Play & Learn Through American History at Wegmans Wonderplace

Climb aboard for some fun in Wegmans Wonderplace

Climb aboard for some fun in Wegmans Wonderplace



Parents with little ones, take note: The new Wegmans Wonderplace at the National Museum of American History should be among your go-to places to take your babe to play. Designed especially for children 0-6 years old, the activity center in the recently opened Innovation Wing incorporates play and learning in the museum’s context with fun and interesting features that cater to curious young visitors as well as their accompanying adults.

wegmans_museum

My kids are too old for it now, but it’s exactly the kind of place I sought out in their early years. (I know this from joining a friend and her 4-year-old on a recent visit there.) As the museum puts it, “Wonderplace is built around the enduring wonders of childhood, the things kids are naturally curious about — blocks, animals, sounds — and branches out to make connections to the museum’s diverse collections and exhibitions.”

Active play in the museum

Active play in the museum

Taking the wheel of the boat

Taking the wheel of the boat

What's for dinner, Stig?

What’s for dinner, Stig?

They achieve this with a variety exhibits that appeal to little guests with hands-on activities, active fun, and pretend play opportunities. A big boat in the middle of the room welcomes children to climb aboard, slide down, and drive. There’s a market to shop for veggies, and a kitchen where they can use them to prepare a meal. A farm area lets them collect eggs from chickens, and a corner dedicated to blocks and building encourages them to use their imaginations to create all kinds of structures. A wall of full of framed portraits shows how history is the story of people. And throughout the space are items from the museum’s collections on display that relate to the exhibits.

The blocks station is a must-play

The blocks station is a must-play

Down on the farm

Down on the farm

A nice feature at the stations are panels that explain the connection of the activities to both the museum and childrens’ learning, plus tips for parents on ways to explore them at varying stages — infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. And all of the exhibits are at eye-level for kids, so they can engage completely and comfortably.

The collections section

The collections section

Tips to make the most of your visit

Tips to make the most of your visit

These are among many thoughtful details that parents can appreciate. Some others are boppy pillows in the reading area for nursing moms, a crawling area for babies with soft toys and a low-hung mirror, and a restroom within the space that includes a changing table and child-sized toilet. And enthusiastic museum staff are on hand to answer questions and occasionally jump in with helpful suggestions for both adults and children.

Room for reading, nursing... and snuggling

Room for reading, nursing… and snuggling

Take your own portrait

Take your own portrait

When I asked my friend, Jody, what she and her son thought of Wegmans Wonderplace, she said, “I think the fact that I had to drag him out of there speaks volumes!” She noted that the mix of activities kept him occupied for a full two hours and also pointed out that the location inside the American History Museum is a bonus “because it gives some good variety in the outing for grownups, as opposed to trucking to a play zone place just for that purpose.”

All kinds of building materials in the blocks area

All kinds of building materials in the blocks area

A great point, indeed! You can extend your visit beyond Wegmans Wonderplace and explore other parts of the museum that young children enjoy, like some of the displays in the Innovation Wing and America on the Move, where they can sit on an L train car and gawk at other vehicles. And the newly renovated Spark!Lab is adjacent, but generally geared toward older kids. (That’s also good to keep in mind…while Wonderplace is supposed to be for ages 0-6, I thought it seemed like 4 and under would enjoy it best. But you can always bring your 5/6-year-old, and move to the Spark!Lab next door if they seem too old.)

A little marble run fun in the Spark!Lab

A little marble run fun in the Spark!Lab



And did I mention that it’s all free? That’s right, like many Smithsonian gems, there is no entrance fee. There’s a chance of a short wait if it happens to be crowded, but you have a whole museum to explore until it’s your turn to go in.

Wegmans Wonderplace is located on the First Floor West of the American History Museum (14th & Constitution NW). It’s open every day except Tuesdays and December 25 from 10am – 4pm. Admission, as mentioned, is free. There is street parking nearby, and you can probably find a close spot on a weekday, but weekends will be more challenging. The nearest Metro station is the Smithsonian stop, just across the National Mall at 12th and Independence SW.


5 Comments

Filed under Babies, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Museums, Preschoolers, Toddlers, Weekdays, Weekend

5 Responses to Play & Learn Through American History at Wegmans Wonderplace

  1. Maris

    I love your blog!! I took my two year old to the Wonderplace, and he loved it! When we went, there was a bit of a wait, but the line moved quickly, and the people working there gave us a book to read while we were waiting. I thought that was a nice touch.

  2. Caroline

    hey, I took my almost 2 yr old to this place. It was *ok*, not great at all (I won’t bother to go back). The space is very small and super-crowded, and actually not that interesting – it features a kitchen area that was packed with adults, a jungle gym building with a slide (and a huge hole), and a vegetable stand, a half-boat, and some blocks. For some reason there is a huge hole in jungle-gym on the path from the stairs to the slide. Small kids were falling into the hole and at least 2 parents had to climb into the jungle gym to fish out their children. My son was happy to leave after about half an hour, which was fine. Seems obnoxious to spend hours in this small, crowded space when there is a long line outside.

    • Linda @ KidFriendly DC

      Interesting… there was barely a crowd with no line at all when we were there. Too bad your experience was not like that – did you go shorlty after it opened? Given that the space is new, the museum likely is still trying to figure out a system for those crowded days, and I imagine they may eventually implement timed entry (ala the Building Zone at the Building Museum). But, as you read above, I thought the exhibits worked — perfectly age-appropriate and very engaging for all the little ones playing there the day we went.

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  4. Vic

    I took my family there and my two sons, ages 1 and 2, had a decent time. My 7 year old daughter liked it and wanted to play with them, but the line was soooooo long that I felt bad about taking the space for a younger kid so we went next door to the other place. It was nice, but nothing spectacular. I would take my kids again, but I wouldn’t wait in the line for an hour (as some parents did that day…unbelievable). We got there at the opening of the museum, otherwise be prepared to camp out…

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