So you stood in line with your 6-year-old for an hour to learn that the Liberty Bell is in fact just a big bell. Then you discovered that the most exciting thing inside Independence Hall is a bunch of empty chairs where Benjamin Franklin and George Washington sat a very long time ago. It's true that few American cities boast as many historic attractions as Philadelphia. Yet if your kids aren't history buffs, all that history may go unnoticed amid their cries of boredom.
But don't give up in despair and assume you can't teach them something about Philadelphia's historic story. Happily, there are many fun options in Philadelphia for kids that will keep them so engaged they won't even know they're learning.
Philadelphia for Kids
Philadelphia for Kids: Five Historic Attractions That Won't Inspire Cries of Boredom
Across the street from Independence Hall in the Historic Philadelphia Center you'll find a 3-D film narrated by a jocular Benjamin Franklin. In 15 minutes flat, you can learn about the role of Philadelphia in the nation's history and the story of the American Revolution (with no shortage of muskets firing, fifes playing, fireworks and smoke). The film has an ending that incorporates everyone in the audience. Your kids will see their own faces up on the screen.
Kids love all the interactive science fun at the Franklin Institute, but to mix a little history in make sure you swing by the 20-foot-tall statue of the big guy, known as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. A multimedia show highlights his achievements and inventions in huge words and images all over the surrounding walls. Once kids have an understanding of Franklin as an inventor, they can check out a rotating exhibit of "Frankliniana," like the sword he carried to the court in France and his odometer for measuring postal routes. Then you can take them on a stroll through the inside of the Giant Heart in another part of the museum. This doesn't have anything to do with history per se, but the cool factor is through the roof. Once you're done, tell the kids that Franklin had such an interest in biology and medicine that he developed the first pair of bifocals like the ones Grandma wears.
Sure, you can tour Independence Hall and get a narrated tour of what happened there. But wouldn't it be more fun to see how tall George Washington actually was or to rub Ben Franklin's bald head for good luck? Get up close and personal with the Founding Fathers at Signers' Hall in National Constitution Center. After carefully studying historical records, sculptors created life-sized, historically accurate statues of the 42 members of the Constitutional Congress who were present in Independence Hall on the day the Constitution was signed. If you live in a state that was one of the 13 original colonies, set your kids to looking for "your" signers. Or kids might enjoy hunting for the one signer about whom no physical descriptions or likenesses remain (Hint: He's from Delaware, and his hands cover his face.). Looking for Thomas Jefferson or John Adams? They aren't there. See if you and your kids can figure out why. (Okay, here's why.)
Philadelphia boasts one of the most distinctive, historic children's museums in the United States. The Please Touch Museum is in Memorial Hall, which was the art gallery for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, the first major world's fair to take place in the United States. Stop by the exhibit where kids can see a huge model of the exhibition's 200 buildings and learn about what it was like to visit (among many fun facts: It's where bananas were introduced to the United States). Nearby, a re-created railroad station shows what it was like to arrive at the fair via train. Kids can build their own trains, climb in a passenger car or take tickets.
Finally, give your kids a taste of history through dessert. The Franklin Fountain is an authentic, old-fashioned soda fountain with a pressed-tin ceiling and a pre-digital-era cash register and phone. Soda jerks in white paper hats and bow ties serve old-timey treats: phosphates, egg creams and ice cream sodas like a Cherry Bomb -- a gob of chocolate ice cream dropped in a glass of cherry soda. The menu changes seasonally, and everything is made in-house from the ice cream to the hot fudge to the flavored syrups. If candy is more your thing, the Shane Confectionery next door sells handmade sweets, like candied fruit slices, that are weighed on manual scales and packaged in white paper cones. As in the old days, the only currency accepted here is cash.