Tag Archives: DC Attractions

The KFDC Guide to Visiting the National Museum of African American History & Culture with Kids

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The National Museum of African American History & Culture is easily one of the most remarkable and powerful attractions DC has received in recent years. Since it opened last September, timed entry passes to visit have been some of the most sought after tickets in town. It was number one on my Top 16 of 2016. It’s been lauded as a must-see by many reputable sources.

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So, you might be wondering why it’s taken me so long to post a write-up about something so outstanding. There’s good reason: While I visited the museum within days of its debut, I opted to go on my own that first time. I wanted to really take it all in and “prep” for a visit with my kids, since I knew there would be a lot to cover, and that some of it would be pretty heavy. And it was important to me that Owen and Sasha also visit before covering it here on the blog, so I could offer a true perspective on experiencing it with school-aged kids. We finally visited together a few weeks ago, just in time to post while it’s still Black History Month — though, of course, an outing there is relevant and important anytime.


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What’s Appropriate for Kids
Based on our experience, plus conversations I’ve had with friends who have been with children of various ages, I’d say that, generally, the whole museum is probably best for kids in third grade and up. Even then, that depends on their maturity, interest in history, reading level, and sensitivity to sad and scary topics. That said, there are parts that children of all ages will enjoy on some level, but there are areas that you might want to avoid entirely if you’re with a young child or an older kid who may be uncomfortable with grim and graphic elements. I would also suggest some discussion about the museum before your visit — what is there and why — even if they’ve learned about it in school.


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The Lay of the Land
The NMAAHC is huge. There are three concourses on the lower level alone that cover the history of slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement in America, and there are several levels of exhibitions, theaters, interactive areas, even a café above that. The layout is thoughtfully configured, reflecting the timeline and tone of the exhibits. The earliest and most somber of them are on the lower levels, and as you move up, time progresses and the mood rises with it. The top floors are uplifting, inspiring, and hopeful.


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What to See and Do

History Galleries
If your kids can handle it based on my recommendations above, these exhibitions below ground level detailing the story of slavery, the struggle for human rights, and the road to freedom and equality are important to see. A range of displays, artifacts, multimedia and interactive components, and large installations make up this area. There is a lot to read and see, and it can be tedious to cover all of it. On my own, I viewed quite a bit, but not nearly all of it. With the kids, we casually strolled through it all — Owen (11) was extremely interested and stopped to read a lot, while it took the larger, interactive parts to capture Sasha’s (8) attention. I made sure to avoid an exhibit about Emmitt Till, the only one I thought would be too much even for Owen.

A few stand-outs:
– A gallery with fragments from an 18th century slave ship
– The 19th century Point of Pine slave cabin dismantled in South Carolina and reconstructed in the museum
– Woolworth’s Lunch Counter, where visitors can sit at a counter with touchscreen displays that ask what they would do in different civil rights tested situations
– The Share Your Story booth that welcomes guests to talk about their own experiences on video and view the stories of others
– Displays featuring pieces from 60’s protests to Obama’s campaign materials

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Explore More! Interactives
Most ages can enjoy this area on the second floor, where you can get hands (and feet!) on with a variety of interactive installations. The Step Afrika demo area is like Just Dance but with actual members of the stomping dance group leading in a video of step moves that you copy. There is a touch screen wall that details items in the museum collection as you tap on images. Kids can sit in a 1940’s Buick and choose safe options for a trip South. Other interactive table tops let them explore even more.

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Sports: Leveling the Playing Field
One of the most exciting exhibitions in the museum, this area celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the sporting world. Every professional sport is represented with a bronze statue of a famous athlete along with compelling videos with commentary from players, coaches, and journalists. Photos and displays highlighting big moments and iconic athletes are also interesting and fun to view. And one of the most striking pieces of all is a statue of the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute. It’s on view as you walk into the sports area and such a powerful piece in the exhibition.

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Musical Crossroads
This exhibition showcases African American musicians and the influence of their music in our culture. It’s lively, joyful, and fun! See Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac, Public Enemy’s boombox, Sammy Davis Jr.’s tap shoes, old concert posters, videos of great musicians performing in iconic settings, the Mothership! The whole area is a trove of nostalgia, and my kids were great sports for indulging my ramblings about seeing Prince in concert during high school, P-Funk on New Year’s Eve in college, and how Michael Jackson lighting up the sidewalk in the Billy Jean video was special effects genius. The exhibit has hands-on opportunities, too. There’s a station where you can play producer and mix music on a touch screen sound board. And don’t miss browsing in the record store, where you can flip through album covers (there’s such a distinct feeling of satisfaction to it!) and listen to songs on a digital music table.

