Family Field Trip: Mount Rushmore

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is an enduring and timeless symbol of America. This popular tourist attraction contains massive sculptures of four of our greatest presidents. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum began work on the famous mountainside carvings in 1927, completing the project in 1941 after many delays and setbacks.

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Before You Go

Mount Rushmore serves as a terrific spark for a discussion on American history. Borglum selected each president to represent a particular facet of the American story. Before you visit the monument, you can discuss with your child the role each of these presidents played in his time.

George Washington was chosen to represent the nation's birth. Thomas Jefferson, who oversaw the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, is a symbol of expansion. Abraham Lincoln was chosen as a preserver of the nation for his leadership during the Civil War. Finally, Theodore Roosevelt symbolizes the development of the United States, including his role in promoting the Panama Canal.

Teaching Moments at the Site

Aside from admiring the beautiful sculptures, there is a great deal your child can study and learn while on site at Mount Rushmore. There are numerous educational displays that show how the massive undertaking was completed. Up close and in person, it's fascinating to see how challenging of a task it was to carve the faces into the mountain.

In addition to the sculpture, Mount Rushmore provides scientific teaching moments related to the local area of the Black Hills. This region of South Dakota is at the intersection of mountains and plains, which results in a highly diverse environment. Your child can be on the lookout for local wildlife, including bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer and mountain lions.

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The area has also been affected by the pine beetle infestation that plagues many regions in the country. Trees that have been attacked by pine beetles are easy to spot because they're quickly killed by the beetles, turning them brown amidst the green forest. This infestation provides a learning opportunity regarding the cycles forests endure and the far-reaching impact a small insect species can have on a massive area.

The Ride Home

The ride home from Mount Rushmore may be a time to discuss the legacies of the four presidents carved into the mountain. You can talk about what each one did to deserve such an honor. You may also want to discuss how their roles in history differ from each other. For example, Lincoln focused internally on keeping the nation whole, while Jefferson took advantage of an opportunity to massively expand the nation beyond its borders.

There are myriad other discussion topics that can spring from a trip to Mount Rushmore. For example, there have been occasional rumors of a fifth president being added to the mountain. You may ask your child which president might be appropriate and why. Would your child recommend Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest serving president who led us during the Great Depression and World War II, or Barack Obama, our first African American president? This discussion can help your child see the sculpture as less of a relic of the past and more as a living object.

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