The Wright Place at the Right Time

If mention of the Wright brothers makes you think of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, you’re not alone. In the excitement about their first successful flight taking place there, I seemed to have missed that the Wrights were actually from Dayton, Ohio. Orville and Wilbur’s bike shop and newspaper offices remain in downtown Dayton, and the National Park Service operates them as Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.


every kid in a park

About the Park

We stayed at a Thousand Trails campground in Wilmington, OH and took a day trip to Dayton. The national park is divided into two locations – Dayton Aviation Heritage and Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center. Dayton Aviation Heritage has a several story museum and visitor center in the location of the Wright brothers’ newspaper offices. Across the street is the bicycle shop, restored to how it would have looked when Orville and Wilbur were working there. Huffman Prairie is about a 15 minute drive away. The field where they tested their planes is now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The visitor center and museum here is focused on the development of airplanes for military purposes, from the Wright brothers to the present.

national park
The Visitor Center and Museum in Dayton. Emelie is sitting and studying the mural while eating lunch.


Wright bicycle shop
This ranger was wonderful with the kids and really taught them a lot at the bicycle shop!

Each part of the park has its own junior ranger book and badge, but kids who complete both also get a patch. It was a lot of work to complete both books in one day, but it’s amazing how motivated they were to earn those patches! They worked hard, learned a lot and had super helpful rangers helping them and cheering them on. Oh how we adore the junior ranger program!

junior rangers
The badges at Huffman Prairie are shaped like wings instead of the typical arrowhead shape. They are especially proud of those patches!

Dayton Aviation Heritage Park also celebrates the life and work of Dayton native Paul Laurence Dunbar, a gifted poet who briefly worked together with the Wrights in the newspaper business. The eldest son of former slaves, Dunbar went to school with Orville Wright and was the only African-American in his high school class. I admit I had never heard of Dunbar before this visit. Several famous phrases from his poems were familiar to me, though I was unfamiliar with their source. Interesting as he was, poetry has a hard time competing with inventing airplanes for children’s attention and our visit was primarily focused on the Wright brothers.

Imagination Takes Flight

Innovators and inventors fascinate me. In some people, it seems, there is a spark that drives them to risk everything in pursuit of an idea, that enables them to persevere despite repeated failure, and which eventually causes them to succeed in a way that changes the world. Of course, we only know the names of those who eventually succeed. But there is a rare combination of creativity, intellect, resources, and persistence that could be called stubbornness that captures my imagination. What would it be like inside their heads?

The museum in Dayton did a good job of introducing the whole Wright family – there were more than 2 brothers as well as a sister that we rarely hear about. I was especially drawn to their parents, who were both well educated (in a time when an educated woman was hardly common) and could easily be described as unconventional. As we pursue this non-traditional lifestyle, hoping that our children’s education will help them develop their creativity, imagination, and intellect together rather than separately (or worse, neglecting any one part), it was inspiring to see parents who successfully did this and raised children with such innovative spirits. I was also inspired by the relationships between the siblings, particularly Orville and Wilbur. All in all, an amazing family that I had previously known very little about.

Orville Wright lived to be 76 years old and died in 1948. A video in the museum pointed out all the ways that flight and technology changed from that first flight in 1903 until his death 44 years later. How surreal it must have been to dedicate your life to making flight possible for humans, actually achieve it, then in your retirement watch news reels of military planes in World War II, for example. It’s unusual, it seems, that an inventor lives long enough to see how his invention develops and changes the world forever. Imagine Orville in his 70s, sitting on his porch and surveying the new world that he was a big part of creating.

national park


Prior to our visit, both kids worked on a lesson in MobyMax about famous scientists and inventors. The Wright brothers were included in the lesson, so they had some basic background before we arrived. We are trying to plan our “roadschooling” this way as much as possible, which isn’t always easy. But one look at their eyes as their learning jumped off the page and into real life made it all worth it. This is absolutely the way we want to teach our kids!

Wright brothers
Hands on – even for Micah! Learning about the scientific principles behind flight.

What a joy to spend the day exploring together! We all learned so much and fed off of each other’s interests and enthusiasm. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park and Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center are well worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. Plan to spend the whole day, between the two places. And be prepared to learn a lot and be inspired!



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