Something magical happens when a child reaches fifth grade. History suddenly becomes – well, interesting! My fifth grader was barely in the classroom a week before his new teacher got him energized about our country’s past. We decided to take a walk back in time with a weekend visit to historic Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II in Plymouth, MA.
My son had a plan – work our way through the exhibits at Plimoth Plantation in chronological order, starting with the ship. Turns out to be this is a recommended approach. By doing so visitors experience this early part of history the way the Pilgrims would have by landing at Plymouth, visiting a Wampanoag home site and, finally, experiencing life in an English village during the 17th century.
The Mayflower II
This reproduction of the famous ship is a must see. The self-guided tour begins with photos and storyboards about the history of the Pilgrims and their famous voyage, including many details not widely known. My son loved the mishoon that was on display and was even more delighted when, at the Plantation, we got to watch a Wampanoag burn and scrape the inside of a tree trunk to make one from scratch. Also shared is the story of the Mayflower II and its voyage to the States.
Once on board, costumed employees pepper the scene, each staying in character as they interact with visitors. Ask a question and you’ll get a 17thcentury response. Use a modern day term and get a quizzical look in return. It’s all in good fun and a wonderful interactive learning experience.
The Mayflower II is docked at the Plymouth waterfront in the center of town. A short walk and you’ll also get to see the legendary Plymouth Rock. It’s worth a stop for a quick photo but that’s about it. However, you may want to take time out to walk around the small shops and enjoy the beautiful views of the water.
Plimoth Plantation – Wampanoag Homesite
You cannot walk from the Mayflower II to Plimoth Plantation. But it is a short three mile drive. After entering through the Visitor Center, the recommended next stop is the Wampanoag Homesite. Respect for diversity is a priority at the Plantation and as you enter you are asked to avoid questions or comments that are based on stereotypes. The people who work in the exhibit are native people and an atmosphere of mutual respect is desired.
Whether watching a mishoon being built, entering a winter home, talking to one of the elders, or watching a new home being constructed, my son had a consistent response: “This is sick!” Translated, that means that everything about the Wampanoag Homesite was cool, awesome and totally fantastic. The staff was friendly and, because they were not in role play, offered informative 21st century views when responding to questions.
Take your time going through the Wampanoag Homesite. The attention to detail gives you an amazingly accurate portrayal of what life was like for these native people and how the arrival of the Europeans changed that. Look at the water, the crops and the activities going on around you. There is a lot to learn in a small area.
Plimoth Plantation – 1627 English Village
From the Wampanoag Homesite, visitors can either take the nature trail or climb the steps to the 1627 English Village. Here you will find staff in costume playing various roles. Because this is role play they respond to questions with a 17th century point-of-view.
A promenade surrounds the village which, at that time, would have provided protection. If you’re lucky enough to visit the Plantation on a clear day, there is a beautiful view from the top of the hill that looks out at the harbor and over the village below.
Going in and out of the carefully reproduced homes, one gets an understanding of what life was like back in the 1600s. You may interrupt a husband and wife eating dinner, as we did. Or come across a young man splitting a log. Or participate in a bit of banter with women from the village. The gardens are beautiful. Raised beds filled with everything from herbs to vegetables.
You can spend as much or as little time as you wish. Each home is slightly different to show various living quarters. Pay attention to the smallest details. Everything here shows life as it was, like period clothing hanging out to dry or a musket hanging over the doorway to protect the inhabitants.
The History of Thanksgiving
Don’t miss an indoor exhibit at the Visitor Center titled, Thanksgiving: Memory, Myth & Meaning, about the history of the holiday. It may be a lot different than you think! For me, this was a highlight of our visit and a great stop before leaving.
Children – and adults – learn by experience. A trip to visit the Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is not only educational, it’s a lot of fun.