You don’t have to be a huge Shakespeare enthusiast to enjoy the Folger Shakespeare Library, but if you are a fan of The Bard, you will love it. The attraction on Capitol Hill contains the world’s largest collection of materials relating to the poet and playwright. It also houses the Folger Theatre, which presents a variety of performances and events, from plays (Shakespeare and others) to concerts to talks to fun for families.
It’s not too far from where we live, and it’s free and open to the public, so we occasionally pop in to wander around the beautiful Great Hall, which is filled with exhibits all about, you guessed it, William Shakespeare. While most of the art, books, and other displays are probably most appealing to adult visitors more familiar with Shakespeare, every now and then there has been something for younger guests to enjoy, like a fun hands-on activity to accompany an exhibit.
When we were there a few weeks ago, however, Owen and Sasha were excited to see even more features for kids. There’s a book rack with reads for all ages. A replica of a Shakespeare bust welcomes photos ops, and there’s even a frame to snap fun portraits.
A Prop Drop is filled with clothes and accessories and encourages kids to “Make a scene!” There are cloaks and crowns, swords and shields, and other pieces that they can use to “create your own version of what you read and see.” (Sasha loved it, but tweenage Owen was too cool for school to dress up.)
Booklets with art prompts are scattered about on benches, and we all spent time creating pictures with inspiration from something in the Hall. Afterwards, we hung them up with other drawings on display.
Free docent-led, walk-in tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, and on Sundays at 12pm and 3pm (no reservation required). There are also reading rooms to tour, but advanced reservations are required. They are free and available on Saturdays 12-1pm and Sundays 1–2pm.
* On the first Saturday of every month, the Folger offers Shake Up Your Saturdays, workshops especially for kids and families to experience Shakespeare’s language together. They can learn about the plays, how to be a Shakespearean actor, on-stage combat techniques, and more. The 10am class is for ages 5-7, and an 11am class for ages 8-14. (The next one, Printers School, where students learn the art of book printing, is this Saturday, March 3 – register here.)
* Every April, the Folger celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with a day full of festivities that is free and open to the public. It’s a beloved annual tradition that includes performances, sword fighting demos, sonnet readings, an appearance by Queen Elizabeth I, and birthday cake! This year it will take place on Sunday, April 22, 2018.
* Some of the Folger Theatre productions can be enjoyed by older children, so consider a show for a family outing. (Next up is The Winter’s Tale running March 13 – April 22, 2018). Of course, keep it in mind for KidFree time, too.
Be sure to explore outside on your visit. There is a small Elizabethan garden on the side of the building along 3rd Street SE with sculptures, hedges, an herb garden. It’s a lovely place to sit and let the kids toddle around on a nice day (I used to that often when mine were smaller).
The Folger Shakespeare Library is located at 201 East Capitol Street SE. It’s open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm, and Sunday 12-5pm. Admission is free. (KFDC Tip: Just one block away from the Library of Congress and U.S. Capitol, you can plan to visit a couple of places in one outing.)