Tag Archives: DC Museums with Kids

Tips for Visiting Smithsonian Museums with Young Children (Ages 0-6)

[Note: This is a Guest Post contributed by Jennifer Liao, local mom and founder of Family Trip Guides. As my own kids are now well past the little kid stage, Jennifer brings a fresh take on navigating the National Mall’s museum scene with younger children.]

I started taking my kids to the Smithsonian museums as a tactic to survive the long summer, but it turned into the highlight of the season! We set a goal to visit all 12 Smithsonian museums with my then 2- and 5-year-old and made a passing grade of 8 over the summer and finished this past year. At first, my goals were to escape the suburbs and enjoy the free, world-class museums, but I wasn’t prepared for how much we would grow to love our visits! Now my kids regularly ask which museum we’re going to this week: The Dinosaur One? (Natural History), the Vehicle One? (Postal Museum), or the Inventions One? (American History).

Channeling Julia Childs at Wegmans Wonderplace in the American History Museum

The museums sparked so much curiosity and wonder in my kids that it became contagious. They were excited to share with kids and adults alike about what they discovered that, by the end, we were bringing neighbors with us on our museum trips. I started to get lots of questions from my friends about taking kids into DC by themselves, where to park on a weekday, and food options outside the museums. So, I started texting my tips to friends, which turned into emails, then ultimately created Family Trip Guides for the top five museums.
I love lists so below are: 1) My 3 favorite things about visiting Smithsonians with young kids, 2) Trip tips, and 3) Favorite museums for this age.

Exploring the African Art Museum

My 3 Favorite Things about Visiting Smithsonians with Young Kids

1. Following Their Wonder: I LOVE watching kids’ faces light up when they explore something new! I often follow behind my children when we first enter a gallery and listen to their oohs and ahhs and have them lead me to what they want to explore. Most recently, in the African Art Museum right behind the Smithsonian Castle, my 3-year-old was so transfixed by the beautiful gold exhibit from the Wolof in Senegal, commenting that one necklace looked kind of like a cupcake!

2. Free = No Pressure/No Guilt: All the Smithsonian museums are free which relieves a lot of the pressure to “see everything.” If you need to leave because of nap time or a tantrum, you have a guilt free pass to do so. We used to live in Chicago where the Field Museum is $26 for the basic admission per person so you wanted to get your money’s worth, i.e. you stayed awhile, even if the kids were no longer into it. The Smithsonians can be a great pop-in destination whether you live nearby or not.

3. Connection: Visiting a museum with younger kids requires a lot more attention for the parent or caregiver (why is Obama’s portrait at toddler-touch-level at the Portrait Gallery?!), but it leads to incredible moments of connection with your child. My kids help me live in the moment and see the wonder in the nature, art, and artifacts.

Don’t miss the Volunteer Carts for extra exhibits (and stickers!)

My Top 3 Trip Tips for Visiting Museums with Little Kids

1. Go at the Right Time: Parents and caregivers all know that timing is everything with this age group. Pick the time when your child will be the least tired, hungry, and overstimulated. For my kids, that’s in the morning, but I know some parents who visit museums after an afternoon nap. I aim to get to the museum right at 9:45am to get parking close to the museum (often right on the National Mall!) and get in line five minutes before the museum opens at 10am. This is my “magic time” before a lot of the school and tour groups seem to arrive around 11am, and tourists later in the afternoon. It gives my kids a couple of hours to enjoy a much less crowded museum and make a clean exit for lunch, either a picnic on the Mall or at an eatery close by. (I have 20+ food options categorized by each museum on my blog.)

2. Go to a Little-Kid Friendly Museum: There are 12 museums and an amazing National Zoo as a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world! All of them are special and wonderful in their own way, but for this age group, I would highly recommend focusing on the most kid-friendly of them (see below), especially if you will need good changing tables and nursing areas.

