America’s historic landmarks may not be as ancient as those found in other parts of the world, but their more recent origins add a tangible quality that may inspire a child’s learning. Whether seeing firsthand the documents our nation was built on, or gazing in awe at the beauty found in our national parks, visits to these places are an opportunity for memorable family bonding and can bring history to life for a powerful learning experience. This series includes tips and educational resources for visiting some of the most amazing landmarks our country has to offer with your kids. Some may be in your backyard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.
It’s been nicknamed “America’s most historic square mile” and with good reason. Independence National Historical Park, and the three-block section known as Independence Mall, includes some of our nation’s most historically significant buildings and landmarks. Visitors to this historic section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our country’s forefathers, bringing what they learned in history class to life.
In fact, one of the most memorable vacations my family took was a road trip across the country, which included a visit to Philadelphia on July 4, 2001 for the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Visiting Independence Mall, hearing a reading of the Declaration of Independence by a number of famous actors, and watching fireworks in the city where the United States began was an unforgettable experience. Of course, the park is open year-round, and any time you visit is sure to be memorable, but a trip on the 4th of July is certainly a fun and educational way to spend the holiday!
Sites to See on Your Visit to Independence Mall
This should be your first stop. Here you can pick up your free ticket to Independence Hall and watch several films about the American Revolution. The older film, Independence, was directed by acclaimed director John Huston and tells the story of the events that took place in Philadelphia during the revolution. Choosing Sides is a short, 20-minute film from the History Channel that helps kids relate to the time period by looking at the Revolutionary War through the eyes of four teenagers who experienced it. Both films are free to watch.
The highlight of the Mall and the birthplace of the United States is Independence Hall. Originally built to be the Pennsylvania State House, it was here that the Second Continental Congress met beginning in the summer of 1775, to argue and debate, and to eventually sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. It was where George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and where the newly formed nation adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1781. Finally, it was here too that 11 years later, in 1787, the Constitutional Convention took place resulting in the creation of the United States Constitution. Independence Hall is open 365 days a year. Timed tickets are required to visit and are available for free at the Independence Visitor Center.
Here you can see the original Liberty Bell and its famous crack, and learn how the bell and its inscription: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof” became a symbol for Abolitionists, women’s suffrage advocates, and Civil Rights leaders. The Liberty Bell Center is free to visit and no tickets are required. In addition to the bell itself, exhibits on the history of the bell line the halls, including a short video presentation.
The Museum of We the People is the newest addition to Independence Mall. Opened in 2003, the museum is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution dedicated to the U.S. Constitution. Admission to the museum includes access to a variety of engaging, interactive exhibits and programs exploring the Constitution. Tickets range from $8–$14.50, with free admission for active military personnel and children under three.
Nearby Sites to See
Surrounding Independence Mall are a number of additional museums and historically significant sites in Independence National Historical Park. Make sure to include time to visit a few during your trip, as well as some of the many other historic attractions and museums found in the city.
Dedicated to Philadelphia’s own Founding Father, the museum collection includes Benjamin Franklin’s own possessions as well as interactive exhibits about his life and legacy as a diplomat, printer, inventor, and founder of our country. Visitors can also see the “Ghost House” a striking steel structure that outlines the spot where Franklin’s house and print shop once stood. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $2 for children.
This exhibit stands on the site of the first executive mansion where presidents George Washington and John Adams lived during their terms. The museum explores the paradox between a new nation founded on principles of freedom and the nine enslaved people who lived and worked in the house while Washington lived there. Visitors can see archaeological artifacts unearthed on the site and experience thought-provoking exhibits and videos exploring the history of slavery in the United States.
At least half the circulating coins in the United States are manufactured at this Mint branch and have been for 200 years. Visitors get to watch coin production on the mint floor, experience interactive displays, and learn about early coining processes and rare and historic coins. Free, self-guided tours are available Monday through Friday.
Related Educational Resources and Activities
Become a Junior Park Ranger The National Park Service offers two Junior Park Ranger programs for Independence National Historical Park, both as a printable activity booklet and a digital version for iPhone and iPad.
Lesson plans for teachers and homeschoolers Free curriculum and activities for the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and many other sites for grades K–12.
Learn about the Constitutional Convention and explore the People’s Documents, the Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in this interactive activity from Learning Liftoff. Explore the Revolutionary War period further with more free games, activities, and quizzes.
Watch a movie: We’ve rounded up the best movies for learning about the Revolutionary War which can help bring the sites you’re seeing to life. If you’re also visiting the President’s House site, you may want to watch some of these movies for teaching about slavery in the United States.
Related Children’s Books
Hello Philadelphia! Explore the history of the city of Brotherly Love with an eagle and her eaglet in this cute board book. This is a great book to read with the youngest members of the family before your trip. Ages 2–5
When Mr. Jefferson Came to Philadelphia This historical fiction picture book tells the story of a young boy named Ned and weaves in real facts about Thomas Jefferson and the events of 1776 shortly after the start of the Revolutionary Way. Grades 1–4
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution This is a funny and informative telling of the summer of 1787 when the Constitutional Convention took place. Full of facts but still very readable, this is a great choice to read before visiting Independence Hall. This is just one in a series of Revolutionary War books from author Jean Fritz, all of which do an exceptional job of bringing to life the people and events of the American Revolution. Grades 2–4
Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos Told from the perspective of a mouse named Amos, this is a biography of Benjamin Franklin with a twist. Originally published in 1939, this classic favorite details his life and inventions in a fun and readable story. Grades 3–7
Liberty! The American Revolution This compelling volume tells the story of the Revolution, the causes and major events, and the people that played a role. It’s readable, moves quickly, and includes beautiful illustrations, but is still packed with information. High school–Adult
Questions for Discussion
- Imagine you are living in colonial America. Do you think you would support the Loyalists or the Patriots? Why do you think some colonists opposed the Revolution?
- Why do countries or colonies seek independence? How was the American Revolution similar or different from other revolutions that have taken place around the world?
- The Liberty Bell and its inscription served as a symbol to many groups who fought for equal rights throughout the country’s history. Do you think it is still relevant today?
- What did the Patriots and Founding Fathers risk in declaring independence? Why do you think they were willing to risk so much?
- Did what you saw and learned today make you feel grateful to live in this country? Why?
- What was the most interesting thing you saw or learned?