If you were to have your students close their eyes and think of Washington, DC, what would they see? For most, they have flashbacks of class discussions and pages and pages of assigned reading in their textbooks—but there’s nothing like seeing and touching U.S. history firsthand, like reliving major historical times that shaped the world they live in today. Take your students on a trip that could inspire them to (who knows?) one day become key players in American history themselves.

Historical Turning Points and Building Blocks of America

Where better to learn about the U.S. government than U.S. Capitol Visitor Center? In its program, Environment Matters: How Does a Bill Become Law?, learn the process using the Clean Water Acts of 1948 and 1972 as legislative examples, and visit the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives. Experience the Capitol from a different perspective in Art Appreciators and explore the history of America portrayed through art and architecture, including paintings, sculptures and architectural elements found on Capitol Hill.

George Washington University offers access to unique, exciting and memorable educational opportunities for all ages and all studies. Programs integrate experiential methods—such as role-playing, video discussions, case studies, mystery shopping—and team-building exercises with field trips using the city as your learning laboratory.

Jump back in time to Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre. In One Destiny, a 30-minute, one-act play, the cast revisits the events of April 14, 1865 as they grapple with the question: could assassin John Wilkes Booth have been stopped? In the interactive History on Foot walking tour, trace the events leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and visit DC locations where Booth and his co-conspirators attempted to bring down the rest of Lincoln’s Cabinet—all led by an actor portraying the real-life Detective James McDevitt.

McDevitt on

Detective McDevitt on History on Foot. Credit: Ford’s Theatre

Memorials and Monuments around Every Corner

Glide alongside history with Bike and Roll DC—a great way to break up walking tours and to see all the sites on National Mall and Capitol Hill. Why is the Washington Monument two different colors? Why is there a gap in the cherry blossoms along the tidal basin? Which memorial has a typo etched in stone? Why did a British man who had never been to America establish the Smithsonian Institute? Learn answers to these questions and more from an engaging tour guide.

Bike tour at Smithsonian Castle.

Bike tour at Smithsonian Castle. Credit: Bike N Roll DC.

You will find the famous Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument at National Mall. Capitol Hill is the largest historic residential neighborhood in DC, stretching in front of the United States Capitol. The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial is the first national memorial dedicated to the tragic events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. All 184 lives lost in the attack on the Pentagon are represented by “Memorial Units.” Take pictures with Fala, the famous presidential pooch, at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

United States Capitol

United States Capitol. Credit: Architect of the Capitol.

DC Must-See Museums and Attractions

No student trip to DC would be complete without visiting The White House. Unless you are a celebrity or prominent political figure, you will be taking a Standard Public Tour, which is self-guided and scheduled on a first come, first served basis, but you can submit a request up to six months in advance. Your congressional representative will submit your request to the White House.

White House. Credit:

White House. Credit: Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

DC is known for its Smithsonian Institution—everyone has at least heard of it. But did you know it comprises 15 separate museums and a zoo? By attendance, the most popular are the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, American History Museum and the National Zoo. First-time visitors tend to seek these out.

At Newseum, witness history through the news in floor after floor of interactive exhibits. Students can really place themselves in the events of the past to help shape their futures. There is even the opportunity to take the chance at being a newscaster!

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Newseum building. Credit: Destination DC

Enter the shadow-world of spying where all is not what it seems and your students will discover a new way of thinking about the world in which they live. The International Spy Museum educates on espionage in an engaging way and to providing a context that fosters understanding of its important role in and impact on current and historic events.

Spy museum resized for web

The International Spy Museum provides unique resources that are both inter- and multi-disciplinary, programs and workshops. Credit: Destination DC

Witness money-making with a free tour of the Bureau of Engraving & Printing. See the original (not textbook version) Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives, and you can even research your family’s immigration records.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Credit: Wikimedia.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Credit: Wikimedia.

Visit Arlington National Cemetery to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns—a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified. It is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but—fun fact—it has never been officially named.

Can your students name all the presidents? It’s pop quiz time at the National Portrait Gallery, where the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside The White House is located.

Perform or Volunteer at Our Nation’s Capital

Perform on the National Mall. That’s right. The National Park Service has space allotments throughout the National Mall where groups can perform. Imagine your group in the spotlight in front of the Jefferson Memorial; now, that’s an experience to remember! A permit is required for this opportunity.

Central Bucks East HS Marching band from Doylestown PA, under the direction of Jason Morehouse. Credit: WorldStrides.

Central Bucks East HS Marching band from Doylestown PA, under the direction of Jason Morehouse. Credit: WorldStrides.

The National Park Service also offers volunteer opportunities. DC has many wonderful opportunities for student volunteerism. A great way to give back to the city is to help the National Park Service maintain the National Mall and its surrounding parks. From painting benches to cleaning up a river, the team can help your group find a job that works for you.

Of course, it would be impossible to list all of Washington, DC’s student-friendly opportunities in a single article, but any of these options are great places to start! Bottom line: get your student group to DC. The destination is a staple in any American’s education and provides vital knowledge for future generations. If you’ve tackled a student trip to DC, tell us about it below! Looking for more destinations? Download the 2016 Student Travel Planning Guide here.

By Lauren Reiniger