Category Archives: Indoor Play

Family Programs at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center

An infant class recreates a landscape at the National Gallery of Art during a class on water

An infant class recreates a landscape at the National Gallery of Art during a class on water


[Note: This is a sponsored post contributed by Cynthia Raso of SEEC.]


Nestled inside the National Museum of Natural History and American History is a little known secret — the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), a school serving infants through kindergartners. Nearly 30 years ago, our founding director recognized the profound importance of a child’s early years and the benefits of learning in museums and the community. Today, it has evolved into a school that provides educational opportunities for children and adults, integrating innovative learning methods tailored to each learner.

“How do I enroll?” is a question staff hears a lot. Parents are encouraged to peruse the many options available. Responding to the high demand after years of limited space, SEEC recently began offering more and more classes beyond its full-time school. We now have weekend programs for children up to 3rd grade and a part-time program for families with children aged 18 – 24 months, the Smithsonian Early Explorers.

While our family workshop team is committed to high standards, they also know that these programs are about family, spending time together, and having fun. When you first arrive at a workshop, the classroom is set-up with several play options — play is learning for young children, and this free time is also a great opportunity for families to get to know each other. For the first half hour, participants move about the room while the children choose what most interests them. Each activity is carefully selected to introduce a concept and support developmental growth. Descriptive signs guide parents in how to encourage and engage with their child, ideas we hope they can take home and integrate into their daily routine.

A sensory table for infants during a recent class on birds

A sensory table for infants during a recent class on birds

Toddler practices fine motor skills while creating a pipe cleaner sculpture

Toddler practices fine motor skills while creating a pipe cleaner sculpture

After playing, we head into morning meeting. Different for each age group, they can include hands-on objects, experiments, interactive songs and books, and opportunities to wonder. From there, we often get together as a group for some art and a snack.

Two-year-olds imagine what it would be like to swing like monkeys from trees

Two-year-olds imagine what it would be like to swing like monkeys from trees

Toddlers get ready to see how powdered pigment can turn into paint using oil

Toddlers get ready to see how powdered pigment can turn into paint using oil

Next, we head out to a museum! These visits connect children to objects, literally bringing them to life. Often a combination of teacher-led and parent-led activities, SEEC educators introduce the subject using the same techniques as in morning meeting and encourage families to explore galleries together. Simple instructions help promote inquiry and observation in the galleries, a less-structured approach that helps keep young children engaged, bring families together, and give children autonomy in choosing in what interests them.

A simple basket plate helps connect this young child to the artwork while visiting the Renwick Gallery

A simple basket plate helps connect this young child to the artwork while visiting the Renwick Gallery

A mother and child stop at a painting before drawing at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

A mother and child stop at a painting before drawing at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

So many of our families have asked about programs for their elementary-aged children that we recently launched Artful Afternoons. One Sunday a month, SEEC’s art educator hosts an open studio featuring artful challenges around a central theme. This year we’ll be making Alexander Calder-inspired mobiles, exploring movement and food in art, and mixing in some theater, too! While these sessions don’t include a museum visit, each family is given a brochure outlining the activities and connecting them to objects at the Smithsonian and beyond. Parents enjoy the leisurely pace and are encouraged to bring siblings and make some art of their own.

Families make landscapes on sand paper with chalk and watercolors during a session on Impressionism

Families make landscapes on sand paper with chalk and watercolors during a session on Impressionism

Weekends are for family time and fun and SEEC staff really enjoy being able to share the Smithsonian collections with you. We hope that when you walk away from one of our classes, you and your child have learned something, had the chance to meet some great people, and enjoyed spending time with each other.

