Tag Archives: Washington DC Museums for Kids

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.

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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 is 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.


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

Where to Play on the Weekdays: June 23-27

Prepare to be fascinated at the Maryland Science Center

Prepare to be fascinated at the Maryland Science Center



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Monday – DC public pools and spray parks are now open daily! Jump in or splash around for free (or a small fee in you’re not a DC resident). Check the DC DPR website for locations and hours — find pools here and spray parks here.

Tuesday – Enjoy a flick for a buck with the Regal Summer Movie Express. At participating Regal theaters, you can catch a family movie for just a $1 every Tuesday (and Wednesday) at 10am. Visit the website to find a theater near you and see what’s playing this week.

Wednesday – Make your way up to Baltimore to visit the Maryland Science Center, where your crew can explore a variety of fun and fascinating hands-on exhibits, play in the Kids Room, see an IMAX movie, and more. Hours are 10am – 6pm. Admission is $18.95/adults and $15.95/ages 3+, free for 2 and under. Younger children might prefer Port Discovery, Charm City’s other fantastic children’s museum with multiple levels of interactive fun. Even better, Goldstar has a great discount on tickets for all dates through the end of this month!

Thursday – Be hugely entertainment at Imagination Stage where The BFG is opening this week. The production will run through August 10. Tickets start at $10.

Friday – Spend the day at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival where the annual celebration of living cultural heritage is full of activities, performances, demos, and much more from June 25-39 and July 2-6. Enjoy it from 11am – 5:30pm each day. Admission is free.

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Filed under All ages, Annual, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Festival, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Seasonal, Summer, Theatre, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: June 24-28

Go big at the Maryland Science Center.

Go big at the Maryland Science Center.



Monday – Discover the history of flight at the College Park Aviation Museum. Guests can view early airplanes up close, dress up like aviators, create flight-inspired art, and more. Keep an eye on the runway right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows — you might see planes take off and land at the College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operating airport in the world! Open daily 10am – 5pm. Admission is $4/adults, $2/children, free for ages 2 and under.

Tuesday – Beat the heat for a buck with the Regal Summer Movie Express. At participating Regal theaters, you can catch a family movie for just a $1 every Tuesday (and Wednesday) at 10am. Visit the website to find a theater near you and see what’s playing this week.

Wednesday – Fly to Neverland at Imagination Stage where Peter Pan & Wendy will be entertaining audiences through early August. Showtime is 10:30am, and tickets start at $10.

Thursday – Make your way up to Baltimore to visit the Maryland Science Center, where your crew can explore a variety of fun and fascinating hands-on exhibits, play in the Kids Room, see an IMAX movie, and more. Hours are 10am – 6pm. Admission is $16.95/adults, $13.95/ages 3+, free for 2 and under.

Friday – Splash, slide, swim, and have a blast at a water park! All of the local parks are now open for the season, and there are several throughout the area — the 2013 Summer Guide has a list of and links to all of them.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Theatre, Virginia, Weekdays

“Real Pirates” Coming to the National Geographic Museum!

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You all probably know by now how much I love the exhibits at the National Geographic Museum. They are always a perfect mix of entertaining and educational, with intriguing displays, fun interactives, engaging multimedia, and, of course, stunning photography that is practically their signature.

This is much of the reason why I am so excited about the new exhibit coming to Nat Geo in a couple of weeks. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship will be on display from March 8 through September 2. I have a feeling it’s going to a popular one — with kids and adults alike.

The exhibit tells the story of a slave ship turned pirate ship and the diverse people whose lives converged on the vessel. Sunk in a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts in April 1717, the Whydah wreckage was found by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984, becoming the first pirate ship discovered in North American waters to be authenticated and fully excavated. Here’s more background on the ship:

The three-masted, 300-ton galley was built as a slave ship in London in 1715 and represented the most advanced technology at that time. She was easy to maneuver, unusually fast and — to protect her human cargo — heavily armed. The Whydah’s purpose was to transport human captives from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, but it was fated to make only one such voyage. In February 1717, after the slaves were sold in the Caribbean, the Whydah was captured off the Bahamas by Sam Bellamy, one of the most successful pirates of his day. Bellamy and his crew hoisted the Jolly Roger, and the slave ship became a pirate ship.

Just two months later, on April 26, 1717, in one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded, the Whydah, packed with plunder from more than 50 captured ships, sank off the Massachusetts coast. All but two of the 146 people on board drowned. Some 270 years later, Clifford found the first remains of the ship. In a recovery operation that has spanned more than two decades, Clifford and his team have brought up hundreds of artifacts, not only gold and silver, but everyday objects that shed light on this tumultuous period of American and world history.

Many of the artifacts will be on display in the exhibit, including weapons such as swords, cannons, muskets and pistols as well as daily necessities such as tools, kitchen utensils, buttons, coins and personal belongings from the captain’s quarters. In addition, visitors can climb aboard a replica of the ship and experience what it was like in the captain’s quarters and below deck.

