Exploring Boston With Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin just shook his head when we asked him what kids did for fun when he was growing up in 18th century Boston.

"No time for fun," the portly, bespectacled Franklin said. He explained that boys were apprenticed by the age of 10 to learn a trade, and girls worked just as hard learning to sew and cook. Colonial kids spent a lot of time reading the Bible too. "The idea was, we would enjoy ourselves in heaven," he said.

Our thoroughly modern troop of grade-schoolers looked perplexed. They couldn't imagine life without fun as a top priority. Truthfully, they weren't sure this Saturday-morning walk with "Ben" could be defined as fun. But they paid attention to local character actor Bill Meikle, who, in his Colonial garb, resembles the great American politician and inventor--long white hair, wire-rimmed glasses, green frock coat, white stockings and buckle shoes.

We followed Ben along Boston's Freedom Trail, the 2 1/2-mile red-brick line that winds around key Colonial sites. We stopped at the Old South Meeting House, where the colonists met to rail against British rule. After checking out headstones of Colonial notables in the Granary Burying Ground, we eventually reached Faneuil Hall, where the colonists had gathered to plan strategy.

Our junior historians were more interested in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace next door, with 70 shops and dozens of food stands and restaurants. Scores of street performers--jugglers, magicians and storytellers--entertain the crowds all summer here.

Ben also encouraged the kids to learn a couple of modern history lessons along our walk. Near Faneuil Hall we paused at the New England Holocaust Memorial. Its six glass towers are etched with the 6 million prisoner numbers of those who were killed in the Holocaust. And on the spot where Franklin was born, we explored Boston's immigrant history at the excellent, multimedia Dreams of Freedom Museum. Telephone (617) 338-6022, http://www.dreamsoffreedom.org.

We later returned to modern American history at the magnificent John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. Kids 12 and younger are admitted free. Tel. (877) 616-4599, http://www.jfklibrary.org.

Besides explaining what happened in the years leading up to the Revolution, Ben helped the kids begin to understand the people behind the events and their actions. We could have walked the Freedom Trail ourselves, but the kids would have whined more and learned less. Ben Franklin Alive, tel. (781) 648-0628.

Costumed Colonial time travelers also lead families on summer weekends along the Freedom Trail; tel. (617) 227-8800, http://www.thefreedomtrail.org.

The respected, nonprofit Boston by Foot tour offers the special Boston by Little Feet Freedom Trail walk, which is designed for grade-schoolers. Tel. (617) 367-2345, http://www.bostonbyfoot.com.

Our gang also loved taking part in the town meeting about taxation without representation that led to the Boston Tea Party. Tel. (617) 338-1773, http://www.bostonteapartyship.com.

The Old Town Trolley Tour stops at the Tea Party and 15 other attractions. You can get on and off all day, which makes touring easier for kids, whose legs tend to get tired quickly. Tel. (617) 269-7010, http://www.trolleytours.com.

We even got a history lesson during lunch at the Union Oyster House, which is celebrating its 175th birthday this year. The kids each got a coloring book that explained how the first newspaper in America was printed in the same building. Tel. (617) 227-2750, http://www.unionoysterhouse.com.

Boston has more going for it than just Colonial history. Show the kids how baseball stadiums used to be by taking them to watch the Red Sox play at 89-year-old Fenway Park. Ask about taking your Little Leaguers on a behind-the-scenes tour. Tel. (617) 482-4769, http://www.redsox.com.

Find family-friendly hotels and more in the free Family Value Pass; call (888) SEE-BOSTON, http://www.bostonusa.com.

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Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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