History.  Just as we were clamoring for Patriots to fight the embolden British over 230 years ago, so today we search for modern day patriots to preserve the freedoms we hold today.  How privileged I feel to have witnessed the birth of two more young patriots on this special day!

Road-trippin’…Homeschool Style

ImageBack in the fall, I learned that one of my cousins would be getting married the following summer in New Jersey.  Simultaneously, my husband and I were reading Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher.  As we became more and more inspired by the heroic acts of this incredible man, George Washington, and the men and women of that day, we hungered to translate this incredible American history (which we did not receive in our school days) to our three children (ages 7, 5, and 9 months).  

It wasn’t long before we realized this summer wedding was right near all the “action” of the Revolutionary days.  My husband and I were excited that we could attend my cousin’s wedding while making a vacation out of it and educate our children about our true American history!  With that idea formulated, I began planning our revolutionary unit of study.

Deciding what sights to see
To begin our itinerary, I started with how many days we had for vacation.  We decided to take 9 days – two weekends with a week in between.  Not long enough for me…I’d be on the road for 3 months if I could – but not without my best friend and partner along side to share the fun (and the work) this trip would entail.  

With 9 days at my disposal, I began feverishly planning all the sights we could see.  My favorite trip planning sight is Trip Advisor, www.tripadvisor.com.  It has recommendations from others as to what to see, where to stay and where to eat.  Travelers rank those attractions (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and give you tips that only those who have gone before would know.  It’s a great resource!  I’ve found many great places to visit I would not have known about.  And likewise, I was able to save time and money by skipping attractions (I thought would be good) thanks to the numerous traveler reviews.  Such good info to know before hand!

Once spending a few hours researching what I wanted my kids to see, I came up with our final itinerary.  Here’s how it unfolded:

Day #1: Indianapolis, IN
Conner Prairie – 1830’s Living Village
Fishers, IN  46038

Day #2: Lancaster, PA
Driving Day…Drive from IN to Lancaster, PA – 9 hr drive
Kids to bed early for fun day tomorrow!!

Day #3: Lancaster, PA
Dutch Wonderland – Family Amusement Park
Drive to Philadelphia (1.5 hr drive)

Day #4: Philadelphia, PA
Independence Hall (Where the Constitution was signed)
See the Liberty Bell
Back to Hotel to rest
Valley Forge in the afternoon??  Perhaps a picnic dinner there?  We can do a driving tour that will take about 30-60 min.

Day #5: Trenton, NJ

Washington Crossing Historic Park

Crossing the Delaware – Grave Sites
See where George Washington crossed the Delaware
http://www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/
Bowman’s Hill Tower – http://www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/visit/bowman.htm

“A 125’ tower completed in 1931 to commemorate the American Revolution.  The tower boasts a commanding view of the Delaware River and surrounding countryside.
Soldier’s Graves: Grave sites of NY Artillery Captain James Moore and many unknown soldiers of the American Revolution who died during the winter encampment of 1776-1777.”
School Lessons: http://www.eastconn.org/tah/CrossingTheDelaware.pdf
Drive to Manhattan, NY
Spend the night

Day #6: Manhattan, NY

Natural History Museum and New Jersey
American Natural History Museum – New York City
(“Homework” for the kids was to watch “Night in the Museum” while I was gone one weekend.  We will then go to this museum and see all the things that were showcased in the movie…from “Easter Island Head” to the “Capuchin Monkey” to the “African Lions” and the “T-Rex”.)
Wedding Rehearsal Dinner: 6:30 pm

Day #7: NJ
Sleep in/ Relax
Laundry/ organize
Wedding 4:30 pm

Day #8: Begin drive home

Day #9: Home

Because we have three kids of different ages and needs, I planned the trip with room for flexibility.  There were a few pieces of the trip that were in “stone” like the hotels I reserved each night, and two events that I purchased tickets for in advance.  Though I’d like to see everything, I planned more than I needed, knowing some things might get scrapped at the last minute.

I also know we’ll be back to see new things or revisit places we see this trip.  So I approach this trip with flexibility and joy.  The goal of our trip is to have fun as a family, create lasting memories, and learn along the way.

Educating to the “Trip”
Once the itinerary was set, I could begin organizing my lesson plans.  I recently discovered “lap books” which are TONS of fun because we get at the heart of the lesson but with crafts and other kids centered learning activities.  With that in mind, I found this amazing program: Time Travelers History Study Series: Revolutionary War!  It is chuck full of activities for the kids that I could tailor to their grade level.  We also checked out books – lots of them – from the library.  We centered our study on the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, Washington Crossing the Delaware, art and architecture from that time period, our Founding Fathers, and more.  There are wonderful children’s books on these topics which we would read at night before bed.  Our lesson of study lasted about 3-4 weeks.  I planned it so our studying time ended right before we departed for our trip.  I figured the information would be fresh and exciting when we see the actual Liberty Bell or see the 12′ X 21′ painting of Washington’s Crossing by Emmanuel Leutze!

Resources:

Books:
How to Draw Independence Things
Crossing the Delaware: George Washington and the Battle of Trenton
Magic TreeHouse: Washington Crossing the Delaware????
When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A winter-time story for young patriots
For Liberty: The story of the Boston Massacre
Saving the Liberty Bell
A Picnic in October (Statue of Liberty)
L is for Liberty

Music:
Songs About America: Celebrating American History
Wee Sing America

Video:
Liberty Kids: Across the Delaware

Journal:
As we go, day by day, I have the children write about their activities each day.  Before we left, I made journals for each child.  I purchased “traveling” and “American” stickers for them to put in their journals.  So when they write, they can add stickers or ticket stubs to their journals to personalize them.  Then we’ll add the pictures when we get home.  A perfect keep-sake for a wonderful trip!