Pirate booty will be part of the display, of course

Pirate booty will be part of the display, of course

If you want to mark your calendar way ahead, there will be a free Pirates Family Festival featuring re-enactors, a treasure hunt, and more on June 22. Plus, the Museum will be offering Pirate Birthday Parties starting in March for kids ages 5-12.

The National Geographic Museum is located at 1145 17th Street NW. It’s open daily from 10am – 6pm. Photography exhibitions in the museum’s M Street gallery and outdoors are free, but exhibitions in the 17th Street galleries are ticketed. Admission is $11/adults, $9/members, military, students, seniors, $7/ages 5-12, and free for ages 4 and under and for local school, student, and youth groups (18 and under; advance reservation required). Tickets can be purchased online or at the National Geographic ticket booth.

Street parking can be tough in that area. If you drive, your best bet is one of the nearby garages. Metro’s Farragut North (red line) and Farragut West (blue/orange lines) stops are fairly convenient.

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Filed under DC, Educational, Exhibit, Gradeschoolers, Museums, Preschoolers, Preteens, Teens, Weekdays, Weekend

The U.S. Navy Museum: A True Hidden DC Gem

A replica of the USS Constitution fighting top, the centerpiece of the Navy Museum

 

Sometimes the best things are right under your nose. Or, to be more literal, about nine blocks from my house. This was the case with the U.S. Navy Museum, anyway. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it before — I’ve even posted about some of their special events — but I had no idea just how cool it was until Owen and I toured it last week.

The funny thing was, it was my poor planning that prompted the visit. We had intended to go ice skating at Canal Park on his day off from school, but upon our arrival at the rink realized it didn’t open until noon on weekdays, and it was not quite 11am.  So, I did some quick thinking about what else was in the Navy Yard area in southeast, and the light bulb went off: The Navy Museum.

The museum is located on the Navy base, so we drove down that way and found metered street parking nearby 9th & M Streets SE.  However, it wasn’t until after we were out of the car that I read on my phone how to get on base.  The visitor entrance is at 11th & O SE, so we walked there, and a guard at the front gate let us know we needed to go to the Visitor Center, located immediately to the left of the gate, to get a pass for base access. Once inside, I filled out a short form and showed ID, then was given a pass and a map.  The friendly gentleman at the desk highlighted the way to the museum on the map, just a few minutes’ walk away.

Big anchors out front hint at the great collection inside

En route, we passed the Navy Art Gallery, saw a few cannons outside, and caught a glimpse of the USS Barry moored nearby before arriving at the entrance, a stark white brick facade with two large anchors on either side of the doorway. And then we walked inside. (2016 Update: The USS Barry is no longer berthed at the Navy Yard.)

The lofty, hangar-like space

The Navy Museum is one of those places that makes an immediate “WOW!” impression.  Large ship models encased in glass, a tall replica of the USS Constitution fighting top, striking nautical displays, big guns, and an airplane hanging from the rafters are among the spectacles on view in the long, lofty, hangar-like space.

Something to gawk at in every direction

Model ships, from various eras, on display everywhere

It gets even better when you start touring the exhibits. For the most part, they go in chronological order from the front to the back of the museum, covering the American Revolution, Civil War, Forgotten Wars  of the 19th Century (actual name of the exhibit) like the War of 1812 and Mexican-American War, Artic Exploration, and World Wars I and II. There are also exhibits dedicated to specific topics like submarines, navigation, and underwater exploration.

Art and artifacts from the "forgotten" 19th-century wars

Checking out the WWII exhibit

The best part is that there are interactive elements everywhere. In the submarine exhibit, one of the first we visited, you can look through periscopes for a view of the USS Barry outside; steer, push buttons, and flip switches on a real sub control panel; and learn how a sub operates through a few electronic displays.  You can sit in the gun seats in the World War II area, and test your knowledge of Navy trivia on various touch screen displays around the museum.  A few movies about sea battles are playing within the exhibits, including Master and Commander in the Gun Deck, which is made to look like one with low ceilings and wooden beams.

Operating the periscope to get a view outside

Taking a quiz on one of many digital interactives

Guests are welcome to sit in the gunseats

All ages can enjoy this museum — young children will love the big installations, older kids (with an interest in this kind of thing) will appreciate the history as well as the smaller displays. Owen’s favorite parts were the submarines and Arctic Explorations, where he learned about some of the first expeditions to the North Pole and viewed the actual equipment that had been used there.

Relics from an early arctic expedition

What started as a way to kill time before ice skating turned out to be a pretty fantastic outing.  And did I mention we practically had the place to ourselves?  Yep, a true hidden gem. I know that there are some people who’d love to keep it that way, but this one is just too good not to share.

The USS Barry, moored nearby the museum, is open to visitors April - October

 

The U.S. Navy Museum is located on the Navy base just off M Street in southeast. Non-military visitors must enter at 11th & O Streets SE. There is visitor parking in a garage inside the base. Be sure to bring ID with you to gain access. The museum is open daily with the exceptions of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Hours are 9am – 5pm Monday – Friday, and 10am – 5pm Saturday – Sunday. Admission is free, but there is a donation box near the entrance/exit with a suggested contribution of $2.

 

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