Come and join us sometime!
* Weekend Family Workshops: Children 4 months – 5 years and meet Saturday and Sunday mornings for 90 minutes
* Smithsonian Early Explorers: A 2 days/week program for caretakers and children aged 18 – 24 months on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 – 11:30am with a 12-week commitment. Fall trimester begins September 26 — two spaces are left
* Artful Afternoons: Elementary school-aged children meet most 3rd Sundays of the month 1 – 3pm
* Bring Your Own Baby: Beginning in January, a program for caretakers and their newborns
* SEEC Celebrations: Book a private event for your K – 3 grade child

A complete listing of events can be found here. You can also read a KFDC write-up about SEEC here.

Cynthia Raso is Assistant Director of the Center for Innovation in Early Learning at SEEC. Her interest in programming for young children in museums began almost a decade ago when her own children were small. She makes sure to find time to teach a class once a month — it is the best part of her job.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, however, I only promote programs, places, and events that I genuinely believe in and think will appeal to KFDC readers.

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Where to Play on the Weekdays: September 6-9

Exploring the exhibits in imagiNATIONS at the National Museum of the American Indian

Exploring the exhibits in imagiNATIONS at the National Museum of the American Indian



Tuesday – Play the day away at Clemyjontri, the brilliantly colored, sprawling playground in McLean that accommodates kids of all abilities. Hours are 7am to dusk, and admission is free.

Wednesday – Join Step Arika! for a special storytime for toddlers that combines reading and creative movement. The 10:30am session at Lamond-Riggs Neighborhood Library is part of Step Xplosion!, a tour of all 8 Wards to kick off their new season. Admission is free. (Note: This also takes place on Thursday at 4pm at Mount Pleasant Library.)

Thursday – Enjoy a class especially for preschoolers (ages 2-5) at Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens. Explore a new mansion room or garden each week through make believe, art projects, and imaginative play. During this three-session Fanciful Heroes-themed series, children will hunt for dragons, make a hero’s cape, and explore a fantastical world of adventure. The series is $30 per child with one accompanying adult (($25 member; $18 additional adults), or you can pay $12 per class ($10/members). Classes are 10:30-11:15am on September 8, 15, and 22.

Friday – Discover American Indian culture with all kinds of interactive pursuits at imagiNATIONS, the family activity center in the National Museum of the American Indian. Weave a big basket, play in a teepee and models of native dwellings, do some arts & crafts, hear bird calls of the wild, read kids books in the library, and much more. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free.

*Want to cool off in the sprays? With expected high temps this coming week, DC DPR announced that operations will continue at public spray parks in the District through September 11! Hours are 10am – 7pm daily. You can also find a list of other spraygrounds in the area here.


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The Weekend Round-Up: September 2-5

Exploring the Textile Museum where you can join a free family festival this weekend

Exploring the Textile Museum where you can join a free family festival this weekend



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Labor Day weekend may mark the unofficial end of summer, but it’s also a time of some fantastic special events. Celebrate the apple season on the farm, join a family festival at a downtown museum, hear the blues in Rock Creek Park, experience the merriment of Ren Fest, attend the annual concert at the Capitol, and, of course, take advantage of the final chance to enjoy some of the season’s best activities. These recs have all you need to make the most the next few days in DC. Happy Weekend!

Season Finales
Where: Various locales
When: Through Monday
Admission: Varies by activity

This weekend is the last for many pursuits that we’ve been enjoying all summer long, outdoor swimming, concerts and movies under the stars, special museum programs among them. If you’re hoping to get in one final jazz show in the Sculpture Garden, some chill time at ICEBERGS, a free visit to the Newseum for the kids, see the fairy houses at Annmarie Sculpture Garden, check out the sculpture exhibit at the Zoo, or a day at an outdoor public pool, then check out the 2016 Summer Guide, which has details on all of those diversions and many more.

Apple Gala & Cider Festival
Where: Great Country Farms
When: Saturday & Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Admission: $12/adult, $10/child

September may mean back to school for many, but at Great Country it means back to the farm for freshly pressed cider and freshly picked apples. Celebrate the start of the apple picking and cider pressing season with tastings of Rinkers freshly pressed cider — touted as the best in the Valley! — demos, picking, donuts, and more. Of course, the farm’s five-acre play area will be open for fun and amusement, too!

