My father-in-law visited us this past week. As a former history teacher and lifelong resident of California, he is fascinated with all the history surrounding our home here in Central Virginia. Almost daily, he and my husband visited the battlefields in the Fredericksburg area. One day we all headed out to Orange to see Montpelier, the home of James and Dolly Madison.
Of course I did my research prior to arriving to make sure Montpelier was kid-friendly. I could just see my father-in-law trying to enjoy his educational tour with my five-year-old and three-year-old running loose in the historic home! I was pleasantly surprised to find out that in addition to free house tours during the summer (with purchase of an adult ticket), Montpelier offers “Hands on History” activities geared specifically toward children under the age of 14. The upcoming “Hands on History” exhibits are on August 25 and 27 and they are complimentary from 11 am until 5 pm. The day we visited, the featured “Hands on History” exhibit was about weaving and creating textiles. I was excited that the kids would have something to occupy their attention, so we set off on our exploration!
We stopped in downtown Orange for lunch. My favorite local place, The Light Well, was charmingly closed for vacation so we tried Wise Guys Burgers which is just a few doors down. The prices would good and the food hit the spot: Great fries and sandwiches!
When we arrived at Montpelier, we walked through the visitor’s center first. A nice docent allowed my children to touch the zebra rug in the DuPont Gallery, which was SUPER exciting to them! We then walked down the forest trail to the mansion home of James and Dolly. I took the kids immediately out back to the “Hands on History” exhibit and they took turns weaving with the proper tools and instruction, provided by the staff guides. I was impressed that they both seemed genuinely interested and proud of themselves for accomplishing the task!
After the brief activity, we explored the “secret garden,” as my daughter called it. The English garden was truly symmetrical on both sides, and Maggie was fascinated by the new term. (“Mama, it really is the exact same on both sides!”) She and Brendan ran up and down the stairs and into little “secret passageways” where clearly only fairies would live. It was enchanting and adorable!
It was a hot day, and I am still pregnant (37 weeks and counting!), so after a quick stop in the cafe for water, we headed home. The trip didn’t take a full day—more like a half day—but it was just right for the kids and I. I think even my father-in-law had all he could handle in just four hours. During these last long, lazy days of summer, if you’re looking for an inexpensive and educational diversion, I recommend Montpelier!