Visiting Ground Zero with your kids is a deeply personal decision. Even if your family hasn't already talked about the terrible events of September 11, 2001, many children will learn about the attack on the city at school, from friends, or via the annual coverage of the anniversary. Whether you're breaking the news yourself, or your kids bring questions to you, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum might help provide some context and meaning.
You're probably aware that this isn't your typical kid-centric museum, and children may only be able to handle a small part of the exhibit without feeling emotional. So, whether your kid is a native New Yorker or you're just visiting, here are our parent-tested tips for your visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
This curved piece of steel from the Twin Towers is part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s interactive Signing Steel.
Determine whether your kids are ready. This personal choice depends on each child's sensibilities, but there are some things that are good to know. The main rooms of the museum are pretty innocuous, including the remains of the actual buildings. You'll see lots of kids of all ages at the museum. They seem interested, yet sometimes saddened by its content.
Two closed halls make up the heart of the museum. Neither are recommended for children under the age of 10. The first is the In Memoriam exhibit, which displays the "Wall of Faces," with portraits of the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children who perished on September 11 and during the bombing on February 26, 1993. In addition, you'll see personal artifacts and can hear remembrances recorded by family members. It's an overwhelming amount of material that's likely to hit home if you decide to visit it. In The Historical Exhibition you'll see 9/11 from three different perspectives: The day as it unfolded through first-person interviews, news footage, and artifacts; the site before 9/11, detailing how the WTC became a target and how the terrorist plot evolved; and the aftermath of the attacks, which profiles recovery, rebuilding, and the current impact of the attacks, such as 9/11-related illnesses and ongoing national security concerns.
Prepare your kids for your visit. Once you've made the decision to visit, you'll want to give them a little background. Before visiting, you may want to check out the Talk to Your Children section of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website. It has tips for discussing the somber topic as well as a printable museum guide for children ages 8 to 11. The illustrated children's book America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell helps familiarize kids with the events so they can better absorb what they see at the museum. Younger kids might respond to Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman, which is a gentle take on the heroism of the day from the point of view of a boat.
From the 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion, you can look beyond the Tridents to see the new World Trade Center, connecting the past and present through a story of our resilience.
Navigating the museum. Guided tours of the museum are available for an additional fee when you purchase tickets. Topics vary; some cover the museum, others the memorial, and some grant early morning access. While most are recommended for teenagers and adults, family-friendly tours are offered during school breaks. Another option: Download the FREE 911 Memorial Museum app, which features a kid-friendly "Discovering History" tour from a child's perspective. The abbreviated tour leaves out the In Memoriam and Historical Exhibitions but you can access them in the Discovering History tour narrated by Robert De Niro in the same app.
The Memorial. Photo by Joe Woolhead
Visiting The Memorial. Keep in mind, The Memorial, located on the Plaza outside the Museum and in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, is a completely separate experience. Here you'll find a pair of reflecting pools occupying the footprints of the Twin Towers. Surrounded by plaques with the names of all the victims, it's a stunning sight. Signs offer gentle reminders that this is a place for quiet reflection. You might see visitors creating rubbings of a loved ones name, or laying flowers in their memory, which tends to humanize the loss. Less graphic than some of the Museum artifacts, children may not grasp what it all means—and that's not always a bad thing, to be sure. The ledges are high, so expect your kids to need a boost to see over them and into the disappearing mist.
The Survivor Tree. Photo by Jin Lee
While you're here, take time to find The Survivor Tree, which was damaged on 9/11, but nursed back to health and re-planted with the Plaza's opening. Its resilient spirit lives on with a Seedling Program, which has sent tiny offshoots of the Survivor Tree to communities mourning tragedies of their own annually since 2013. You'll find Survivor Tree seedlings in communities as varied as Boston, Gulfport, Mississippi, Paris, France, Puerto Rico, and Parkland, Florida.
Know Before You Go
Admission & Hours: The Memorial is FREE and open to the public from 7:30am to 9pm daily. The Museum is open Sunday through Thursday from 9am-6pm and Friday and Saturday from 9am-9pm. Timed-entry tickets are required for the Museum and can be purchased online in advance with the last admission coming two hours before closing daily. General admission is $26 for adults and $15 for children ages 7-12. Those under age 7 are FREE. Admission is free for everyone on Tuesdays from 5pm-close. Tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 4pm.
Security is tight: You'll be subjected to airport-style screenings before you enter. All bags will be inspected and must be no larger than 8x17x19.
Expect to wait in line: If you don't purchase your tickets online, you'll wait in line to buy them, then you'll wait in line to enter, and to clear security. If you want to catch any of the multimedia presentations you'll likely wait in line again.
The Art Cart helps children discover the stories and symbolism behind the 9/11 Memorial and the World Trade Center site.
Attend a kid-friendly activity: Saturdays and Sundays mean kid-friendly activity carts are located in the gallery providing activities connected to specific artifacts and meant to spark age-appropriate conversation about the experience. During the summer, an Art Cart is available on weekdays.
Accessibility: The museum is stroller-friendly and handicapped accessible.
Take a break: There is an on-site cafe if you need to take a break and grab a bite.
Other nearby ways to remember 9/11: If you enter the Memorial at Liberty and Greenwich Streets, you will pass the FDNY Memorial Wall, where a bas-relief memorializes the first responders who perished trying to rescue people in the Twin Towers. The 9/11 Tribute Center, located nearby, is not part of the Memorial, but aims to bring together those who experienced 9/11 as victims or survivors with those who want to learn about it. Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12 and FREE for those ages 5 and under. The Tribute Center also offers guided tours led by survivors and audio tours for an additional fee. They're incredibly poignant and really bring the whole thing to life, but definitely skew much older.
For more information on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, visit its website.
Unless noted, photos courtesy of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum