Tag Archives: National Building Museum

Life’s a BEACH at the National Building Museum


You guys. If there is one thing you must do in DC this summer, The BEACH at the National Building Museum is it.


By now you’ve probably read about it in the Summer in DC guide, caught a glimpse on Facebook or Instagram, or heard about it elsewhere. But in case not, the museum’s just-opened installation is the highlight of this year’s “Summer Block Party,” the NBM’s annual slate of special exhibits and programs during the season.



Past years have been pretty great — Indoor Mini Golf and The BIG Maze were featured exhibits — but The BEACH is especially fantastic. The interactive installation takes up almost the entire Great Hall, and it does so with style. The all-white enclosure designed by Snarkitecture is an architectural simulation of a beach. There is a beach chair lined seashore that slopes gently into the ocean. And the “water” consists of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls. It’s pretty cool just to view — but even better to experience.



The best part of The BEACH is that visitors are welcome to enjoy all of it. You can sit at the shore’s edge, wade in the shallow water, or go for a swim in the deeper parts. And it is a blast! Yes, essentially it is a giant ball pit, but there’s a reason why kids love playing in them so much. Something about immersing in them is so enjoyable — it’s soft but not squishy, you can move but you don’t sink. You might get a little stuck, since it’s hard to get traction as the balls move around, but that’s part of the fun.



Some things to note:
– There’s no timed entry, so it can get crowded.
– It can be tough to judge where others’ limbs are beneath the balls, so there could be “underwater” tangles.
– The balls are about a foot deep in the shallow area, and up to about four feet in the deep end.
– Be careful bringing items in the water; you could easily lose a phone or anything not attached to you.
– There are cubbies for stashing shoes and belongings, but they’re accessible to anyone, so plan accordingly.
– The BEACH is open late on Wednesdays, until 9pm, with food and drinks for sale, plus beach games — corn hole, bocce, and few others — to play just outside in the Great Hall.
– I advise keeping little ones supervised at all times!



And in case you were wondering, I asked staff what the protocol would be if, say, a kid threw up in there (because something like that is bound to happen at some point), and they do have a sanitation plan: They cordon off the area, extract any affected balls, and use a sanitizing spray on nearby areas. They also have been using it on the whole ocean every other day, but said they will likely start doing it every day as more people engage in the exhibit.


So, now that you have the scoop and a glimpse, get yourself over to The BEACH – sunblock and swimsuit not necessary.

The BEACH will be at the National Building Museum through September 12. Admission is $5/youth member, $10/adult member and $13/youth non-member, $16/adult non-member. Tickets can be purchased online or at the NBM. Museum hours are 10am – 5pm Monday – Saturday and 11am – 5pm Sunday, and The BEACH is open until 9pm Wednesday.


Filed under All ages, Annual, Art, DC, Exhibit, Indoor Play, Museums, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

A-Maze-ing Fun at the National Building Museum


Sometime in the next six weeks, clear a day on your calendar and go to the National Building Museum. Because that’s how much time you have left to check out one of the coolest installations I’ve seen there yet: The Big Maze.



And big, it is. They call it “large-scale,” but I’d say its more like… huge. Constructed of maple plywood, it rises up to 18 feet high and measures 60 feet by 60 feet. Within there are twists and turns and dead ends, all formed by finely constructed walls of wood at varying heights — they get higher as you get further from the center. It’s located right in museum’s Great Hall, and when viewed from upper levels, it’s like a work of art.



The best part is that it’s meant to be navigated and explored. You can get lost inside and make your way out — over and over again. That’s just what the kids did when we visited recently. (Okay, so did I.) They took it slowly the first time, trying to carefully find the route that would lead them to the exit. But after making it to the middle, where they could see the rest of the meandering paths surrounding them, then to the exit, they ran right back to the entrance and did it all over again (and again and again). Just more quickly each time they went.



After several trips through with them, I went up to the second floor and watched from there. Getting a bird’s eye view is almost as neat as navigating it. Almost.



So, the cost is a bit steep ($16/adult, $13/ages 3-17 for non-members, $10/adult, $5 for members). BUT when you consider all of the wonderful, free attractions we enjoy here in DC, paying to see and do something unique and fun is worth it, in my opinion. Plus, hat gets you admission to all of the exhibits, including the Building Zone, while you’re there.

The Big Maze will be at the National Building Museum through September 1. Hours are 10am – 5pm Monday to Saturday, and 11am – 5pm on Sunday. There will also be extended hours 5-9pm on a few evenings: July 31, and August 7, 14, 21, 28. Tickets are only available in person, on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Exhibit, Indoor Play, Museums, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

The Big Build: A Huge Day of Hands-On Fun at the National Building Museum


There’s a lot of good stuff going on this coming weekend, but there’s one event in particular I highly recommend clearing some time for: The Big Build at the National Building Museum.

On Saturday from 10am to 4pm, the annual festival will give budding builders an opportunity to start honing their skills as they work alongside professionals, including architects, designers, builders, artisans, and trades people. The Great Hall will be full of different work stations where guests of all ages aren’t just welcome, but encouraged, to try their hands at all kinds of construction techniques.


