See ‘Revolution Place’ at Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution
This new space brings plenty of hands-on experiences for little ones to learn about life in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.
The Museum of the American Revolution has always been a remarkable place for visitors of all ages to learn about the people, ideals, and sacrifices that built our country. Now it is even more welcoming for kids, as the museum’s new discovery center, Revolution Place, is completed and set to open to the public on June 9. The exhibit is designed especially for kids ages 5 – 12, though it is truly engaging for all ages.
The new permanent exhibit gives kids an immersive look at what life was like in 18th Century Philadelphia, from the military camp to the homefront. While the exhibit is an informative glimpse into colonial life in general, there are touches that ground it in Philadelphia history, which engenders an even greater connection for kids and adults alike.
“The new center encourages playful discovery through a range of self-directed and facilitated experiences, all set within the historic spaces and places of the Museum’s own neighborhood,” said Dr. Elizabeth Grant, Director of Education at the Museum in a press release.
In addition to recreated tableaux and reproduction objects which give kids a more tangible and multisensory experience, there will also be special programming planned in the new space, including storytimes, arts and crafts, and educational interactions with costumed reenactors. Digital interactives throughout the space allow for deeper dives into the history, as a complement to the primary goal of imaginative play for little ones.
The exhibit is divided into four immersive historical environments, each giving visitors a different perspective on what life was like in colonial Philadelphia.
The first section allows kids to learn about life in the Continental Army, and what it was like to live on a military encampment. There’s a reproduction of a soldier’s tent, along with a dress-up corner, and chores like cooking and laundry.
In addition to these opportunities for pretend play, kids can “enlist” using a touchscreen with a quill pen, taking them through the specifics of pay, equipment, and more. You can also see if your own ancestors served in the Continental Army, as it will look up your last name when you sign in!
Next is a 18th Century Philadelphia tavern called Three Tun Tavern, named after the actual tavern that was located across Chestnut Street from the museum. In Revolutionary times, a tavern was not simply a place to grab a drink, but also a place to exchange news, ideas, and goods from around the world (since Philadelphia was a major port city). To reflect that, kids can don period hats and sit at the table covered in replica newspapers of the time.
When watching kids experience the exhibit for the first time, curator Mark Turdo noticed that they “made connections without any prompting from us.” He described as two kids sat in the tavern and pointed out that the newspapers had stories from around the world, exclaiming “This is just like the Internet!”
The tavern also has some incredible technology, in the form of digital tabletops, where kids can place replica objects that activate an animated period map that shows where and how the goods were produced and used, the routes they took to get here, and who might have used them.
While the exhibit is geared towards children, it does not shy away from difficult topics. As we looked through the different traded goods—a leather wallet, a porcelain bowl—we came across something that my four-year-old thought were glasses, but turned out to be shackles used in the slave trade. The museum debated whether to include this, and ultimately decided to tell the whole story, and use it as an opportunity to open important discussions. Given the overall mission of the museum—to tell the stories of all the people who shaped this country, particularly those individuals not typically highlighted in our history books—this inclusion is both apt and poignant.
As you exit the tavern, turn left and experience colonial home life in a recreation of a parlor. Here you can sit at a table and have tea (complete with a replica “No Stamp Act” teapot, naturally), sit at the desk with a quill pen and Common Sense pamphlet, and have discussions about the politics and issues of the time. Prompts on the table with historical context will help guide dialogue. The home area also has a “privy,” which was an outdoor toilet, and also where people disposed of their trash.
The parlor also has a great collection of children’s books about the American Revolution, so if you want to take a break from all the hands-on activity, you can curl up with a good story. Our personal favorite was Gingerbread for Liberty!, the cute yet true story of a German baker who helped win the war… with cookies! And the gift shop has all the featured books too, so if you find a new favorite, you don’t have to leave empty handed—we are now the proud owners of that very gingerbread book!
Finally, Revolution Place includes a church that is purposefully left vague as to its denomination. By leaving this open, guests can explore the religious diversity that existed in Philadelphia at the time—and learn more by visiting a touchscreen window that tells the stories of seven men and women whose different faiths affected their involvement in the Revolution. There are also recreated pews and a pulpit for pretend play.
Revolution Place is located on the lower level of the Museum of the American Revolution, located at 101 South Third Street in Philadelphia. It will be open from 11 am– 3 pm daily through September 3, with earlier 9:30 am openings on weekends. Fall and winter hours will be announced as the summer ends.
To celebrate its opening, the museum will host a Liberation 1778 weekend on June 9—10, which will feature historical reenactors describing the days after the Continental Army reclaimed Philadelphia from the British, and hosting activities both in the new gallery as well as outside in the plaza.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.