As my kids have gotten older, I’ve loved how the options for activities with them around the area have expanded profoundly. They understand more, engage more, do more, and generally enjoy more. Not only is it great for spending quality time with them, it also keeps this blog going. When people suggest that maybe my kids are outgrowing KFDC, I always want to respond (and sometimes actually do) with, “Whaaaat?!” Exploring new places and experiencing different adventures just keeps getting better. The kinds of things we do have changed, but the possibilities and activities themselves are so much greater.
But I digress. Because I do remember those days when Owen and Sasha were really little, when the selection of activities was more limited than it is now, especially for indoor play spaces, and even more so those with free admission.
This is why the news of “Explore! With the Portrait Gallery” is so exciting. The exhibition opening at the National Portrait Gallery this Saturday, January 28, in partnership with Explore! Children’s Museum of Washington, DC, is the NPG’s first-ever space dedicated to children. Designed for ages 18 months to eight years old, the aim of the bilingual space is to expand kids’ experiences of portraiture by offering them related hands-on activities to answer questions such as “What is a portrait?” “How do I see myself?” and “How do others see me?”
I got to get a sneak preview of the space and even see it in use as children from the Smithsonian Education Enrichment Center joined the event to “demo” the different play stations. The Explore! room isn’t huge, but the offerings within are pretty neat with several interactive activities that appeal to the intended age range. I saw this firsthand as the kids playing while I was there all seemed to be quite engaged and happy.
The activities vary, highlighting portraiture in different ways. Visitors can trace each other’s silhouettes, as one person sits on stool in front of a light and another outlines their shadow.
Something kids on the older end of the range will like is the station that has them strike a pose for a projected video art piece. You sit in front of a video screen, press a button to snap a photo, then see it on the wall in a grid of many images.
Little ones can experiment with expression and emotion by building faces out of illustrated blocks. There is also a felt board, where they can create faces and other designs with a variety of colorful stick-on pieces. And a cozy reading nook in the corner is a nice place to explore the books on hand.
Both Kim Sajet, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, and Rhonda Buckley-Bishop, president and CEO for Explore! Children’s Museum, indicated that they were looking forward to seeing how the space would be received and enjoyed by guests as they launched. That would influence the direction of any new programs associated with the exhibition.
A couple of painted portraits decorating the walls are a nice touch to maintain the museum feel. Of course, there are galleries full of art to see when you’re done playing in Explore! And a stop in the gorgeous Kogod Courtyard is always a must, too.
“Explore! with the Portrait Gallery” opens at the National Portrait Gallery on January 28, 2017. Hours will be Tuesday – Sunday, 11:30am – 6pm. Admission is free. I recommend checking out the tips and guidelines here before you go.