Huzzah for Ren Fest!
Where: Revel Grove in Crownsville, Md
When: Saturday & Sunday, 10am – 7pm
Admission: $19/adults, $16/seniors, free for 15 and under

Take a glorious day trip back to medieval times at the Maryland Renaissance Festival — its a faire that appeals to all ages and sensibilities. Enjoy jousting matches, kids shows, cheeky comedy, tight rope walkers, jugglers, puppetry, Celtic music… and that’s just some of the live entertainment. There are also pony rides, a pirate playground, a giant slide, and all kinds of fun, fascinating things to see. Walk among knights, maidens, pirates, and villagers in puffy shirts in a 16th-century village as you chomp on turkey legs and down cups of mead. It runs every weekend through October 25, so put it on your fall must-do list. Huzzah!

Celebration of Textiles
Where: Textile Museum
When: Saturday, 10am – 5pm
Admission: Free

Join the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum for their annual community festival that celebrates diverse cultures and the textile traditions they share through live performances and activities for all ages. Watch sheep shearing, try your hand at spinning and quilting with local craft artists, take a selfie in clothing from around the world and much more. The weekend is also the last chance to see Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora,” a wonderful exhibition of works by 44 international textile artists that examine how displaced communities maintain their cultures, traditions, and languages, despite distance from their homelands.

Arrrgh, Mateys!
Where: Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: $22, $12/ages 2 and under

Set sail on the high seas in Annapolis for a jolly good adventure. Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake takes little buccaneers on a search for buried treasure. Several time slots are available throughout the day, and admission includes face painting and dress up along with the on board fun. And police, fire fighters and teachers get a 20% discount with valid ID over Labor Day weekend. Read about one of our experiences on the adventure.

Hear the Blues
Where: Carter Barron Amphitheater
When: Saturday, 12-7:30pm
Admission: Free

Head to the outdoor stage in Rock Creek Park for the 28th Annual DC Blues Festival. Along with the line-up of performers, there will be musical workshops throughout the day, where both children and adults can learn about Blues music. Kids will especially enjoy instrument and vocal workshops, including an instrument petting zoo.

Get Crabby
Where: Annapolis area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Depends on how much you order!

It hasn’t been a true DC summer if you haven’t taken advantage of one of the area’s best offerings: blue crabs! Feasting on the steamed Old Bay-spiced creatures is a seasonal treat, and doing so at a waterfront crab house on the Chesapeake Bay is a bonus. Cantler’s in Annapolis is an institution, and Mike’s Crab House in Riva is a family fave with delicious crabs, gorgeous scenery, and a great outdoor waiting area if tables aren’t immediately available. After your feast, head into downtown Annapolis for ice cream at Kilwin’s and a stroll around town. Find even more recommendations for crab feasting here.

Page-to-Stage Festival
Where: Kennedy Center
When: Saturday, Sunday, & Monday
Admission: Free

More than 40 theater companies will present readings and rehearsals of plays and musicals during the Kennedy Center’s 14th annual Page-to-Stage Festival — all free and open to the public! Performances will take place at several venues around DC, and there are a few that are family-friendly, including City Kids Theatre’s Cashall Alley Kids Kick It Old School, Art in the Horizon’s Adventures with Mr. Bear, A Musical Medley by Seventh Street Playhouse, The Students’ Art Collaborative by The Highwood Theatre, Monument Theatre Company’s Wendy, and Faction of Fools’ Classics Made Foolish – The Threequel. See the schedule for details and the full list of shows. And note that while tickets are not required, seating is limited.