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Sweet Home Café
I haven’t had a chance to eat in the museum’s restaurant, but I’ve heard good things about it. The menu includes both traditional and more contemporary cuisines of the Africa American people. Dishes are made mostly from scratch and with locally sourced ingredients.

*There are many more exhibits to see within the Community and Culture galleries on the upper levels that highlight significant places, people, and African American contributions to the arts, television, and film. See them all if you can (i.e., your kids stay interested and you have time), but if not, the suggestions above will likely be most appealing to your kids.

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How to See It
It’s still tough to get passes to the museum — timed entry tickets are sold out through April, though you can try for same day — so you’ll want to make the most of your visit there. Touring with children might take some strategy, so knowing what is appropriate for them individually is important. If your kids can and want to tour the entire museum, I recommend starting at the bottom and working your way up to get the experience of seeing history unfold. However, if areas are crowded, and it’s easier to jump around, that wouldn’t take away from your visit at all. With young children, head straight upstairs to the sports, culture, and interactive areas. And if you want to see the lower levels, but don’t want to bring little ones with you, try to visit the museum with another adult, and you can switch off hanging with kiddos upstairs and touring on your own downstairs.


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I have to make note, too, of the beautiful architecture and design. The intricate lattice metal design on the outside of the bulding is meant to recall the ironwork crafted by slaves in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere. Take time to view it both from the outside and indoors. And as you stroll through the vast space, catch views of the Washington Monument and other attractions on the National Mall from deliberately placed windows.


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The National Museum of African American History & Culture is truly a powerful experience, at once poignant and celebratory, heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s a must-see for children and adults alike and, really, for everyone.

The Museum is open daily from 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free, but by timed entry passes. Advance passes are unavailable through April, but up to four(4) same-day timed entry passes are available online everyday starting at 6:30am until they run out. A limited number of walk-up passes are also available beginning at 1pm on weekdays. The Museum is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue, NW. The closest Metro stop is Smithsonian on the Blue/Orange line.

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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Eats, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Ongoing, Weekdays, Weekend

Where to Play on the Weekdays: February 21-24

Spread your wings at Potomac Overlook Regional Park

Spread your wings at Potomac Overlook Regional Park



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Tuesday – Drop in at the National Museum of American History for Museum ABCs. The program for ages 3-6 and adult companions introduces early learners to the museum collection through letter learning. In February, G is for Gold: Hear a story, make a sparkly craft, and dig for gold! Sessions are 11am – 1pm and 2-4pm, and admission is free. If your child is too young or old for the series, go explore the museum exhibits. (And on other days of the week, take little ones to play in Wegman’s Wonderplace and older kids to Spark!Lab for hands-on fun — both are closed Tuesdays, but open daily otherwise.)

Wednesday – Explore and play, indoors and out, at Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington. Hike the short trails and let the kids romp on the playground. Then visit the nature center where you can see turtles, snakes, and other creatures and learn about the area’s natural environment. Hours are 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.

Thursday – Roam the beautiful grounds and cathedral of the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland. A DC “secret” to many, the site welcomes visitors to stroll through the gardens and tour the church. Hours are 9am – 4:45pm. Admission is free.

Friday – Enjoy the day and some active fun amid the lovely woodsy setting of Cabin John Regional Park. Kids can climb, swing, jump, slide, and run on the sprawling Adventure Playland. The Miniature Train is closed for the season, but the playground alone has plenty to keep children happy. Bring along food for a picnic — several tables are right there, or you can spread out a blanket in a nearby grassy area. Admission is free.

Later on, get a preview of My Gym Potomac and My Gym Bethesda’s spring offerings for kids at a free Open House from 4-7pm! My Gym Bethesda is located at 5110 Ridgefield Road and My Gym Potomac is located at 11325 Seven Locks Road.


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Filed under DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: February 13-17

Strike up some fun at Pinstripes!

Strike up some fun at Pinstripes!



Monday – Go bowling! It’s a great indoor activity for what’s forecast to be a cold, windy day. Take advantage of Kids Bowling at Pinstripes in Georgetown, where from 10am – 12pm Monday – Thursday, kids can bowl for $3/hour ($3/shoe rental) and parents are free (limit 4 kids per adult). Eat while you bowl or stay after for lunch — they have a good kids menu and a pretty extensive main menu, too.

