As we roam the country, I am always captivated by old, unique and historical cemeteries. My husband has watched me jump out of the truck at random times or disappear up a hill to snap a photo of a beautiful memorial or resting place. I am captivated by the history in a headstone, the beauty that the centuries leave on a cemetery and the words by which a person is remembered.
It was only fitting that we should visit Arlington National Cemetery as a family. When I was fifteen, I visited Arlington with a group from my high school and we toured historical landmarks of the east coast. Naturally we visited our nations National Cemetery. I vividly remember that visit, as I had won an essay contest, and earned the privilege of laying a wreath on the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier. It was on July 4th, 1993 and even as a teen, I understood the magnitude of honor and sacrifice that was memorialized in this landscape.
This week, our family walked the rows of headstones and saw a tiny glimpse of the many great American heroes that have served and fought for our nation. Our visit was truly remarkable and I seek to document it for my kids…but also, to inspire other families to do the same. I did not want to do a formal tour with the kids, nor did I want to ride a tram or spend money here. I simply wanted us to walk among the Americans who had served our country, fought for our nation and contributed to our democracy.
The night before our visit, we did a lesson with the kids on the significance and the history of Arlington. I found an absolutely amazing and free resource online that I highly recommend for all Americans, that plan to visit our National Cemetery. It was created by a teacher for students in grades 4-8, but portions of it can be used for any age level. You can download it for free from the Teachers Pay Teachers website. Ms. Cobb, the teacher who created this mini-lesson pack, has you watch the music video “Arlington” by Trace Adkins which is beautiful. I cannot watch it without tearing up, to be honest. Then she provides a link to a documentary on Arlington with worksheets for your child to answer as you watch the movie. This lesson took us about 2 hours total and was paramount to our successful field trip to Arlington National Cememetery. It gave all five of us a solid foundation of information for what we would see, as well as an understanding of the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier. It was the perfect amount of information.
The next morning, we took the metro to Arlington and stopped into the Visitor Center. I recommend stopping here to pick up a detailed map of the grounds. You will need this to navigate the fields and also to find any markers you might be searching for. (Note: I had printed a free self-guided tour map provided by Free Tours By Foot…but it did not work for me and I ended up using the National Park’s map. If you are looking for a guided tour though…I would try this one). We planned our time around seeing the changing of the guard. This time of the year, the guard changes every hour, on the hour. This worked perfectly for us, and we had one hour to tour several areas before heading to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
After watching the documentary, we were all in awe of the guards who serve at this monument. Their dedication, honor and attention to detail are inspiring beyond words. This location and ceremony demand respect and honor and I loved having my children present to witness this up close and center.
After this, we explored several notable memorials:
Walking down the hill, out of the cemetery…you are confronted with a sea of headstones.
From here, we took the advice of Full-time Families pioneer, Kimberly Travaglino, and walked across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, into Washington DC and began our tour of the monuments surrounding the Reflecting Pool. She has also created a “Top Secret Travel Guide” for touring DC, which helped me in several phases of my own trip planning. Starting our day in Arlington and then walking into DC worked perfectly for us and makes for excellent planning…we then visited Washington DC section by section.