When it comes to history, you can’t beat a visit to Philly. It has more history than an American History II textbook – and sometimes that is exactly the problem.The facts and figures may thrill the junior historian with you, but don’t exactly capture the fancy of the younger members of the family. Once they get beyond the Liberty Bell and the oldest known American flag, they may start losing interest in the historical elements that make my hometown a showplace for those who love our heritage.
The solution is right on the curb – at the Once Upon a Nation bench, that is. Actually there are 11 charming Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches located throughout the historic area of the city. We stumbled upon the bench – literally – outside the Christ Church, where an enthusiastic young guide enthralled my kids with the story of how the church’s pastor refused to read the traditional blessing of the king of England during the days when the Declaration of Independence was crafted. Her captivating storytelling style helped bring history to life for my kids and the other children (and adults) who gathered at her bench to listen. Afterwards, my youngest child asked to go back into the church to see the Bible that arrogant reverend had used.
The routine is the same from bench to bench – a story is told that somehow connects (although it may be vaguely) to the site where the bench is located. At the first bench, children are given a flag with 13 blank stars. At each site, those listening to the story receive a new star for their flag. Upon completion, the flag can be turned in for a prize. (I don’t know what this is, as we’re still working on our flags for this summer. You are under no time restraints, so feel free to keep your flag and bring it back over multiple trips.)
I cannot rave enough about the storytelling stylings of those we’ve met at the benches. We’ve heard from young college students, middle aged mothers, wizened retirees – all of whom have crafted several stories that leave the young visitors glued to every word (and always wanting more – which is why each storyteller is prepared with more than one story, and why you have extra space for stars on your flag!). And my kids love hearing the stories – of the first black vs. white baseball game, of what girls did while boys went to school, of how a young boy in Colonial Philadelphia helped with the Underground Railroad. These are like bedtime stories, only better because they’re real.
The benches are, like the crowds, seasonal. You can visit on weekends from May 26 through June 3, then daily from 11 am to 4 pm from June 9 through July 31. Bench locations can be found on their web site.
Looks like we have to hurry – just a couple of weeks to complete this summer’s flag!