3. Avoid the Gift Shop: Confession time… my kids have never been to a museum gift shop! I think my daughter knows they exist, because we had to walk by one and I diverted her to another gallery. We really avoid the gift shop because, as all parents know, it can be a drawn-out negotiation that takes time and energy I’d rather be spending on the exhibits. So, instead, I have included Gift Shop Alternatives for each age group and for each museum in my Guides. A few ideas for little kids: If you’re near the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall, take a ride on the historic Carousel — for $3.50 the only dilemma is which animal to ride. If you’re at Natural History or Air and Space Museums, ask the information desk where the Volunteer Cart is for the day — they might be giving out free stickers. If you’re near the Postal Museum, get a food treat at Au Bon Pain, Shake Shack, or another place in Union Station.

Start a stamp collection at the National Postal Museum!

My 3 Favorite Smithsonian Museums with Young Kids

1. National Postal Museum: This was the surprise favorite of our whole family during our summer challenge and definitely the “easiest” of the Smithsonians with kids. It has wonderful hands-on exhibits and the largest collection of stamps in the world — and they let you take a few to start your own collection! My 3-year old son calls this the “vehicle museum” because it houses a real train, a stagecoach, and an 18-wheeler truck to climb all around. The museum is located right next to Union Station, making it perfect for metro, parking, and dozens of food options from Shake Shack to Chipotle! 

2. American History Museum: This museum has so much to offer for all ages, plus the best enclosed play area for smaller kids. Wegman’s Wonderplace feels like a real museum (because it is!) with paintings and artifacts behind child safe glass and at their eye level. It is created for ages 0-6 and includes a kid-friendly bathroom, a nursing room in the back corner, a volunteer-staffed gate to keep kids inside, and an amazing kid-sized replica of Julia Childs’ kitchen! (Note: Wegman’s Wonderplace is closed Tuesdays.)

3. American Indian Museum: I love this museum because our kids don’t have much interaction with Native American cultures, and the museum does a great job at welcoming kids to learn more. We love the kids’ area called the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the 3nd floor and The Mitsitam Food Court (which means “Let’s eat!” in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples). It’s an extension of the museum with foods from different regions. (Note: imagiNATIONS is closed Mondays.)

I hope something in all these lists sparked interest in taking your kids (or neighbor kids!) to one of the amazing national treasures we call Smithsonian Museums.

Thanks so much, Jennifer!

KFDC community, what are some your favorite Smithsonian Museums? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jennifer Liao is a mom of two curious kiddos in Fairfax County who unabashedly loves museums. She created FamilyTripGuides.com to help other families have great visits with their kids. She also loves cooking with her husband and long bike rides.






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

Scenes from “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” at the Renwick Gallery



A couple of months ago we attempted to go to the Renwick Gallery only to learn upon our arrival that it was closed for awhile in preparation for an upcoming exhibition. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but figured if they were closing the entire museum, then it had to be something substantial — and really good.

Indeed, it is both. No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man brings a piece (or, make that pieces, and big ones!) of the annual Black Rock Desert event to DC in the form of large-scale installations, several of them taking up whole galleries in the museum. The works range from sculptures to immersive installations to jewelry to costumes. And they are beautiful, evocative, solemn, and kooky, kind of how I imagine Burning Man to be.

This is an exhibit that appeals to all ages. Kids will love seeing giant mushrooms illuminated in rainbow colors, walking inside a glowing geometric figure, and checking out the muffin tin parts of a dragon constructed from recycled items. Adults will appreciate all of that and more just as much.

The full No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibition will be at the Renwick through September 16, 2018. After that, only the second floor will be on display through January 21, 2019. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm, and admission is free. You can also see sculptures from Burning Man showcased throughout the surrounding neighborhood through December 2018.

Here’s a glimpse of the exhibit, but in person is, of course, always better.

Hybycozo – The Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone

Tin Pan Dragon and scenes from Burning Man projected behind it



How the Tin Pan Dragon got its name



Shrumen Lumen



The beautiful Temple is a “sacred place for memorial and reflection”



Guests can write on blocks of wood to leave a memorial or meaningful testament.



