For the three years we have been homeschooling both boys, we have had a tradition of taking a family vacation in early Autumn. We spent this week visiting south central Pennsylvania. As we did in years past, we stayed in a modern cabin at one of PA's state parks. This year we chose Gifford Pinchot State Park. This park had a lot of potential for fun. Unfortunately the record rainfall we have had in PA in the last month coupled with rain three out of the four days we visited, made the trails a bit messy. We made one attempt at hiking and decided we'd best spend our time somewhere a bit drier.
We had already planned to make a one day trip to Gettysburg National Military Park. With the mud situation being what it was, we made it the focus of the entire vacation. Tuesday we made our way to the new visitor's center. I had not been to Gettysburg since the early 1980s. I had no idea they had built a new facility. It was pouring when we first arrived, so we decided to check out the museum. Our family of four paid $34 for admission to the museum, 20 minute film, "A New Birth of Freedom" and Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama.
One bit of bad luck we had was that the museum bookstore was closed for inventory our first day there! That fact alone sealed the need to return for a second day.
There are several ways to tour the battlefield at Gettysburg. You can take a bus tour, horseback tour, self-guided auto tour with or without an audio guide, hire a professional tour guide to ride in your own car...you can even take a tour on a Segway! We decided to purchase The Gettysburg Story Battlefield Audio Tour three CD set. The complete tour is estimated to take about three hours. The set came with a book outlining the entire tour. This was the perfect choice for our family. We were able to take our time on the tour. We ended up breaking it up into two days. This particular auto tour is performed by actor Stephen Lang who played "Stonewall" Jackson in Gods and Generals and George Pickett in Gettysburg. Starting from the visitor's center, you follow red signs labeled 'auto tour' around the battlefield. You listen as you drive. At each stop, the recording covers another part of the story. For most stops, we would get out and look at the memorials and talk about what we were seeing. That first day, we only made it to stop five before the sun started to set.
On our way back to Gettysburg Wednesday we ran into major rain storms. Fortunately, by the time we reached the park, it had stopped. The night before I had done a little research about other things we could do and found out about the ranger guided programs that are offered daily. A program covering the third day of the battle was being held at 3:30pm. We made our visit to the bookstore and then met up with the group on Cemetery Ridge. The ranger took us on a short walk to the center of the ridge and explained what Pickett's Charge would have been like for the soldiers. She spoke for an hour. I was pleased and surprised that my boys were able to stay attentive the entire time. They were the only children in the group and I was worried they might be distracting for the other guests.
When the talk ended, we continued on the auto tour until nearly dusk. We did not make it to the end of the tour, completing only twelve stops out of sixteen. The great thing about the audio guide was that we were able to finish listening to the final disc while driving home. We couldn't get out and visit at each stop, but by that point we knew enough about the battlefield to be able to appreciate it anyway. Now that we have had a taste of Gettysburg, we look forward to going back again and again to explore this memorial park.
I did not take anything with us directly related to our normal homeschooling activities. There was no need. Our days were packed with learning experiences. No classroom could have provided the learning that we were immersed in while visiting Gettysburg. We purchased each of the boys a set of Civil War army figures in the museum bookstore. When we got home today, they set them up and re-enacted several of the battles we had learned about on our trip. Tomorrow I plan to have EM write a journal entry about our trip. I am also going to ask JT to write a composition titled, "What if?" in which he will be required to chose one pivotal point in the three days of battle at Gettysburg and speculate on what might have happened if events had gone differently. Other than that, I have no long term plans to incorporate our trip into our schooling. But I am sure it will be incorporated into our lives without any plan on my part.