For years, Trenton has been a destination for educational, convenient, and fun field trips that focus on New Jersey’s rich history and culture. Located along West State Street – all within walking distance of each other – teachers will find three unique options that provide curriculum-backed experiences for kindergarten through 12th-grade students: the New Jersey State Museum, the New Jersey State House, and the Old Barracks Museum. Students and teachers alike will gain a new sense of appreciation and understanding for the state they call home after spending an action-packed day in Trenton.

New Jersey State Museum

New Jersey State MuseumSince its founding in 1895, education has been the heart of the New Jersey State Museum’s mission. Today, through permanent exhibits and programs, New Jersey’s natural and cultural history is explored and celebrated. The museum’s planetarium--the largest in the state--features state-of-the-art Full Dome Video, providing visitors with the sensation of zooming through the Solar System and beyond. All of the museum’s educational programs offer students a continuum of hands-on, immersive learning opportunities with programs connecting to applicable social studies, science and art Common Core and New Jersey standards.

From tours to scavenger hunts, enrichment experiences, live theater shows and the planetarium, there is something to please and inspire every student and teacher. Admission to the museum is free and bus stipends are available for qualifying groups. There are minimal fees for the planetarium, theater and enrichment experiences. For Trenton Public Schools and Trenton Head Start, theater and enrichment experiences are free.

At the museum you and your students can explore:

Pretty Big Things – This history-focused exhibit explores “New Jersey Immigration, Industry and Innovation” through some of the biggest artifacts in the collection, including an interactive station about the New Jersey State Seal.

New Jersey’s Original People – This exhibit explores the history of New Jersey’s first people through real archaeological finds from throughout the state. Students can see how the changing climate over time created habitats for wildlife and people, and learn about how native peoples prepared food, hunted and lived.

Cultures in Competition and A Much Moved People – Follow the story of the Delaware-Lenape through first contact with European settlers to the present day in these exhibits about changing customs, traditions and locations.

American Perspectives: The Fine Art Collection – Exhibited in a timeline format, students can see the connections between historical periods and artistic styles. On display is an extensive collection of art by African Americans from the 18th century to modern times.

Natural History Highlights – Students will be amazed by the sheer volume of specimens including a T-Rex skull, the Tylosaurus sea monster and a humongous Cervalces Americanus (prehistoric Elk/Moose).

Remember 9.11: Reflections and Memories from New Jersey – New this year is a 9/11 Collaborative Learning Program that includes a four-part video and accompanying classroom lessons. This popular exhibit closes July 2013.

New Jersey State Museum
Location: 205 West State Street
Reservations: Call 609-292-6347 between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least two weeks in advance of trip.
Website: www.statemuseum.nj.gov
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. (closed Mondays and state holidays)
Cost: General admission is free; fees apply for other programming. Visit the website for details.

New Jersey State House

New Jersey State HouseA tour of the State House is a unique opportunity to bring to life classroom lessons on state government, state history, and civics. Walking through the same hallways as historic and current leaders, students in kindergarten through high school witness government in motion and learn the essential role each citizen plays in our state. With this theme at the center, the free tour connects to applicable New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards for social studies and emphasizes that students – even as kids – can play an active role in the legislative process.

The backdrop for this empowering message is the historic New Jersey State House. First built in 1792, the State House is one of the oldest operating capitols in the entire country. Students feel connected to their state’s history and government as they stand beneath the gold dome and sit in the beautifully restored legislative chambers where our lawmakers meet.

But the learning does not end with a tour! School groups in third- through 12th-grade are also welcome to enhance their visit with the Make-A-Law! program. During this program, students participate in a mock-legislative session and assume the role of lawmakers. This type of experiential learning offers an effective approach to teaching the process of bill passage and the skills of debate, discussion, negotiation, and compromise.

Teachers are also encouraged to order the Tour Office’s free publications to serve as supplemental materials before and after a field trip. Teachers throughout the state – regardless of whether a visit is made – can order these publications through the Tour Office or download them from the legislative website.

