Visit Monticello

Learn who Thomas Jefferson really was when you explore Monticello

As a kid, I’d heard about Monticello.  We drove out to Virginia one summer for a family vacation and saw Colonial Williamsburg, but we were short on time, and weren’t able to explore Monticello.  So a Monticello field trip has been on my to do list for over 20 years.
Experience Monticello

What I learned about Thomas Jefferson from our Monticello field trip

One of the things that has always been an oddity for me about Thomas Jefferson is the ideals he claimed to believe and how he actually lived.  He claimed to abhor slavery and its practices, yet he owned slaves.

Monticello and Thomas Jefferson

I had a great discussion with one of the docents at the museum there, about that, and she pointed out that he didn’t actually buy more slaves, and when possible strived to unite slaves families.  He was a benign slave owner in that he didn’t approve of whipping the slaves.  But, he still did own them.

The other thing I struggle with about him is the amount of debt he had.  At one point Thomas Jefferson sold all of his books to the federal government (thus establishing the library of Congress) for several million dollars to alleviate his debt.  He had so much debt when he died that all he owned had to be sold and auctioned off to pay for his debts.  He left no legacy for his children.  This saddens me more than I can say.

Monticello field trip Thomas Jefferson innovations
But, with all of that he was a great innovator.  Take the polygraph here.  It was the original copy machine.  I’d say it’s danged hard to operate.  It takes some practice, but Superman had quite a lot of fun trying to use it and see if he could successfully copy the quote.
He also designed an absolutely fascinating house with all sorts of conveniences.  The interesting thing I learned today: He wasn’t an inventor so much as a “first adaptor.”  He took other people’s ideas and implemented them in his own house or in other things.

He had doors that opened and closed together using a pulley system, a clock that told the time and the days of the week.


What did everyone like in our Monticello field trip?

I asked the kids what their favorite parts were, and as always it was different and varied.
Monticello field trip discovery room

Princess like the Discovery Room, which had a slave quarters and reproductions of many of the trade skills to try.  Here she’s cooking in the slave quarters.
scale model of Monticello

Superman loved the house itself, which you can’t take pictures inside of.  Instead I will show you a scale model of the house.  Don’t you just want to sit and play in that house?  I love doll houses.  LOVE them.  (Future Ticia here, Superman’s favorite makes sense for his now chosen career of inventor, because we got to see all of Jefferson’s innovations and inventions in his house)

Monticello field trip ancillary buildings
Batman loved the ancillary buildings, kitchen, storage rooms, and such where he was allowed to take pictures (believe me, if I showed you those pictures you’d see our trip from a whole new viewpoint, at some point I will share those pictures).

Monticello field trip collage
I can’t quite decide what was my favorite.  I really enjoyed looking through it all, and enjoyed the amusing anecdotes we got about him and his family.
And some random pictures to finish the post that amused me (some T.J. quotes) and a smorgasbord of pictures.  Yes spellcheck smorgasboard is a word, I don’t care what you say.  I had an extra letter, I have stopped fighting with spellcheck.

other random Virginia pictures

These pictures really have nothing to do with our Monticello field trip, but I liked them.


Extending your Monticello field trip learning

Visit Monticello

It was a lot of fun to see it all, and I got a chance to use some of the tips from my post at ABC & 123 yesterday.  The Monticello website has some great materials, and I have all sorts of follow up plans for this trip.  I especially like the families and teachers section.

Speaking of extending, here’s a follow on activity we did a few years ago, that would be perfect for after the Monticello field trip.

Design your own house like Thomas Jefferson did, we did this activity after reading A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson*

  • Preschool/primary elementary requirements- draw your house and tell what you have added into it
  • Upper Elementary/Junior High- properly label your house diagram and add a map key
  • High school (or some junior high kids)- give measurements for all of the rooms, include both perimeter, and square footage of each room and for the whole house

My kids were in kindergarten when we did this activity, so they were only required to draw the house, and explain what they drew.

design your own Monticello

Here’s the outside of Superman’s house, don’t be fooled by the innocent flower, it’s a well protected house.
Actually all of the boys had quite the fortresses for their ideal houses and would have been able to withstand impressive battles.

design your own Monticello inside the house

Of course once you got inside, you’d see the pet room, and the Halloween room, that’s right he had a year round Halloween room.

And then in the attic there was the spiders.  I think those were pets also.

And more weapons.

Because what would a house be without weapons.


Looking for more field trip ideas with your kids?  Check out my Travel with kids board


13 responses to “Learn who Thomas Jefferson really was when you explore Monticello”

  1. It looks like a great trip. We're hoping to make it there this summer, so thanks for the great tips. I think my kids will enjoy it.
    Kelly at Little Wonders' Days

  2. An Almost Unschooling Mom Avatar
    An Almost Unschooling Mom

    It's always so much fun to get to see those places in real life – thanks for the little glimpse!

  3. MamaHen Avatar

    Ohhh, I am so jealous! Now that is my idea of a vacation! Sounds wonderful.

  4. Phyllis Avatar

    One place we have never gotten to. Love the pictures!

  5. MaryAnne Avatar

    This looks like a great trip! Any chance you'll make it up to Massachusetts? 😉

  6. You know, from what you said Jefferson sounds very much like many modern Americans in the gap between ideals and actual implementation. Great pictures!

  7. Looks like you all had a great time! We are hoping to make it to Monticello one day. Thanks for sharing your pictures!

  8. I really liked reading this post about your trip! I shared it with Lauren, too…she loves learning about Thomas Jefferson and has been interested in Monticello. She wants to visit!

  9. Kelly B Avatar
    Kelly B

    Sounds like a great trip!! I used to live closer to Monticello and never went. Now with kids and just finishing a history unit with Thomas Jefferson, I'm ready to go;)

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