Travelling with Toddlers

Experiencing Plimouth Plantation with ToddlersIt’s never too early to start learning about American history. And one of the best places to start is (almost) at the beginning. Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts invites visitors year-round to step back in time to the 1600’s. While you may think this museum is designed for grade-schoolers, if you have younger children, you should definitely consider experiencing Plimouth Plantation with preschoolers.

Henry Hornblower II founded this historical and educational site in 1947 with the goal of education visitors on the experience and lifestyle of the region’s original settlers. The plantation includes an English village, bringing to life the day-to-day world of the Pilgrims. There is also a Wampanoag homesite, craft center, visitor’s center, grist mill, two barns filled with heritage animals and the Mayflower II, a replica of the original sailing vessel.

Rare Breed Cattle at Plimouth PlantationWhile the educational experience is suitable for adults, there is plenty to educate and entertain even the youngest visitors. I took my children, age 2 and 5, a few months ago after my oldest expressed an interest in learning more about the Pilgrims.

There are a few things you should know about visiting the plantation before you embark on a trip with young children. The plantation asks that visitors not wear “Pilgrim” or “Indian” costumes. This is because the museum staff dresses in costume and role-play to enhance the experience. Guests in costume can cause confusion.

Be prepared to walk

In order to visit the Pilgrim village and the Wampanoag homesite, there is a considerable amount of walking. The terrain is rough in places and can be difficult with small strollers. (We did our visit with an umbrella stroller and there were times my daughter had to walk because the lightweight stroller simply couldn’t handle the terrain.) Also, be sure to pack snacks and water to keep the whining to a minimum on the walk between sites.

Dress for the outdoors

You will be outdoors quite a bit so be sure to consider the weather. In summer, Massachusetts can be quite humid and in winter you may encounter snow. Be sure to dress your little ones accordingly to keep them comfortable. Don’t forget your umbrella if there’s a chance of showers.

Making a history lesson fun

Visiting Plimouth Plantation with PreschoolersOne of the things we found most useful was reading a children’s book about the Pilgrims on the way to Plimouth Plantation. This really got my son in the spirit. Each time he recognized a person–the staff members in the English village take on the persona of real, historical figures–place or object referenced in his book, his eyes lit up. Encourage your children to engage with the staff members playing Pilgrims. They are all living in 1627 and can help your whole family discover what life was like in that time. Take the time to explore the homes in the English village. They’re sure to make your children grateful for their modern bedrooms and toys!

At the Wampanoag village, the staff members are not living in the past but they are Native Americans, many of whom are Wampanoag. They will introduce you to the life of the Wampanoag in the past and present and explain their traditions and customs.

Don’t miss the gift shop!

The film and museum displays in the Visitor’s Center are not particularly appropriate for preschool visitors. However, one my family’s favorite parts of our visit was the Visitor’s Center gift shop! Plimouth Plantation has an unbelievably extensive gift shop filled with delights for children and adults. We spent a considerable amount of time finding gifts for friends and family, including a Pilgrim hat for my son and a doll made to replicate the Pilgrim toys for my daughter. The museum also offers an online version of their shop with many of the goodies available for mail order, including several children’s books on the time period.

The Mayflower II is under refurbishment in Mystic Seaport until 2019 so, unfortunately, you won’t be able to make the ship a part of your visit until then. However, a stop at the Nye barn to see the rare breed animals will make any animal-loving little one’s eyes open wide. Here you will find rare breeds of cows and goats that would have been kept on the original plantation site. You won’t be able to touch or feed the animals unless you’re lucky enough to be there when a staff member is conducting an interactive presentation.

Bring your appetite

If you ask me, the best part of the Plimouth Plantation experience is the cafeteria. Plentiful Café in the Visitor’s Center offers an array of typical museum café burgers and hot dogs. But they also offer authentic English colonial and Wampanoag meals.

We took it upon ourselves to try nearly every native and colonial item on the menu. In addition to providing a great education experience, the food was very good. The succotash was possibly the best I’ve ever tried. And the meal offered the kids the chance to delve even further into the experience of what life might have been like for the early settlers. (It should be added that my children cringed at most of the food and likely walked away from the meal hungry. If your children are picky like mine, don’t expect them to actually eat the food. But at least they’ll get to see what Pilgrim children did.)

Plimouth Plantation offers several special events throughout the year. Be sure to check their calendar in advance.