The Tour Office operates under the authority of the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), the nonpartisan agency dedicated to supporting the New Jersey Legislature, and its success relies heavily upon over two dozen well-qualified volunteers. Many of the volunteers are retired and bring skills that were cultivated throughout years of service in teaching, business, and corporate careers. OLS staff members also volunteer and contribute a unique and valuable insider’s view. Staff and volunteers participate in a rigorous training program and are knowledgeable of curriculum standards and effective teaching strategies.

New Jersey State House
Location: 125 West State Street
Reservations: 609-847-3150
Website: www.njleg.state.nj.us/kids/teacherindex.asp
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; first and third Saturdays of the Month, noon to 3 p.m. (closed state holidays). Call for more detailed information on tour and program schedules.
Cost: Free

Old Barracks Museum

Old Barracks MuseumThe Old Barracks Museum has long empathized with social studies teachers who struggle with the commonly held notion that history had to be boring. Could something be fun and educational? Yes! This is the goal of the Old Barracks Museum where programs are designed to illustrate and stimulate critical thinking. School groups can participate in a series of well-researched and tested programs that address at least 10 of the listed elements under Strand D, Standard 6.1 U.S. History: America in the World (N.J. Core Curriculum Content Standards) for social studies.

The Old Barracks played significant roles in the French and Indian War (it was built to house British soldiers in the winters of that war) and the American Revolution, and offers a unique opportunity to examine and experience the early growing pains of New Jersey and the Nation.

The museum’s compelling exhibit on New Jersey and the French and Indian War involves middle school students in a worldwide conflict for empire and explores our colony’s role through remarkable and rare artifacts, maps, documents and original artwork. Students are introduced to the viewpoints and concerns of Native Americans from New Jersey and the Delaware Valley, some of whom sided with the English colonists, some with French-Allied Indian Nations, and many who tried to maintain neutrality. Re-raised again each year from 1756 through 1762, New Jersey’s Provincial Regiment, the “Blues,” served in places as far flung as Detroit and Havana, Cuba. The exhibit includes a multitude of objects: an original powder horn inscribed by John Garthwaite of Elizabethtown in 1759, a bronze Spanish cannon captured during the Havana Expedition in 1762, a dugout canoe from the 1750s, and one of the oldest surviving flags in all of North America.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students are especially impressed by the Old Barracks Museum’s daily programs that employ a “living history” approach. Students immerse themselves for an hour as new recruits to a New Jersey regiment in the year 1777 and are confronted by “first person” historical interpreters. These experienced museum staff portray a variety of historical characters: recruiting sergeants, military hospital staff involved in the daring inoculation of the Army with the smallpox, witnesses to the Battle of Trenton, and New Jersey Loyalists who will challenge the students’ notions of what choices they might have made in 1777.

Old Barracks Museum
Location: 101 Barrack Street
Reservations: 1-888-BARRACK
Website: www.barracks.org
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 24-25, Jan. 1, and Easter)
Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors (62 and older) and students (age six and above), free for children five and under. For additional fee information regarding special school programs, visit the website.

More reasons to visit

Trenton and the destinations along West State Street offer a multitude of opportunities to excite and engage your students in history, culture, science, and civics. This cross-curricular experience combined with professional and organized staff is the reason why over 25,000 students visit New Jersey’s capital city each year. New schools are welcome to join this growing number and are encouraged to book early to reserve their field trip date. The New Jersey State Museum, the New Jersey State House Tour Office, and the Old Barracks Museum are eager to show New Jersey teachers and students all that they offer!

This article was prepared by representatives of each museum. Beth J. Cooper is the curator of education at the New Jersey State Museum. She can be reached at Beth.Cooper@sos.state.nj.us.

Sarah M. Schmidt is the tour program educator at the New Jersey State House Tour Office. She can be reached at smschmidt@njleg.org.

Richard Patterson is the executive director of the Old Barracks Museum. He can be reached at barracks@voicenet.com