Whenever one of my kids has a day off from school and the other doesn’t, I try to make a point of planning an “age-appropriate” activity, or at least one that I know whomever is home with me will especially enjoy, that the other probably wouldn’t so much.
This is what brought Owen and me to the International Spy Museum earlier this week. It wasn’t our first time there — both kids have actually been, which is how I determined it to be an “Owen” activity — but it was definitely our best visit yet. His age (6.5), ability to read, and newfound penchant for intrigue and mystery (takes after his mama!) greatly attributed to a terrific outing.
It’s all presented as a mission, one that starts on a black and neon light-filled elevator that whisks you up a level to a room where you choose an identity from several posted on pillars in the middle of the room. After a few minutes to memorize the details, a door open that leads to the Briefing Room, where “secret agents” take a seat to watch a quick film about the exciting world of espionage.
With a little background on being a spy, agents then head out into the rest of the museum, where they learn even more about the undercover life and put their skills to the test. An area called “Tricks of the Trade” reveals the many tactics used in spying. There’s a section dedicated to bugging techniques, which includes listening stations that let you hear what’s going on in another part of the museum where a bug has been placed. “Diguises” displays various props and implements used to create different looks, images of the different appearances one person can achieve, and a video game where you have to find an agent in disguise.
The many interactives are what make the museum so fun, especially for kids. The games are directly related to the displays and keep them involved in the “mission.” Others give a sense of what it’s like to be a real spy, like a memory test to see if agents recall details of their undercover identity and an air duct to crawl through while keeping noise below a certain level (one of Owen’s favorite parts).
While the first half of the museum focuses on what it takes to be spy, the other is dedicated to the history of spying or, as they call it, the Secret History of History. This covers espionage dating back hundreds of years, famous spies, female spies, and stars who were spies (Julia Child led a double life!). An entire small room tells the story (literally – an audio tape plays in the background) of the Rosenbergs and their role in revealing secrets of the atomic bomb. Another room is all about the Enigma cipher, a special typewriter used during the World War II era that encoded messages that required keys to de-cipher (hence, the word).
And towards the end of the exhibit, there was one final memory test to see if we kept our cover. Owen took this very seriously and easily passed. He’ll take his juice shaken, not stirred, thanks.
All in all, the Spy Museum was a fantastic two-hour outing for us. And as mentioned above, it had a lot to do with Owen’s abilities and interests. Being able to read all the displays and operate the interactives independently made it much more enjoyable for both of us (there would have been a lot to read if I had to do it for him). He also really digs things that have an air of mystery to them. Kids who don’t like that sort of thing, might not enjoy the museum so much.
I should mention that part of the Museum is closed right now as a new exhibit is bring installed, but just about everything has been moved to the main floor, so it’s still on view. But because of that, admission is currently $5 off.
The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street NW. Hours are 10am – 6pm daily. Admission is $19.95/ages 18-64, $15.95/seniors, $14.95/ages 7-17, free for kids 6 and under. If you know when you want to go, be sure to check Goldstar – they almost always have discount tickets for admission starting the next day.