America’s historic and natural 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 back yard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.
Half a lifetime ago, when I was 16, my parents took my little brother and me and to see Mount Rushmore.
I was a typical teen cynic. “What’s the big deal with a bunch of presidents’ faces way up on a mountain?” I remember saying on the ride there.
We had flown to Rapid City, South Dakota, and were driving half an hour to the monument.
My dad turned around and glanced at me. “You’ll see,” was all he said.
Yes, I have to admit, I did see. Mount Rushmore is truly awe-inspiring, and no picture can explain it. The heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt emerged from the rocky mountain, impossibly huge and imposing.
The crowd was hushed, almost worshipful. Seeing these magnificent men of stone—carved for eternity, gazing across the great Dakotas—made me realize, more than any textbook, the vast importance they symbolized for the nation. My cynicism evaporated into the clear blue sky.
If you plan to visit, your kids will appreciate it more with resources such as:
- The official park service website, which has plenty of good content plus tips to plan your trip.
- The official website has a link to this independent site with 3-D video and historic images.
- Interested in a good background book for kids? Who Carved the Mountain by Jean L.S. Patrick is featured by the Mount Rushmore Society.
- And, it’s well worth learning more about the life of the sculptor who led the massive project, named Gutzon Borglum.
Another Amazing Sculpture Nearby: The Crazy Horse Memorial
After our visit to Mount Rushmore several years ago, we traveled just 20 minutes farther to see a remarkable work-in-progress, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Construction on this mountain monument began in 1948, and is not yet completed to this day.
Even unfinished, the Crazy Horse Memorial evokes awe. It is a 500-foot-high mountain, being carved into the shape of Chief Crazy Horse of the Lakota People, riding on his horse with an arm pointing to his people’s ancestral lands. When finished, the horse’s head alone will stand 219 feet tall!
The artist who started the memorial was the Polish-American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, who had worked on Mount Rushmore. In fact, it was Mount Rushmore that made two brothers, Henry and Luther Standing Bear, press for their own memorial. Crazy Horse was a great 19th century warrior who became a legend to his people. In fact, he defeated General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”
It took eight years to convince Ziolkowski to begin his work, which has never been funded by the government. When Ziolkowski died, his wife and children took over, and his daughter Monique—also a sculptor—is in charge of the project today.
- Check out the official site for good, basic history and visitor information.
- One feature on the site I particularly like is about how they are carving the mountain.
- There is also a short, informative biography of the sculptor, who never took a single art lesson!
- An acclaimed book by Newbery Award-winning author Russell Freedman is The Life and Death of Crazy Horse, for ages 10 and up.
Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial: two sculptures on a massive scale that could inspire your kids to learn two sides of American history.