We are big fans of The Big Build, having been a few times over the years. It’s one of those events where kids (and grown-ups!) can spend hours engaged in various activities and discovering new things. We’ve built sculptures from pipes, carved stones, practiced spackling, created mosaic tiles, learned how to use a variety of tools, and so much more.



The interactive building fun continues this year with plenty of ways guests can get their build on. They can climb aboard cranes and tractors, build a brick wall and a log cabin, plant a tree and autumn plants, carve stone, compete in a nail driving contest, and create a hardware wind chime to take home. And new this year are a scavenger hunt, a chance to create a sidewalk chalk cityscape, a children’s play, and a book reading and signing of Urban Animals of Washington, D.C. by author Isabel Hill.


To top it all off, there are always goodies to bring home, too. Along with crafts they design, guests can pick up “hard” hats (they’re actually plastic), stickers, and other building-themed tokens from the day.

The Big Build takes place this Saturday, September 21, from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit the National Building Museum website.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the National Building Museum, however, I only promote activities, events, and services that I sincerely enjoy and think would appeal to KFDC readers.

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Filed under All ages, Annual, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Festival, Free, Live Entertainment, Museums, Weekend

Where to Play on the Weekdays: May 6-10

'Tis the season at Schlagel Farms

‘Tis the season at Schlagel Farms

Monday – Go strawberry picking! Schlagel Farms in Waldorf, Md, always begins their pick-your-own season ahead of other area farms, and their berries are ripe and ready now. Fields are open daily 8am – 7pm. If weather doesn’t cooperate, check out the list of indoor possibilities.

Tuesday – Combine story and play time at the National Building Museum’s Building Zone. The Book of the Month program is back with readings of “Riki’s Birdhouse” followed by a related art activity at 10:30am & 11:30am. Admission is $3 (free for members), and entry is timed, with guests admitted every hour. After, visit the PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit for even more fun at the NBM ($5 admission, free for members).

Wednesday – Celebrate the International Year of Quinoa, as the American Indian Museum hosts the Bolivian Festival. The five-day event will feature dance groups, storytelling, folk music, art demos, food, and fun for all ages. It’s running through May 12, and museum hours are 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.

Thursday – See wacky marionettes perform feats of skill, daring, and silliness in Clowning Around, a circus performance by Bob Brown Puppets. Publick Playhouse in Cheverly, Md, presents the one-hour show at 9:30am and 11:30am. Tickets are $3/children $4/ adults and can be purchased by calling 301.277.1710.

Friday – Explore and play at Potomac Overlook 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 in terrariums and discover more about the natural world in the Kids Cave. Hours are 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.

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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Farm, Festival, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Music, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Play, Seasonal, Spring, Theatre, Virginia, Weekdays

Play, Work, & Build at the National Building Museum


After much anticipation, the National Building Museum debuted its newest exhibition, “PLAY WORK BUILD” just over a week ago.  We checked it out last week, so I can tell you firsthand that it is pretty awesome. It’s replaced the much loved LEGO exhibit in both museum location (the southeast corner of the second floor) and as a go-to hands-on experience that all ages can enjoy.  Here’s an inside look at what you can expect there.

Vintage toys

The first area you walk into showcases toys from the Museum’s world-class Architectural Toy Collection. You’ll see Tinker Toys, an Erector Set, and other building toys of the past.  Most of them are under glass, so you can only look at them and feel the nostalgia. Except for the Lincoln Logs (which, I learned, were invented by John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright). There is a whole table full of the wooden pieces, where guests can build mini log cabins.

Toys that span the generations

You can build with more modern toys just beyond that at a table that looks like a giant lightbox.  It’s topped with scads of small blue foam blocks and pieces in various shapes and sizes that fit together to help you form all kinds of cool creations.

What to make? So many possibilities!

And then comes the awesome part: The big foam blocks. Every kid there seemed like they were in a state of pure bliss as they played in this sea of soft blue pieces.  Many configurations of blocks are there to pile on top of each other, lay end-to-end to make tracks and roll plastic blue balls along, stick into holes in the blue foam on the walls, hang out among, or make use of in some other fun and creative way.

Playing among the very pleasantly colored blue foam blocks

A few older kids looked like they were on a mission, gathering particular pieces for their projects. Babies crawled around the soft space. Sasha was very keen on putting long noodle-like pieces into the walls then trying to hang on them.  Other children constructed small platforms, climbed aboard, then jumped into a pile of the soft blocks below.

A play space for all ages

And there’s more. The exhibit goes digital at the far end of the room, where you can stand on a blue mat and watch as blocks form a “reflection” of your figure on the wall. You can also watch as virtual blocks fill the wall, then knock them down. There’s not much more to it than that, but kids will spend a good few minutes checking it out.

Virtual building blocks


As bummed as I was to see the LEGOS go, I’m pretty psyched about its replacement.

PLAY WORK BUILD is scheduled to be at the National Building Museum until next November.  Admission is $8/adults, $5/youth for non-members, but free for members.  And just in case you’ve missed my many recommendations to get the NBM Family Membership, I’ll say it again: It’s so worth it. Just $90/year gets you six admissions to exhibits per day, comp admission to select programs, access to birthday parties, and more.

Save On Melissa & Doug



Filed under All ages, DC, Exhibit, Indoor Play, Museums, Ongoing, Weekdays, Weekend