Virginia Scottish Games
Where: The Plains, Virginia
When: Saturday & Sunday, 9am – 9pm
Admission: $20adults, $5/ages 5-12, free for under 5

Celebrate Scottish heritage at this annual fair featuring everything from music and dance to sports and games to food and cars, even Scottish dogs. Much of it will be showcased through competition, but there is plenty that all visitors can partake in, too. Two-day adult passes are available for $30. Festival gates will close at 6pm both days, but Saturday’s concert will continue until 9pm. And children under 12 are free on Sunday!

Labor Day Concert at the Capitol
Where: West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building
When: Sunday, 8pm
Admission: Free

The National Symphony Orchestra continues its annual Labor Day Weekend tradition with a free concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Led by Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, this year’s program also features singer Storm Large and her band Le Bonheur. Gates open to the public at 3pm, and if the 8pm show is too late, you can catch the open dress rehearsal at 3:30pm. In the case of inclement weather, the concert will be moved to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. You can call the NSO Summer Concert Hotline at 202.416.8114 after 2:30pm for updates.

Row Your Boat
Where: Potomac & Anacostia Rivers
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by boathouse

Take to the water this holiday weekend, where you can paddle and explore. A bunch of places around the area rent kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, rowboats, and pontoons. Fletcher’s Boathouse is a popular place to go, or you can explore the Anacostia from Ballpark Boathouse in the Navy Yard. Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis is a gorgeous place to paddle and enjoy more outdoor recreation. Bladensburg Waterfront Park also has vessels for rent along with free pontoon boat tours on weekends from 5-5:45.

An Apple a Day…
Where: Area farms
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

The apple picking season has begun! Several farms in the area open their orchards for guests to PYO. This list of area farms and orchards offering pick-your-own opportunities has details. And I always recommend calling ahead to be sure the pickings are good the day you plan to go.

Weather or Not
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by activity

The forecast calls for both sunshine and rain (who has Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock playing in their head now?), so if you want to plan your activities accordingly, keep these two posts bookmarked.
The Great Indoors
The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Plan Ahead for Fall Adventure!
Where: Solomons, MD
When: Future Weekends
Admission: Prices vary by package

Some outings take advanced planning, especially ones that are particularly cool. Ruddy Duck Adventures offers all-inclusive day trips around the Solomons, MD, area. They devise itineraries that include awesome activities and great dining, plus all the instruction and gear needed; all guests have to do is drive. Opt for a fossil and shark teeth hunt, a paddling excursion, or a wine and art adventure. And you can make it a family outing or a day date sans kids. Bonus: Use the code KFDC at checkout to get a discount! And for some inside scoop, read about our experience on the fossil hunt.

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The Weekend Round-Up: August 12-14

Keeping cool by a waterfall in Shenandoah National Park

Keeping cool by a waterfall in Shenandoah National Park



zulily Back to School


The weather will likely be a major factor in your weekend planning, so keep The Great Indoors list handy along with these ideas. Happy Weekend!

All’s Fair
Where: Montgomery, Prince William, & Howard Counties
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

County fair season continues as Montgomery and Prince William kick off their annual fests that are chock full of amusement for everyone in the fam. Carnival rides and games, farm animals, live entertainment, pony rides, the junk food gamut, pig races, and so much more. You can also find it in Howard County, where the fair is on for its final couple of days. This post has the scoop on all of the county fun.

High Wheelin’
Where: Frederick, MD
When: Saturday, 1-7pm
Admission: Free

Get a curbside seat to America’s only high wheel race in historic downtown Frederick, MD. The National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race is a unique event that celebrates the history of bikes with an antique bike display and more festivities throughout the day at the Best Fest — live music, face painting, bouncy fun, beer garden, and more.

Anatomy of Sports
Where: National Museum of Health & Medicine
When: Saturday, 10:30am – 12:30pm
Admission: Free

Play a sport? Learn how your body works and stay off the sidelines! Bones and muscles need to work together for optimal performance. Athletes of all ages should know how their bodies work in order to compete and stay healthy. During the event, athletes will demonstrate their sport while medical illustrators and physical therapists reveal how muscles and bones work together. Anatomy of Sports is perfect for families with children playing sports, the recreational athlete, or the practiced sports enthusiast.

