Visiting the 9/11 Memorial with Kids: Should You Do It and What You Need to Know
Whether you believe it's important to discuss the events of September 11, 2001 with your children or wish you could shield them all together, kids learn about 9/11 at school, from the media and their peers. So the question is, what can we as parents do to help our children process and learn from the events of 9/11?
For children born around or after 2001, 9/11 probably seems like something abstract—a tragedy that happened in history. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial can, perhaps, help make it feel more real. So, what's it like to visit the 9/11 Memorial with children? What's the security like, and how do you get tickets? I took my nine-year-old this weekend and I'll share our experiences.
Currently, in order to visit the 9/11 Memorial, a timed ticket is required. Tickets are free if you obtain them in person but there's a $2 nonrefundable service fee per pass if you reserve them online in advance. If you have a printer, you can print out your tickets and bring them with you. If you don't, you'll need to stop at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site and pick up printed tickets. There is generally a slow moving line to pick up tickets, so if possible try to print out yours in advance.
If you have your tickets, you can go straight to the entrance of the Ground Zero Memorial at Greenwich and Albany Streets. As you approach the entrance, you will pass the FDNY Memorial Wall at Greenwich Street where a bas-relief memorializes the first responders who perished trying to rescue people in the Towers. I found this a good talking point to discuss the role of firefighters and the sacrifice these individuals made attempting to save others.
Once you enter, you will need to show your tickets to multiple people as you walk just a few blocks, winding around the site until you get to the actual Memorial Plaza. You'll also have to stop at a security checkpoint where your bags will be x-rayed and you'll go through a metal detector. Strollers are permitted through security.
At the Plaza, there is a sign reminding visitors that this is a place of quiet reflection. In other words, don't bring your Frisbee or a picnic to enjoy on the grassy plaza. There are giant waterfalls in the footprints of the original Towers, and you can't help but be struck by their enormity. I discussed this with my son to see if they made an impression on him, but honestly, I couldn't tell if seeing the "holes" in real life brought the events of September 11 home.
The fountains are surrounded by the names of those who lost their lives at Ground Zero on September 11. The names of first responders are grouped by their companies, which, again, brings to the forefront their significance during the day's events. I pointed out a couple doing rubbings of a loved one's name to my son, which certainly humanized the loss.
Because of the tall walls around the fountains, most kids will not be able to easily see into them without being lifted up. So be prepared to pick up your child.
We also visited the Survivor Tree, the only tree from the original WTC Plaza that survived, and was nursed back to health and returned to the site. My son said, "Lucky tree," but didn't seem overly impressed with this poignant tale.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum is not yet open, so there really isn't that much to engage kids at the Memorial. After we walked around the pretty plaza and visited both fountains, we left. The whole experience lasted about 20 minutes.
Until the 9/11 Museum opens, there are some small exhibits at the Preview Site and in the Visitors Center. At the Preview Site you can see renderings of how Ground Zero will look when completed, and listen to recordings of people's memories or thoughts about September 11. You can also create your own 9/11 recording to add to the historical collection.
The Visitors Center is located by the Memorial's exit at the corner of West and Albany Streets. Inside there is a video and a few artifacts as well as a photographic timeline of the events, from the first attack in 1993 to the present, including photos from 9/11 and the aftermath. Admission to the 9/11 Visitors Center is free.
You can also visit the 9/11 Tribute Center where you'll find a more detailed timeline. There are fairly intense images that show the burning Towers and rubble, and people covered in ash. This exhibit is probably the most powerful in terms of bringing the events to life and making them feel "real" for kids, but if you want to shield them from these images, skip the Tribute Center. There is also a video and a roomful of photos of people lost on September 11.
The WTC Tribute Center is not part of the Memorial and costs $15 for people over age 12. Seniors, students and members of the military pay $10. The Tribute Center also offers guided walking tours or a 45-minute self-guided audio tour ($10) in multiple languages, which tells the story of 9/11 in first-person narratives. It's an incredibly poignant tour that really brings the whole thing to life, but one I think I will save for my kids until they are much older.