By Bret Berlin with Josephine Berlin and Jackson Berlin for Fairfax Family Fun
One of Philadelphia’s top historical attractions is the Constitution Center. I have been to the Constitution Center twice before, but this is the first time I took my kids, ages nine and twelve. It is hard to impress upon kids how unique and special our Constitution is. I think it is something we all take for granted.
But this museum does an outstanding job explaining the significance and functionality of this living document. Moreover, in the spirit of continuing to form a “more perfect nation,” it challenges guests to understand this document as an ideal whose work remains unfinished.
This museum is the first and only institution in America whose purpose is to inform the public about the United States Constitution on a nonpartisan basis. The Constitution Center has four main parts: Presentation, Main Exhibit, Signers Hall, and Special Exhibit.
The main presentation, Freedom Rising, is part multimedia experience and part live performance. It is engaging and does a great job introducing the Constitution and its significance in just 17 minutes. It is a theater in the round and there isn’t a bad seat in the house despite the weird layout of the space. This is a wonderful way to start your visit. You then exit in the back on the upper lever to the main exhibit hall. The kids both enjoyed the production and so did I.
The Main Exhibit Hall takes you through the history of our country chronologically. It starts by highlighting each of the amendments to the constitution and gives you an idea of the issues that divided our country at that time, causing, instead of a revolution or armed conflict, a ballot initiative to amend our constitution.
It also gives guests an appreciation for some of the great conflicts out country has experienced in the pursuit of a more perfect nation. Some of these include immigration, civil rights, transportation policy, and reproductive rights, to name a few. Much of the subject matter is very much oriented toward adults, however, the Constitution Center incorporates several interactive features to engage children. There is a Presidential podium with the backdrop of an inauguration highlighting the peaceful transfer of power. Each of my kids enjoyed posing with that backdrop. In addition, there are judges’ robes, voting booths, and computerized interactive displays.
Signers Hall is a reproduction of what it could have been like on the final day of the Constitutional Convention. There are 42 life-sized bronze statues of our founding fathers. They are frozen in time as we walk amid the scene. My kids loved this room!
At first, they were just curious. They soon took turns identifying founding fathers and taking selfies with them. In no time they were posing with them, arguing with them and play acting as if they, too, were founding fathers. It is something to stand next to someone from the pages of history and marvel at how tall or short or how handsome or ugly they were. My kids debated (and learned) where the founding fathers were from and what significance they held. It really brought the scene to life.
The special exhibit during our visit was Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation. This exhibit was small but we visited it twice, once at the beginning and then again before we left. If your kids are like mine, they have memorized the music and idolized the man, Hamilton. This exhibit was interesting. It highlighted the constitutional debates Alexander Hamilton championed and then gave the countering argument. The presentation thus caused you to question the world according to Hamilton, the Musical. There is even a piece debunking the historical inaccuracies in the musical. This, in particular, was shocking to my kids and forced them to re-think everything they thought they knew.
In addition to this specific exhibit, the museum really embraced the popularity of Alexander Hamilton wisely. Throughout the Main Exhibit, there was an icon highlighting the appearance of anything Hamilton. This feature instantly caught the attention of my kids, urging them to read on about their favorite revolutionary.
While the Constitution Center remains one of my favorite museums in Philadelphia, much of the content was lost on my nine-year-old, so this may be more appropriate for your teenagers to tour. As I am reading this aloud to my kids, my twelve-year-old is objecting, while my nine-year-old is nodding saying “true, true, so true.” To get more information on visiting, see the Constitution Center website.
— Josephine Berlin, Jackson Berlin and their dad, Bret
Thank you to Visit Philadelphia for providing tickets to facilitate this review. This work is the original writing and opinion of the authors. All photos are by Bret Berlin and family.