Planet Word is sure to get people talking. The new museum dedicated to language recently opened in downtown DC with a mission to “inspire and renew a love of words, language, and reading in people of all ages.” And with three levels full of interactive and immersive exhibits that engage, educate, entertain, and delight, they easily achieve that goal.
It’s a museum that can be enjoyed by all ages, but older kids probably will get more out of it than younger children, having more grammar lessons under their belts and generally better comprehension. Owen and Sasha, 14 and 11, were great ages for it — and older teens and adults will love it, too. (In fact, I’d rank it among my favorite museums in DC!)
The exploration of language begins before you even enter the building. In the courtyard next to the entrance is the Speaking Willow, an ingenious art installation designed to look like a tree, its branches dangling 500 speakers that play recordings in different languages as you walk beneath. It’s a fantastic preview of the word and language focused fun — and magic — that awaits.
Inside, the Planet Word experience begins on the third level and flows down, taking visitors through multiple exhibits on every floor, each of them highlighting different aspects of language in creative and interactive ways. It starts with First Words, a short video about how we first learn language as babies, a cute and fitting way to begin.
But that’s just a warm-up for the grand introduction: Where Do Words Come From. Featuring a lofty wall of words that tells the story of the English language, this exhibit combines impressive state-of-the art technology, clever narration, and some interactive fun — microphones set up in front of benches let visitors have their say, too! The installation is complemented by graphs that illustrate the evolution of language, plus touch screens that test your knowledge. (Note: The museum provides stylus pens, so you don’t have to touch screens with your fingers.)
That leads to The Spoken World, a large room with a giant disco ball globe as its centerpiece with voice-activated and touchscreen kiosks placed all around it. Here, you can listen to people from around the world speak their language and talk about what makes it unique. You’re encouraged to speak some words, too! This exhibit also includes more interactives along one wall, giving guests a chance to delve further into diverse languages.
In a museum all about language and words, books are sure to be showcased, and that happens when you hit the second floor and enter the glorious library. The sight of it will get you first. Lined with floor-to-ceiling wood shelves and a mirror on the ceiling, it’s a magnificent space. But it’s what the library contains that makes it so extraordinary. And this is where my write-up gets tricky… do I reveal the details that make it so magical, or let readers discover it themselves? Let’s just say that books come to life in fantastic ways, and you’re in for quite a treat!
There’s more magic nearby that I will share: Word Worlds lets you “paint” with words. Dip your brush into “autumn” then run it along the wall and watch it turn into deep red and orange hues, or try “surreal” to see odd shapes and swirls.
The rest of the exhibits on the second floor don’t include magical elements, but they let you share your charm. After you learn what makes a memorable speech, you can recite one of your own. Find out why some jokes work and some fall flat, then test them out in a Joking Around game. And, because words help make songs, there’s a music-focused exhibit, too — with karaoke! (Of course, we took advantage.)
Back on the first floor you will be sold on words in an exhibit all about advertising and how language is used to make things sell. Walk through an interactive whirl, check out ads new and old, and play games on the way.
From there, enter the Words Matter room, where you can share your own story, express yourself in a word, and enjoy a few more interactives. Here — and in all parts of the museum, for that matter — don’t miss the words on the walls, in the doorways, even on ceilings. You’ll see quotes from renowned writers along with phrases that have become fixtures in our vernacular.
Outside voices are encouraged as you make your way through Planet Word, whether you’re interacting with elements in the exhibits, reading quotes on walls, or just expressing yourself. Some other good things to know:
* McPherson Square (Blue/Orange & Silver) and Metro Center (Red) are the closest Metro stations.
* There is metered parking along nearby streets and a parking garage right next to the museum on 13th St.
* Free lockers on the first floor let you store coats and belongings.
* As mentioned above, the museum provides stylus pens, so you don’t have to touch screens.
* Other safety precautions, like hand sanitizing stations and social distancing guides, are in place.
* You can take an elevator or stairs to access different floors.
* Tickets are free, and need to be reserved in advance, but a limited number of walk-up tickets are also available on the half hour.
In case it’s not evident, I highly recommend visiting Planet Word — and making it a priority. This does take some planning. Free passes are available on a rolling, 30-day basis, which means you need to know the date you’d like to visit, and reserve tickets 30 days ahead. Of course, if you have an open schedule, you can check any day and reserve a time slot a month away.
I can assure you, it’s worth the wait.
Planet Word is located at 925 13th Street NW in Downtown DC. Hours are 10am – 5pm, Wednesday through Monday, and until 6pm on Saturday. Admission is free, but a donation is suggested.
Museum with karaoke? Count us in!