It was by sheer luck that we visited Jamestown Settlement first. We were having a hot dog roast over at a friends house in Virginia and I casually mentioned we were headed down to Williamsburg the next morning. “Oh! You definitely should visit the Jamestown Settlement. It’s perfect for young kids and really close by,” my friend told us. Huh. Jamestown was more of an afterthought on my list as everyone else I had talked to raved about Williamsburg and how amazing it was. Luckily, we took her advice and visited Jamestown first.
When We Visited: October 2013
Ages of Kids: 8, 6, 3
Tips: Ask for the home school discount (assuming you do, in fact, home school), and pack a lunch. There are plenty of picnic tables outside and you can re-enter.
As confusing as it might be, there are 2 different “Jamestown” places in Virginia to visit. There’s Jamestown Settlement, run by a private organization, and then Historic Jamestowne co-run by the National Park Service and a private anthropological society. Both are nice, and within a few miles of each other but the Settlement was the most exciting for our kids.
Jamestown Settlement is designed to give visitors a look into early 17th century Virginia and the world of the first permanent English colony. Galleries, exhibits, and films describe the culture of both the Powhatan Indians and the colonists that lived in the Jamestown Fort. There’s 4 main sections: The Powhatan Village, the Shipyard, the Fort, and the indoor exhibits. All three of the recreations were involved and interesting enough we had little time left over for the exhibits.
We visited the village first which include life-sized Powhatan huts, or “yehakins” that kids can climb in, feel the furs, grind some corn, sharpen bones to use as tools, and scrape hair off leather hides. There were period-dressed actors demonstrating and helping as well. I even followed a school group around for bit as I liked listening to what their tour guide was saying.After a quick break for lunch, we walked down to the water’s edge and the shipyard. It consists of recreations of all three ships that brought the settlers from England: The Susan Constant, the Godspeed and Discovery. The kids’ favorite part was probably climbing through and laying down in the sailor’s bunks. Interestingly enough, all three ships are sail-able. They even take them up the coast as part of an educational outreach program. If you can’t go to them, there’s a good chance they can come to you.
The third section is the fort. Definitely not to scale, but they have recreated a variety of buildings to give visitors an idea of what life would be like. There’s a church, a jail, the governor’s house, the gun shop, storage houses and more. The kids dressed up, set the table, and watched a demonstration on how to properly fire and then clean a musket. There were even chickens running around as one man told me, “Where else would they get their eggs?”
It was a fantastic visit. Very hands on with lots to explore, see, touch, and become involved in. Perfect for kids. We spent so much time here we only made it over to Williamsburg for a short time before their activities closed down for the evening. We did manage to see a short military drill, and George Washington rode out on his horse and gave a speech about marching on Yorktown the following morning and driving the British back to the sea. From what I could tell, however, Williamsburg is a collection of shops, restaurants, and other more adult-oriented activities. One employee did explain that they had blacksmith demonstrations and other similar things in some of the buildings but I don’t think my kids would have been as excited about that. Perhaps we’ll save that one for when they are older.