May the Force Be with the Nationals
Where: Nationals Park
When: Saturday, 7:05
Admission: Ticket prices vary

How about some Star Wars with your baseball? You might run into Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Storm Troopers, or Princess Leia before you even enter the ballpark, and more of their crew await inside. Along with roving characters, the game will feature lots of Star Wars themed fun. FYI: Fans are encouraged to dress in Star Wars garb! Get there early — the first 20,000 fans to enter Nationals Park will receive a special giveaway. And if you can’t make it to Star Wars Saturday, you can catch the Nats Friday (7:05pm) or Sunday (1:35pm).

Star Wars Marathon
Where: Warner Theatre
When: Saturday, 2pm
Admission: Tickets (get a deal here)

Dress up in your galactic best and join fellow fans at the theatre for an all-day viewing fest of the Star Wars films. Alamo Drafthouse is hosting this celebration of the movie trilogy, with a rare digital screening of the special edition versions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi. Doors open at 1pm.

Show Time
Where: Local theatres
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by venue

* Go on a wild journey to Jumanji at Adventure Theatre
* Imagination Stage and The Washington Ballet bring you The Little Mermaid for the final weekend
* Peter and the Wolf is entertaining at The Puppet Co.
* And Bedtime Buddies is the featured Tiny Tots show at the puppet theater
* Born for This: The Bebe Winans Story is still running at Arena Stage
* The Phantom of the Opera is on stage at the Kennedy Center, and its recommended for ages 6 and up (look for discount tickets)
* Enjoy an evening of ukelele entertainment at Strathmore’s annual Uke Summit

Summer Fun
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by activity

The summer break from school may be starting to wind down, but summer fun around the area continues. Catch a concert outdoors to start the weekend on a musical note — Jazz in the Garden on the National Mall and Rockin’ on the Riverfront at Yards Park are local faves. Keep the seasonal pursuits going with a variety of options: Head to a farm for peach picking. Enjoy some water fun, either at an outdoor pool or a spray park. Take advantage of free admission for kids at the Newseum or see ICEBERGS at the Building Museum. Feast on crabs by the water. This post has all the details you need on all these summer joys.

Arts of Afghanistan
Where: Sackler Gallery
When: Saturday, 1-7pm
Admission: Free

Celebrate Afghanistan’s Independence Day with a fun-filled afternoon making art, tasting Afghan food, hearing from artisans, watching musical performances, listening to traditional stories, and exploring the arts of the country. The day’s finale will be PechaKucha-style presentations by social entrepreneurs working with artisans in Asia and beyond, who will share how they got involved and the lives they’ve seen changed.

National Bowling Day
Where: Alleys around the area
When: Saturday
Admission: Free

It seems there is a “national day” for just about everything these days, and this Saturday it’s for bowling. But it also has a charity angle to it — help knock down a million pins in the Million Pin Challenge and half a million meals will be donated to Feeding America. So, hit a local lane and have fun knocking down some pins. Everyone can bowl free at participating centers – go here to find one near you.

Serve Up Some Tennis
Where: Kastles Stadium at the Smith Center
When: Saturday, 5pm (USTA Family Day starts at 1:30)
Admission: Tickets start at $12

The last home match of the Washington Kastles’ season is also USTA Family Day. Along with the exciting tennis action, there will be fun activities outside the court for all ages to enjoy. We know from experience these matches are a really good time — and the extra festivities make it even more fun for kids!

Irish Festival
Where: Waterfront Park in Alexandria
When: Saturday, 11am – 7pm
Admission: Free

Head to Old Town for a day of fun and music to celebrate Irish history and culture. Along with lots of live Celtic music and Irish dancing, shop the vendor booths featuring a variety of Irish items, arts & crafts, and traditional festival foods.

