One of the gems in Pennsylvania that is too-often missed is the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Centre County, PA. The museum is located on the original training grounds of a mounted machine gun troop belonging to Col. Theodore Boal, and it’s an excellent homeschool field trip destination (and helps with the PA history requirement for those who live in Pennsylvania!). It shares the role of Pennsylvania servicemen and women from the state’s early days through modern times with a focus on World War I through the present.
The site is made of two main parts, the museum and the 28th Infantry Division Shrine. Let’s start at the museum and begin exploring. My family recently visited the museum with some friends of ours and their two boys, Caleb (10 years old) and Isaac (8 years old). The entire staff at the museum that I interacted with, both by email before the trip and in person on our visit were extremely helpful. It’s obvious that their passion is sharing history with the next generation so they can learn the stories and share them with the generation that follows.
Our first stop was at the front admission desk, which was also where the fun began. The receptionist wasted no time getting both boys engaged. She explained that she had a challenge for them—and that completing the challenge would earn them a prize. Throughout the museum, if they looked closely, they would spot small yellow rubber ducks hiding in the displays. If they counted the number they spotted as they explored the museum and reported it back to her, they would win! Caleb loves everything that is old, so we knew he would enjoy the displays, but the rubber duck challenge proved to be the perfect motivation for Isaac, who much prefers bugs to history. The mission to spot the ducks kept him looking at the displays (and learning) even if he didn’t plan on it!
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Just entering the exhibit hall provided its own learning experience, as visitors are greeted with a tongue-in-cheek sign that says touching the exhibits will result in being drafted! It was the perfect opportunity to explain what the draft was and introduce the idea that during certain times in history, some people were soldiers who didn’t choose to be.
The first part of the exhibit introduces life in the trenches in World War I. Wall displays are illustrated to give the illusion of walking through a trench, and other exhibits show some of the hardships soldiers in the trenches faced, such as rats.
From life in the trenches, the museum opens up into numerous displays that include vehicles, firearms, uniforms, and photographs from the wars. The photographs especially proved helpful in sharing that these were real people at a real point in history, not just words on a page without meaning. Caleb especially loved seeing parts of an old airplane. Both boys were intrigued by a real torpedo (though I think they may have been slightly disappointed that it could no longer explode!).
You can see more pictures of the galleries (and the torpedo!) on the museum’s website https://www.pamilmuseum.org/permanent-exhibits. The museum was also a learning experience for me, as I discovered that Caleb felt a bicycle used by the military in 1997 was “old.” When I pointed out that I graduated in 1997, he was not quite sure what to make of that!
Living History Encampment
On certain days during the year, the museum hosts living history encampments or special educational programs. On the day we visited, they had a World War I tent set up outside with men in uniforms from the period talking about what life was like for soldiers in World War I. Though the presentation was not set up to be geared for kids, it was full of interesting facts, and the boys enjoyed getting to handle some of the gear. The main presenter showed them how gas masks worked and explained how they made it even harder to see and hear what was happening in the fog of battle. Other living history days are kid-themed and include interactive, kid-friendly activities. We hope to visit again in the fall when the boys can learn about life on the home front of World War II.
Exploring the Grounds
Then it was off to explore the spacious grounds outside. The museum has many authentic vehicles set up that you can explore (but not climb on!), and Caleb was amazed to see the parts of the machines up close. There is even a tank on the grounds!
Boalsburg is one of many cities across the country that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, and it is home to the 28th Infantry Division Shrine. The walls of the shrine are inscribed with the names of many Pennsylvanians who lost their lives in service to the nation. It includes numerous smaller memorials to specific groups of soldiers and events.
There is also a walking tour of the grounds that highlights many more memorials, including some that highlight the history of various divisions of soldiers throughout Pennsylvania’s history. This walking tour proved the perfect balance to the inside tour of the museum for these two nature-loving boys. We were blessed to have a lovely spring day full of sunshine to explore the beautiful grounds. The grounds themselves offered surprising moments of discovery, such as Isaac’s discovery of fish in Spring Creek, which runs through the grounds in front of the shrine.
You can easily spend an hour or two or half a day or more at the grounds exploring the indoor and outdoor exhibits. The cost is very low, and the team at the museum is passionate about helping kids connect with history. It was one of the best places we have every visited, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to see it again!
I encourage you to learn more about the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA, just a few miles from State College (home of the main campus of Penn State University). You can visit the museum’s website and get all the latest information on special days and educational events at https://www.pamilmuseum.org/. They also regularly host sensory friendly days for families who would enjoy this setting better, and they have a number of free educational resources you can download at https://www.pamilmuseum.org/discover.
US Military Resources
If you’d like to learn more about military history, please check out my Get to Know the U.S. Military set at WriteBonnieRose.com. Your kids can learn about the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy through quizzes and activities, research assignments, and military-related quotes that are perfect for dictation or copywork. Save 30% off the already-reduced bundle price (or use the coupon on individual titles) with coupon code GetToKnow30. Younger kids can have fun learning about Pennsylvania history through fun short stories and activities featuring some of the many animals that call Pennsylvania home. See a sample of Animals of Historic Pennsylvania today! I hope we’ll see you in Boalsburg!
Bonnie Rose Hudson’s heart’s desire is for every child to feel the love of God and know how special they are to Him. Her site WriteBonnieRose.com exists to serve homeschoolers and home educators around the world by creating practical resources that are fun, affordable, and easy to use. She has hundreds of resources in many subject areas for preschool through high school and releases an average of more than 100 new titles each year. There are always new freebies in the works, and she’d love for you to join her at WriteBonnieRose.com.