Civil War Family Travel Illinois Travels

Preparing Kids for a Civil War Road Trip

As mentioned in a previous post (see Preparing Kids for an Epic Family Trip), it’s important that kids get an opportunity to prepare for a trip in the same way that adults get to.

Now, if you’re planning to visit some U.S. Civil War sites with your kids, I’m going to assume that you are a bit of a geek and have done a fair amount of research about the Civil War yourself. The resources are endless for adults interested in this period of American History.

There are also a great number of Civil War resources for kids.

My son has been interested (read: OBSESSED) with the Civil War since he was three years old. Because of his intense interest in the subject I have gone far and wide to find resources that are appropriate for his understanding. The links below will take you to for further information. **PLEASE pre-view each of the resources below before giving to your children to make sure it is appropriate for your child’s understanding.**

Lincoln: The Gateway

The “gateway” for my son’s Civil War obsession was learning about Abraham Lincoln as part of a Presidents’ Day lesson in preschool. Abe Lincoln is quite a fascinating character and learning about him offered my son a chance to learn about that time in history.

Across from Abraham Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL

To foster his interest, we made a trip to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.

We also made frequent trips to the library to pick up books about President Abe. Some of the Abraham Lincoln books that stand out to me are:

There was also a great video we watched ad nauseum called:

Slavery and Race

As my son’s understanding of the Civil War era grew more sophisticated, we moved on to books about the Civil War itself and the issues involved. As we all know, one particularly heavy subject that is difficult to discuss with children is slavery and the implications of race in today’s society.

As we all know, one particularly heavy subject that is difficult to discuss with children is slavery and the implications of race in today’s society.

One book we checked out again and again that addresses this difficult topic was An Apple for Harriet Tubman, which tells the story of Ms. Tubman’s childhood experience as a slave on a plantation. Another favorite book of ours on the subject was From Slave to Soldier. Although these books take on a weighty topic, they are written to take into account the tender nature of the subject and the unique sensibilities of children.

More Books

More books that fueled my son’s interest in the Civil War were:

Coloring Books and Photography

Coloring books have also been extremely important in my children’s understanding of the Civil War. Here are the ones we found:

Civil War Documentary
Watching a Civil War documentary dressed in full Union regalia

We then expanded our interests to learn about advances in photography in the late 1800s by reading about Mathew Brady and other Civil War photographers in books like Civil War Witness.

Documentaries and Movies

There are innumerable documentaries that my children found fascinating. One was about a submarine that was used in the Civil War called Raising the Hunley.

My son then started getting interested in the individual battles themselves. At this point, his reading skills were lagging behind his unbounded curiosity (and I didn’t want to spend all day reading Civil War books to him), so we went the video documentary and historical movie route. Here are some great video resources:

Loading a Howitzer, Civil War Encampment, Lombard, IL

Girls and Civil War

Little girls often get left out of the Civil War discussion. That’s unfortunate because it’s such an important time in history. Once, when we were at a Civil War reenactment, one of the “soldiers” was inviting my son to join the battle once he turned 16. He then turned to my daughter to tell her that she could also be involved by bringing water to the “soldiers” when she was old enough. I had to remind both him and my daughter that women did play a very important role in the war by dressing as men and fighting in battles, and serving as doctors, nurses, and spies.

Don’t leave little girls out of the Civil War discussion!

Here are some resources that my daughter enjoyed (some are mentioned above):

Play and Understanding

A major part of a child’s understanding about the world occurs through play.

Abraham Lincoln Museum
Mary Todd’s Attic, Abraham Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL

Last but not least, we have to remember that kids are kids and a major part of their understanding about the world occurs through play. At any moment, in my house, you are exposed to the danger of stepping on a plastic Civil War soldier (those little suckers hurt).

Civil War Show
At a Civil War Show and Sale after picking up a copy of The Complete Civil War Road Trip Guide

Teaching Kids about the Civil War

Teaching children about the Civil War is in no way glorifying war or violence.

Teaching children about the Civil War is in no way glorifying war or violence. Rather, it is educating them about the history of our nation. It’s so interesting that many of the issues that divided the country back then still resonate today. Having an understanding of where we come from helps us and our children understand where we are today, and what the possibilities are for the future. And seeing historical sites in person makes history real and tangible in ways that books and movies can’t.

I am looking forward to blogging more about our trip to Gettysburg!

Janette DeFelice, MD, MA is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. Her essay collection Resistance Essays from the Heartland and her new novel Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts are both available now. She has also published at Be The Change Mom, ChicagoNow, and She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her major essay was Hegel and Ibsen: The Evolution of Consciousness in Ibsen’s Prose Play Cycle. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University. A former professional dancer, former adjunct Humanities professor, and former lecturer in Medical Clinical Skills, as well as a mom of 9-year-old twins, she currently finds herself at a career/life crossroads at which she is trying to figure out how to use all aspects of herself (her art, her medical and scientific knowledge, her philosophical explorations, her interest in popular culture as a teaching tool, and her unique perspective) for the good of humanity.

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