Historical sites with Kids. Important, right? How about young children though? Should visiting still be a priority?
In planning our recent trip to Oahu, a visit to Pearl Harbor was a must. With so much to see in the world, we’re not always sure about return trips to far away places. I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to take in such a significant piece of American history just because my child may be on the younger side of benefiting from and understanding the experience.
We went into the visit with a definite plan. Slaed and I (okay, mostly Slaed) did our research and knew how we wanted to approach the day, but at the same time, we remained open minded and flexible to changes. In the end, we felt pretty successful and satisfied, and would pass along these tips for other parents of young kids:
1. Set some expectations.
On our drive over to Pearl Harbor from our rental on the North Shore, we talked with Bergen (3-years old) about what we would see and do. We did our best to explain things in language that he’d best understand. It was pretty basic:
- It’s a quiet place.
- We’ll watch a movie.
- We’ll take a boat ride.
- We’ll visit a memorial.
Of course we didn’t get into the fine details of World War II or lecture him on US History, but we’ve learned that the more we can prepare our preschooler ahead of time for new situations, the more successful the outing.
2. Plan for a short visit.
You really could spend the entire day at the Pearl Harbor site (and many do), however we decided ahead of time that we would just stay for a couple of hours. We would focus on the USS Arizona Memorial and walk through the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, but didn’t want to add anymore our plate. Of course if things are going swimmingly, more can be added on!
A couple of notes on our specific visit:
- The movie is 23 minutes (and is very well done). Bergen was interested, but lasted about 15 minutes. This was okay! We counted that as a victory, and he and Slaed walked around for a bit until it was over.
- A shuttle boat takes visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial. You can stay for as long (or as little) as you want. Unlike most visitors (without small children), we decided to keep our visit on the actual memorial short and sweet, and just took the very next boat that arrived. They seem to come and go about every 15 minutes.
3. Arrive Early.
While we weren’t knocking down the doors as soon as they open (7 a.m.), we did get an early start knowing that first tour would begin at 8 a.m., and it paid off. We had zero wait time at the ticket counter, and just had to wait 5 minutes or so for our tour session to begin. We were happy to be able to get started right away, but with plenty to take in at the recently updated visitor’s center, some wait time wouldn’t have been the end of the world. You receive a time-stamped ticket when checking in.
4. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet.
When we checked in, the ranger set us up with the Junior (Keiki in Hawaii!) Ranger activity book right away. Honestly, we would have thought Bergen was a little bit too young for the program, but the whole thing ended up being very beneficial.
The book simply guides kids through the experience and their visit, and gave us something to focus on. We find that like most kids his age, Bergen is very conscious of rules (even if he doesn’t necessarily follow them), so it was helpful to go through these with him with the guidance of the booklet. The booklet also has a maze, coloring activity, and best of all, a scavenger hunt! This came in handy throughout our entire tour. We showed him each of the 6 pictures, and made sure that we found (and checked off) each one.
Once we completed the booklet, we brought it back to the check-in desk, and Bergen received his badge. The whole thing proved to be a great tool for engagement.
5. Give child a chance to take the lead.
After our main mission (USS Arizona Program) was complete, we let Bergen “show us around”, and visit aspects of the center that he was interested in seeing. When torpedoes caught his eye, we followed him over to take a look. This was the same as we walked through the exhibit galleries. Yes, reminders of touching rules and expectations were frequent, but it made for a more successful experience for all of us when he could have a little say in the activities.
Info to Know:
- The Pearl Harbor visiting site (World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument) is open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s Day) from 7 a.m. to 5 pm.
- Admission to the USS Arizona Memorial is FREE. You may be able to reserve your ticket ahead of time. See the fees and registration site for details. Visit the parks website for fee information on the other Pearl Harbor sites.
- Timed programs for the USS Arizona Memorial occur between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Bags are not permitted on site–even camera bags, diaper bags, etc. We chose to just bring the necessities (wallet, camera, phones, keys) in our pockets, and secured everything else in the car. There is a storage area available for a $3 fee.
- Strollers are permitted at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, they are not allowed in the theater or on the shuttle boats.
Have you visited any of the Pearl Harbor sites? Tell us about your experience. We hope to return to Oahu to see more.
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