For most kids, trying to cook without an electric stove or even a microwave seems impossible. But the William Paca House in Annapolis, Maryland, invites students to contemplate daily cooking in such an environment with its interactive 18th-century kitchen program.
The imaginative experience takes students beyond the exhibits to place themselves in the period. Maryland offers a wealth of similar experiential group activities fit for students of all ages.
With its proximity to Washington, D.C., the beach and several amusement parks, the Old Line State attracts throngs of student groups each year. These groups often incorporate learning-based attractions with a strong sense of fun.
Students can picture themselves as a Civil War scout in Antietam one day, then as a modern animal rescue worker the next. They can also seize a chance for adventure as a seafaring fisherman at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum or a well-to-do 1920s traveler on a historic train route at the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.
Whatever the day’s creative endeavor, students will hardly realize they are learning at these Maryland attractions.
Students can almost feel the steely gaze of giant sharks during the night during the Shark Ocean Predator Overnight experience at Baltimore’s National Aquarium. Students bring sleeping bags and try to doze while sharks swim silently nearby.
The after-hours experience starts with interactive activities about sharks, then includes dinner and a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium’s sharks and most popular residents. Those that dare can cross the Shark Catwalk suspended inches above these impressive predators.
In Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the aquarium is the largest tourism attraction in Maryland with 1.5 million annual visitors. More than 2 million gallons of water hold over 17,000 specimens and 75 species.
Youth groups visiting the aquarium can choose from various added experiences, including education programs at the Animal Care and Rescue Center for grades six through 12. At one program, students follow Amelia, the American eel, as she encounters marine debris. Another program lets participants test water quality and devise treatment plans.
Even without a specialty program, the aquarium contains several blockbuster exhibits, such as the Animal Planet Australia, Blacktip Reef, Shark Alley and the 4D Immersion Theater.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Students can follow a blue crab from the brackish Chesapeake Bay to their picnic table on the Chesapeake’s Best Crab Cakes Immersive Tour. One of several interactive experiences with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, the program allows students to work in a trotline, pick stuffed crabs at a packing house and cull their dredge catch. The experience not only provides interesting memories but also leaves participants with a new appreciation for sea creatures and those who depend on the bay for their livelihood.
Groups can delve into the bay’s environmental surroundings with the 1.5-hour Ecology Cruise Immersion Program aboard the 1920 boat Winnie Estelle. Participants test water quality and examine many organisms living in an oyster reef home.
For a shorter experience, the Scenic Cruise aboard the Winnie Estelle gives passengers 45 minutes to observe the bay’s natural surroundings. Other programs focus on human interactions with the Chesapeake Bay, including the Bay Bounty Guided Tour and the Tides of Technology Immersive Tour.
The 1965 museum not only offers indoor, interactive exhibits on the Chesapeake Bay but also serves as a working boatyard with a working fleet of historic boats. The 18-acre museum campus holds 35 buildings, 100 boats and the Hooper Strait Lighthouse.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
The journey from downtown Cumberland to downtown Frostburg aboard the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad will keep students glued to the views rather than their phones. Groups can enjoy sweeping views of the Allegheny Mountains and railroad history as they travel.
The route climbs 1,291 vertical feet, with a maximum gradient of 3 percent. Narrators deliver background information on the scenery, history and culture of the area during the ride. The trip re-creates an early-1900s train experience with a restored coach on a route that was dubbed America’s first gateway to the West.
The heritage railroad operates these excursion trains out of a station built in 1913. School groups can book a caboose in which they can travel together or choose first-class service for additional perks. Younger groups might also appreciate the North Pole Experience, which treats guests to Christmas music, a story, hot chocolate, cookies and a meeting with Santa Claus.
The 32-mile round trip passes by a few notable sights, such as the Double Truss Bridge and Helmstetter’s Curve. The latter has become a favorite photo spot for train buffs because of its half-mile arc that sweeps across the Cash Valley.
Antietam National Battlefield
Whether they choose to re-enact childhood games from the 1860s or wartime scouting techniques, students will use their imaginations and senses to re-create daily scenes from the Civil War at the Antietam National Battlefield. Younger groups can participate in farm chores, play 1800s games and re-create a one-room school environment for A Kid’s Life in the 1860s. Park staff designed Become a Civil War Scout for students in grades eight and up to complete activities that illustrate espionage and intelligence techniques. Afterward, participants can compare their findings to the battle reports given to General George B. McClellan.
Other role-playing and interactive battlefield experiences include a dramatized field hospital, a Civil War artillery drill and an exploration of the Antietam National Cemetery. All these programs highlight realities of the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.
Groups can tour the battlefield on their own, with an audio tour or with a professional guide. Tours of the pristine Civil War battlefield reveal how 12 hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862, resulted in 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. Tours usually stop at two of the deadliest places on the battlefield: Bloody Lane and Burnside Bridge.
A 26-minute film and other exhibits reveal background information on the battle at the Antietam National Battlefield Visitors Center. The Pry House Field Hospital focuses on period medical care of the wounded.
William Paca House and Gardens
Behind the scenes, slaves and servants at the home of William Paca baked away all day in the kitchen. Students can learn their extensive duties, learn the house’s secrets and smell 18th-century aromas in the William Paca House and Gardens’ kitchen experience.
In Annapolis, the Georgian mansion showcases life in the 18th century with guided tours, period furnishings and youth-friendly programs. William Paca, the state’s third governor and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built the house in the 1760s. Historic Annapolis saved the home from demolition in 1965 before organizing a decade-long restoration using information from archival research, archaeology, paint analysis and X-ray photography.
Students can take custom field trips with the home’s staff. Popular experiences include a guided tour of the home that emphasizes an insider’s look at 18th-century Maryland. Groups can also tour Paca’s garden to discover how the two-acre garden relates to the etiquette and customs of the time.