Tuesday – Take a Valentine’s Day hike at Riverbend Park. The Great Falls locale may not be as popular as its national park neighbor, but it’s just as fantastic a place to enjoy some time in nature — especially with kids. Trails are mellow for little hikers, the views are lovely, there are plenty of nice picnic spots, and admission is free. And if you want to see the magnificent falls up river, they’re an easy two-mile walk in the woods away. You’ll love it, I promise. 🙂 Riverbend Park hours are 7am to dusk.

Wednesday – Join the Boogie Babes for a special February pop-up show at the Miracle Theatre on Barracks Row. with Mr. Skip will lead the musical fun starting at 10:30am. Admission is $6, free for siblings 6 months and under. Plan to grab lunch at one of many eateries on 8th Street SE or stop by District Doughnut for a treat!

Thursday – Experiment with hands-on fun at the Children’s Science Center Lab at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax. Kids of all ages can explore a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts through fun, engaging interactive exhibits and activities. Hours are 10am – 6pm. Admission is $12 (under 2 are free).

Friday – Enjoy a free screening of One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure at the Einstein Planetarium in the National Air & Space Museum. Showtime is 10:30am every Friday (and Sunday, plus the first Saturday of every month). It only lasts about 20 minutes, so explore the many impressive exhibits and discover How Things Fly, a room full of hands-on activities with major kid appeal, while you’re there. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Eats, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Live Entertainment, Museums, Music, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Winter

Where to Play on the Weekdays: February 6-10

Playground fun in Palisades

Playground fun in Palisades



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Monday – Wander, play, and explore 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. You may also be able to join a Nature Playgroup for children ages 2-5 ($6 – register for it here.)

In the evening, tune in to the National Geographic Channel for “Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric,” a special documentary that explores gender identity.

Tuesday – Head to the National Building Museum for kiddie activities. The monthly Little Builders Storytime takes place at 10:30am & 11:30am in the Building Zone, where children can also enjoy areas that encourage pretend play with dress up and props inspired by some of the displays. And the PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit upstairs is always fun for kids. Museum hours are 10am – 5pm. Exhibit admission is $10/adult, $7/child, free for members. I highly recommend checking out membership options if you frequent the museum a few times per year.

Wednesday – Get in on a DC “secret” and some playground fun in Upper Northwest. Amid a small wooded area at Palisades Park is The Glass Forest, a collection of sculptures made from natural and scrap materials that is a unique must-see! It makes for a nice artsy break from a play session at the park. Admission is free.

Thursday – Join the Peter Pan Club at the College Park Aviation Museum. The program that occurs every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month welcomes children ages 5 and under to enjoy a flight-themed story and craft activity. And the exhibits — old airplanes and relics from aviation history — are neat to check out, too! Museum hours are 10am – 5pm, and the program begins at 10:30am. Admission is $5/adults, $2/children.

Friday – Catch a performance of Ella Enchanted at Adventure Theatre. Showtime is 10:30am, and tickets are $19.50. If weather permits, plan to stay and play on the Glen Echo Park playground after the show.


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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Winter

Where to Play on the Weekdays: January 30 – February 3

The Statue of Freedom at the U.S. Capitol

The Statue of Freedom at the U.S. Capitol



Monday – Take a tour of the U.S. Capitol! You can usually get on a guided tour day of, but even if you can’t there are still plenty of interesting exhibits and statues to see in the Visitor’s Center, which is open 8:30am – 4:30pm daily. Both admission to the Center and tours are free. Before you go, be sure to read these guidelines on what you can and can’t bring with you.

Tuesday – Drop in to the Art Adventurers Studio at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. The weekly program begins with a children’s story based on an artist’s life or a book that inspires an art project for children. This runs 10:30am – 12:30pm. Admission is a minimum donation of $5/child (2 child limit per adult). Recommended for ages 2-4.

Wednesday – Roam the grounds at Oxon Hill Farm in Maryland to visit the animals and check out exhibits that highlight the locale’s history. You maybe able to join in a Children’s Program, too! Hours are 8am – 4:30pm, and admission is free.

Thursday – Keep kiddos entertained at Imagination Stage, where the show Blue invites audiences to imagine a world where the only color is blue….until they discover something RED! Showtime is 10:30am. Tickets are $14.

Friday – Join Hooray for Books’ weekly story time for wee-ones and toddlers. Story time experts from the shop in Old Town Alexandria will share board and picture books with children, sing songs, and teach them some fingerplays. The free session begins at 10:30am.


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