Evie’s first year of the gymnastics team took her to Nationals in Springfield, Illinois. When I looked up what was in the area, I was so excited to plan and take this trip. With the limited time and how far it was, it was not affordable for the whole family. I had not yet learned savvy ways to fly and get accommodations. We decided to take a special mother and daughter trip. The reason I was so excited for this trip was that our year of US history spent a lot of time focused on Abraham Lincoln. Springfield, IL happened to be his home. It also talked about westward expansion so we flew to the closest large airport in St. Louis, Missouri. Here’s more about our gymnastic trip, turned homeschool history trip.
AAU Gymnastics Regionals was held at the Bank of Springfield Center, right in the center of Springfield Illinois. It was the center of all our activities. Our hotel, all Abe Lincoln themed, was just down the block. It allowed us to walk right to the meet, as well as to a lot of the attractions we visited that day.
We went to Washington Park twice. Once on our first night after dinner. We took a stroll around and bumped into deer, ducks, and geese as well as all their babies. We also saw a clock tower and beautiful plants outside the botanical gardens. We never made it into the Botanical Gardens while it was open, but it was beautiful outside. We also came here another night to enjoy Ice cream at the Park N Chill. The park is so big, with long walking trails, a playground a more. We could have visited it multiple times, but we had a lot else that was wanted to see.
Abraham Lincoln in Springfield IL
Abraham Lincoln’s National Home was our top visiting priority. The tours are free, but they are scheduled. The best idea is to arrive early and get a time slot. They have movies that you can sit and watch while you wait. We took a stroll down to the Lincoln Depot on the corner and then to the New State Capitol to check out the cool building. We did not take a tour, but they do offer them at the State Capitol.
The National home is surrounded by a small protected area of neighborhood homes. It was like stepping back into time. A few homes were turned into little museums, while others were just to view from the outside. The Lincoln home was fully set up like a home would have been set in the 1800s. We saw his bedroom, as well as Mary Todd’s and the boys. The really cool kitchen and sitting areas. When we finished our tour, we even met the man himself and his wife!
We also visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidental Library and Museum. The library was one building where we were able to see many documents including the special exhibit of the Emancipation Declaration. In the museum, it was set up as the timeline of his life. From the early Cabin years to his years in the White House. There was an awesome scavenger hunt for the kids to do while we toured through the museum. A perfect learning addition to our year.
On our way out of IL, we also stopped to visit the Lincoln Tomb and Memorial. You are able to walk inside and tour the memorial where Abe, Mary, and three of their children are buried. If you take the steps down the hill, you can also see Abraham Lincoln’s first resting place. They had to move him because so many were visiting and they couldn’t provide security.
St. Louis, MO
Our first stop in St. Louis was the St. Louis Zoo. It is free to visit, though we used our reciprocal zoo membership to get a discounted train ride. I had a feeling my legs might give out and I am glad I did because eventually, I had to leave because of my chronic pain in the heat. The train made the trip back to the entrance much more manageable. Before we left, we did get to see a walrus show, and lots of animals, including a special dinosaur exhibit. There was so much more to do there, it was surprising to me that it was free.
On our second day, we went to the St. Louis Aquarium. The aquarium is housed in the old train station. That made the entrance to the aquarium and 3D train ride. The aquarium was one of the most interactive we have been to. There were animals to touch and feed like doctor fish that nipped your fingers, touch tanks, and sting rays. You could also feed archerfish that shot water at their food. We saw an armadillo run around like a little puppy, that was so cute. We highly recommend this aquarium. The train station that it is set in also has a long list of other fun things like a mirror maze, rope course, little outdoor rides, restaurants, and even a hotel. We did do the mirror maze which was terrifying to me. I thought I would lose Evie at some point. It started to rain so we skipped the outdoor things.
Our next stop was the City Museum. Because of the rain, we could not experience those outdoor components. We want to come back to try it out, but we did have hours of fun in the multi-story art exhibit play area. Well, I did a lot of sitting after climbing stairs and just watched Evie crawl through tubes and up ladders and lose her often and hope she would find her way back to the spot I picked. I think she could have stayed for hours. On the various floor, there are also many options for lunch, snacks, and drinks. It easily could be a full day of fun.
Our final spot that we did not want to miss was St. Louis Arch. This symbol of westward expansion tied right into our US history from this year. The arch has a whole museum underneath that can be visited and explored for free. To enter the actual arch there is a fee and time entry. We did buy our tickets while we explored the museum that covered most of the westward expansion. The park rangers also put on this awesome puppet show about the Louisiana Purchase.
The ride up the arch is in a tiny little circular pod that moves in a mixture of an elevator and a Ferris wheel. When you arrive at the top you have about 10 mins to view St Louis and the Mississippi River from 630 feet through some little windows. It’s super crazy to be up that high in such a thin structure, but it was oh-so-cool to say we did it.
There were so many other things that we could have done on this trip and they are all on our lists for future visits. For this visit, I am impressed with all that we were able to do. Thank you gymnastics for giving us this excuse to visit!