The Ten Principles of Burning Man



Some of the wacky costumes



Truth is Beauty



A room full of wishes



I swear the Zac Efron one wasn’t mine


Good advice 🙂

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Filed under 2018, All ages, Art, DC, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Weekdays, Weekend

Scenes from a Visit to the American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery



I have said many a time that one of the best things about DC is the accessibility to so much extraordinary art and culture. The Smithsonian, obviously, contributes significantly to that, with world-class museums offering both free admission and programming for all ages that is enriching, enlightening, and fun.

We took advantage of that this past weekend at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which was hosting a special Family Day to celebrate the work of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo and the Tamayo: The New York Years exhibit currently on view. The event included crafts, face painting, and fantastic performances in the Kogod Courtyard along with other activities connected to his art.

A lively Mexican dance performance by Maru Montero Dance Company

It doesn’t always take a special event to get us to the Museum. In fact, it’s one we often pop into when we’re in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. Housed in the same beautiful building as the National Portrait Gallery, many of the collections in both parts have always appealed to the kids — vibrant contemporary art, large installations, and portraits of distinguished Americans in a variety of mediums easily capture their interest. And we all love hanging out in the Kogod Courtyard, undoubtedly one of the prettiest indoor places in the city.

This “Woman Eating” always gets their attention

You can read more about all of it in this write-up from a few years ago (pretty much all of it still relevant now). And the NPG opened Explore! With the Portrait Gallery last year giving children extra experiences of portraiture in a gallery full of hands-on activities.

The space itself is magnificent

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery are located at 8th & F Streets NW, hours are 11:30am – 7pm, and admission is free. (I noted the hours, as they are different from the rest of the Smithsonian museums). Before you go, get more of a glimpse from our recent visit in the images below!

Looks like driftwood, made of metal



One looking at the art, one learning about it on a digital kiosk



Life imitating art?



Street view from a beautiful stained glass window



Be sure to look up when you’re in the Great Hall



Portrait of Mia Hamm in the Hall of Champions got this soccer player’s attention



Billie Jean King was of particular interest after watching “Battle of the Sexes”



Hi!



“Mom, quit taking pictures and let us look at the art” 😉

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

Where to Play on the Weekdays: December 12-16

usna_house

Monday – Rise + Rhyme at Busboys and Poets in Takoma or Hyattsville, MD. The weekly series welcomes children 5 and under with their caregivers to enjoy a morning of performances and stories from 9:30-11am. Admission is $5. Plan on breakfast, too — full service will be available while the little ones are grooving. (FYI: The series also takes place in Shirlington, VA, the last Tuesday of every month.)

Tuesday – Bundle up for some time outdoors at the U.S. National Arboretum. Explore the plant collections, go for nature walks through the woods, have fun in the natural playground at the Washington Youth Garden, and play among the old Capitol columns. There are so many ways to enjoy one of the loveliest places in the city! Hours are 8am – 5pm, and admission is free.

Tuesday evening, visit Season’s Greenings, the U.S. Botanic Garden’s annual holiday exhibit. On most Tuesdays and Thursdays in December, hours are extended until 8pm for seasonal concerts and after dark touring. It’s a wonderful time to go, both for the music and to walk through the jungle area while the dome is illuminated with colorful lights.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle...

In the jungle, the mighty jungle…

Wednesday – Let little ones bounce, climb, swing, tumble, and slide at the PG Sports & Learning Complex Gymnastics Center. The hour-long open play session begins at 11:30am, and admission is $6/child. (This also takes place on Tuesday at the same time.)

Thursday – Celebrate Bill of Rights Day with the Newseum! On the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, enjoy a day of family-oriented programs, tours, and reenactments — see the schedule of the website for specifics. Hours are 9am – 5pm. Admission is $22.95/adult, 13.95/ages 7-18, free for 6 and under. (KFDC Tip: Goldstar has discount tickets, but you need to buy them at least a day in advance.)

Friday – Catch a performance of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at Adventure Theatre. The holiday classic is brought to life on stage in a fun and clever two-actor show recommended for all ages. Showtimes are 10:30am and 12:30pm. Tickets are $19.50


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Filed under All ages, Annual, Christmas, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Fall, Free, Holidays, Indoor Play, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Seasonal, Theatre