One of the great advantages of living in the shadow of the nation’s capital is that there are a number of unique family activities that are not only fun, but highlight the history of America. Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is a great living history museum located in Alexandria, VA. Now, I have no doubt that when she is old enough to appreciate it, we will take Sweet Pea on a tour of the mansion. However, I am not a masochist. Corralling an active 2-year old during a tour of a mansion filled with historical artifacts is not an item on my ‘must-do’ list. Fortunately, Mount Vernon has activities throughout the year designed for families with young children. The Fall Harvest Family Day is one such activity.
The Fall Harvest Family Day is typically held at the end of October and it serves as a nice, understated counterpoint to the other area Pumpkin Festivals. There are no slides, jumping pillows, or corn cribs at this event. However, it is still great fun.. and seriously, you get a photo op with George Washington himself. How can that be a bad thing? All of the festival events occur on Pioneer Farm, the grounds of the Mount Vernon estate (although your admission ticket includes a tour of the mansion). It is a nice stroll from the visitor center downhill to Pioneer Farm. On the way, the kiddos will get to see an ox, some sheep, perhaps a horse- all contentedly grazing as if it were still 1784. If you are worried about the kids being hungry after the walk to the farm, don’t be. At the bottom of the hill, everyone can grab a stick, roast apple slices over an open fire pit, and then dip the warm apple into a vat of honey. Hmmm, yummy! There are a number of fun activities set up around the farm. Visitors can pull up a hay bale and listen to an early American ‘pop band’- complete with hand dulcimer, cello, and harp. Sweet Pea was mesmerized by the music and in between songs, she was given the opportunity to play the harp.. which was a huge hit. There are also a number of live 18th century demonstrations set up around the farm. Living history actors demonstrate how to make a horseshoe, darn clothes, make a corn husk doll, and tread wheat in a 16-sided barn. Every year, as part of the festival promotion, visitors get a 1/2-price discount on the 1-hour Potomac River sightseeing cruise, with kids 5 and under free. This is a nice treat, especially on a crisp and sunny fall day. The Potomac River is beautiful and the kids loved being on a boat, watching the seagulls, and when that got old… running like banshees throughout the ballroom level of the cruise ship (there are actually very few visitors aboard the cruise, so the ballroom is empty). For me, it was great to get a riverside view of the Mount Vernon mansion. It was the closest we came to actually visiting George Washington’s home. After the cruise, there was more fun to be had. The kids loved running around the hay bale maze, and if it hadn’t been lunch time, I am sure we would have waited in line for a horse-drawn wagon ride. However, it was lunchtime. So, we all piled into the courtesy shuttle– no need to push the stroller back up the hill– and were dropped off at the Visitor Center entrance. The Visitor Center has a nice museum (a visit for another time when Sweet Pea won’t melt down), a decent food court eating area, and two very nice gift shops. Overall, the Mount Vernon Fall Harvest Family Day was a fun, unique bookend to the fall festival season. The estate and grounds are absolutely beautiful. It is a real treat to experience 18th century life in a living history museum, and seriously, what better way to usher in the season of thanksgiving and good cheer, with a sighting of the first President of the United States! We will definitely make the Fall Harvest Family Day a ‘not to miss’ annual event for our family. Thanks for reading! Sara