Best American Landmarks to Visit with Kids: Pearl Harbor
America’s historic and natural landmarks may not be as ancient as those found in other parts of the world, but their more recent origins add a tangible quality that may inspire a child’s learning. Whether seeing firsthand the documents our nation was built on, or gazing in awe at the beauty found in our national parks, visits to these places are an opportunity for memorable family bonding and can bring history to life for a powerful learning experience. This series includes tips and educational resources for visiting some of the most amazing landmarks our country has to offer with your kids. Some may be in your back yard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.
The only U.S. state comprised of islands, Hawaii’s warm beaches and active volcanoes make it a popular tourist destination. Pearl Harbor, a lagoon on the island of Oahu, attracts millions of visitors each year for a different reason. On the morning of December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. While the raid lasted just two hours, its effects were devastating. The Japanese destroyed nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight enormous battleships and almost 200 airplanes. More than 2,000 American soldiers and sailors died in the attack, and another 1,000 were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt exclaimed, “Yesterday the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked […] No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.” After years of discussion and debate, the American people were now united in the decision to go to war and, more than two years into the conflict, the United States declared war on Japan and joined World War II.
Today, the grounds of Pearl Harbor feature several educational exhibits, displays, memorials, and museums, honoring the 1,177 victims of the Japanese attacks as well as all of those who bravely served in World War II.
Activities to Include on Your Visit to Pearl Harbor
Tours: Self-guided, as well as paid commercially guided tours, are available at many of the galleries, memorials, and historic sites. The National Park Service even provides a free, 75-minute interpretive program that begins at the USS Arizona Memorial theater. It includes a brief introduction, a 23-minute documentary film, a Navy-operated shuttle boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial, and time to experience the Memorial itself.
- USS Arizona Memorial: USS Arizona is a battleship that was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The memorial, accessible only by boat, bestrides the battleship allowing visitors to view the wreckage without compromising its integrity.
- Pearl Harbor Historic Sites: Including USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
- USS Oklahoma Memorial: Located on Ford Island, the USS Oklahoma Memorial commemorates and honors the 429 Sailors and Marines who lost their lives during the December 7th attack.
- USS Missouri Memorial: Visitors can tour the USS Missouri which was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan which ended World War II.
- Become a Junior Ranger: By completing age appropriate activities that promote learning the history of Pearl Harbor, students can earn their Junior Ranger badges.
Related Educational Resources and Activities
Great Movies for Teaching US History: World War II lists and briefly overviews WWII films and miniseries.
Brought into service during the final years of World War II, four battleships have been preserved as museums. Three of these museums are located in the continental United States: USS Iowa (Los Angeles, CA), Battleship New Jersey (Camden, NJ), and Battleship Wisconsin (Norfolk, VA).
- Read about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the obstacles he had to overcome.
Related Children’s Books
- Pearl Harbor Child: A Child’s View of Pearl Harbor from Attack to Peace is a first-hand account of the Japanese attack and the events that followed, all from the perspective of a child.
- Learn the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor with the graphic novel, The Attack on Pearl Harbor.
- Pearl Harbor Ghosts: The Legacy of December 7, 1941 recounts the 1941 bombing from the perspective of native Hawaiian farmers, admirals, and nurses, as well as Navy wives and government officials.
- Recommended for ages 10 to 14, Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor, is historical fiction that illustrates the Japanese attack.
Questions for Discussion
Before your visit, ask your children:
- What were some of the events that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?
- Why was America reluctant to get involved in WWII? How did Pearl Harbor change that?
- Research your family tree. Do you have any family members who were stationed at Pearl Harbor or who fought in WWII?
- What countries were involved on each side of World War II?
- How did the war impact the United States?
After your visit, ask these questions for further discussion:
- How does Pearl Harbor compare to the rest of Hawaii?
- What are some of the feelings you experienced when walking through the different museums and memorials?
- Would you be interested in visiting other battleship museums? Why or why not?
- What do you think December 7, 1941 was like for Americans? For Japanese people? For Japanese-Americans?
Educational Places to Visit Nearby
There are many educational opportunities within a thirty minute drive from the Pearl Harbor Welcome Center including:
- Pacific Aviation Museum: Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor is located on Ford Island and occupies two hangars and the Ford Island Control Tower. For those who want to prepare for their visit or cannot make it to the museum, a virtual tour is available.
- The Honolulu Police Department Museum allows you to explore the evolution of law enforcement in Hawaii.
- Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii: Educating present and future generations in the evolving Japanese American experience in Hawaii.
- Diamond Head State Monument: Enjoy historic hiking trails, stunning coastal views, and rich military history.
- The Waikiki Aquarium features several exhibits as well as interactive programs.
Image Credit – MercedArt
Sarah Mills is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. She mentored and instructed kindergarten through high school-aged students throughout her college years and eventually went on to live and work in Yosemite National Park for a stint. Reading, writing, adventuring, and anything Harry Potter are some of Sarah’s favorite go-to activities.