The Great Zucchini
Where: MLK Library
When: Saturday, 11am
Admission: Free

The Great Zucchini is back at the library. The popular children’s performer is bringing his wacky and zany antics to the Great Hall. It’s fun entertainment for kids ages 0-12 and an accompanying adults.

Pixar Shorts
Where: National Gallery of Art
When: Sunday, 11:30am
Admission: Free

Celebrate 30 years of animated shorts from Pixar Animation Studios. Beginning with the delightful Luxo Jr., the first computer-animated film nominated for an Academy Award, this collection of shorts showcases Pixar’s contributions to the art of filmmaking. The 45-minute series will include hilarious favorites For the Birds, Mike’s New Car, and One Man Band.

Day Trip from DC
Where: Around the region
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

Get out of dodge for a day for some cool fun in areas that require a bit of a drive, but not one that requires an overnight stay (though you could consider it). Explore the spectacular underground world of stalagmites and stalactites at Luray or Shenandoah Caverns (look for a deal here). Take an ice cream making tour at Turkey Hill in Lancaster, PA. Or venture out to the Calvert Marine Museum to experience fascinating exhibits that highlight the history of the Chesapeake Bay.

Indoor Playgrounds
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

When it’s just too darn hot to play outside, but the kids still have a lot of energy to expend, this round-up of play spaces where, in some cases, they can literally bounce off the walls will come in handy.

Test the Waters
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

Cool off and enjoy some water fun beyond the local pool. Make a day of it at a lakeside beach, hike to a hidden waterfall, or find a swim spot tucked away in the woods to chill out and spend quality time with the fam. This Washington Post article about lakes, swimming holes, and waterfalls within a fairly easy drive from DC has some great suggestions.

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Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 1-5

Tinkering in the Spark!Lab at the American History Museum

Tinkering in the Spark!Lab at the American History Museum



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Monday – Visit the National Museum of American History to check out the collections and enjoy some interactive fun. Show the kiddos relics from the nation’s past through all kinds of interesting exhibits, including the Innovation Wing where they can get hands-on in the Spark!Lab (ages 6-12) and Wegman’s Wonderplace (ages 0-6). Extended summer hours are 10am – 7:30pm. Admission is free.

Tuesday – Stop and smell the stinky plant at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The impressive corpse flower on display in the conservatory is expected to bloom Monday night and will be open for all to…experience. Word is the odor is at its strongest in the first hours after it opens, but the bloom is said to be spectacular. The USBG now has extended hours 10am – 8pm, and will be open until 11pm during peak bloom. Admission is free. And to stay updated on the plant’s status, view the live stream.

Wednesday – Wander, play, and relax at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. Be sure to stop in the Horticultural Center and pick up instructions for a kids’ scavenger hunt to add some extra fun to the outing. Hours are 9am – 4:30pm. Admission is free. Update: There is also a puppet show taking place at 10:30am — ($4/Fairfax county resident, $6/non-resident). Register for it here.

Thursday – Head on down to the 4-H fair! Running August 4-7, the first couple of days of the 68th 4-H Fairfax Fair & Carnival will feature rides, amusements, farm fun, and treats. Held at Frying Pan Farm Park, hours are 10am – 3pm both days and 5-10pm on Friday as well. (There are even more activities through the weekend!) Carnival ride tickets are $1 or 24 for $20 (most rides take 3-5). Unlimited carnival ride wristbands are $18 if you buy online in advance and $25 day-of.

Friday – Enjoy a day of Pokemon in the Park as Fairfax Supervisors and Fairfax Police host a day of fun activities at Burke Lake Park. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and playground, learn tips to help play the game safely from the FCPD, battle at the “PokéGym,” and take advantage of the “PokéLures” that will be activated continuously throughout the event. Every child also gets a free ice cream as well as a free minitrain or carousel ride. This all runs from 12-5pm. Admission is free.


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