Family Field Trip: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

For millions of immigrants, the Statue of Liberty was the sign that they'd arrived in America, a new world of hope and freedom, and Ellis Island became their first stop and the gateway into the country. Many families visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the same trip, due to both their proximity to each other and their intertwined symbolism.

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Before You Go

Before traveling to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, your child can conduct research into his or her own past. What is the history of your family? Did any of your child's relatives come through Ellis Island? If not, how did your various ancestors come to arrive in America?

Ellis Island is a terrific jumping off point to creating a family tree. The above questions can start your child towards learning about your family history. This may involve contacting grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives. Encourage your child to use a video-conferencing service, such as Skype, with distant relatives to build a face-to-face connection with those he or she may not know well.

Teaching Moments at the Site

While visiting the Statue of Liberty, your child can search for the various symbols that are visible on the statue and together you can discuss their meaning. These symbols include the tablet the statue holds, which is inscribed with July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals. Note that the tablet is shaped like a keystone, symbolizing how liberty is the keystone that holds society together, just as a keystone in architecture holds an arch together. Other symbols include the torch and the crown, which is divided into the diadem and nimbus. The nimbus contains seven rays which have come to represent the seven continents and seven seas, because the statue is a citizen of the entire world.

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Ellis Island has a Junior Ranger program for children. Your child can use an activity guide geared towards kids to explore the various exhibits. For example, children are asked to think about what items they would pack if they were leaving their old home forever, then they visit an exhibit that includes items taken by immigrants. There's also a chance to answer the same questions that were asked of immigrants.

The Ride Home

After visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, have a discussion with your child about what it may have felt like for the millions of immigrants for whom these landmarks were their first taste of America. While your ferry ride was brief, ask your child to imagine what it was like for those who traveled up to two weeks across the Atlantic Ocean. After seeing the Statue of Liberty, your child may understand how awe-inspiring it was to those arriving in America for the first time.

There are also numerous discussion questions to draw upon from a visit to Ellis Island. Ask your child about his or her impressions of the screening process. Was the difference in treatment based on class fair? Does your child agree with the way people were treated and the questions that were asked?

Finally, the discussion can be brought into the present day by asking your child to think about the current immigration debate and where there are parallels or ironies in current attitudes towards immigrants. Ultimately, your child should have a greater understanding of how the ancestors of many Americans came to live in this country and what they endured to get here.

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