Book enthusiasts young and old come from all over for the day of reading-related activities. Works by more than 100 authors, poets, and illustrators will be showcased, and the creators themselves will be at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for special appearances.
All genres are represented on stages throughout the festival — Children, Teens, Contemporary Life, Thrillers & Fantasy, Fiction, History & Biography, Poetry & Prose, Graphic Novels — where readings, presentations, book signings, photo ops with writers (and costumed PBS characters), and more exciting experiences for guests will take place. And a Book Sales area gives guests an opportunity to purchase selected reads — and possibly have them signed by the authors.
If your children love books, chances are an author of one of their favorite stories will be there. Kids will also be able to enjoy an array of fun and exciting activities on the Expo Floor, from a literacy corner reading space to special story times and a Where’s Waldo scavenger hunt.
Even more, there’s bound to be a writer — or many — that parents will be excited about, too. David McCullough, Diana Gabaldon, J.D. Vance, Thomas Friedman, and Julia Glass are among the many that will be in attendance. Have a look for yourself at the complete list and start planning your National Book Festival experience. Most presentations are first come, first served — and people do line up early to get seats, so plan accordingly.
The National Book Festival will be held at the Washington Convention Center on Saturday, September 2, from 9am – 7:30pm. Admission is free. You can read about one of our past visits when it was still held on the National Mall — including an interview with Magic Treehouse author Mary Pope Osborne! — here.
The Library of Congress, one of DC’s most iconic attractions
Monday – Have a wild time at the National Zoo! Check the Daily Programs schedule before you go to help plan your outing — you can see an elephant training demo, meet a farm animal, watch feedings, and more — or pick your animal visits as you go. This time of year, grounds are open 8am – 7pm, exhibit building hours are 9am – 6pm, and the Visitor Center runs 9am – 6pm. Admission is free, though parking in the Zoo lot for non-members is $22 (free for members). You can also try parking on Connecticut Avenue or a side street, or take Metro to Woodley Park or Cleveland Park stations then walk a few blocks.
Tuesday – Visit the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress, to explore children’s books, see interesting exhibits, and marvel at one of DC’s most beautiful buildings. The Young Readers Center is open 9am – 4pm and welcomes visitors to read books, do a Garden Maker activity, and hang out in the cozy space. And be sure to spend time checking out the rest of the LOC, too — it’s truly magnificent! Hours are 9am – 4:30pm. Admission is free.
Wednesday – Experience Summer Magic with Dave Thomen. Performances that amuse and astound take place Tuesday – Friday this week at Discovery Theater in the Smithsonian Ripley Center. Recommended for ages 5-12, showtimes are 10:30am and 12pm, plus 2pm on July 20. Admission is $8/adult, $6/child, $3/under 2. For a live show with littler ones, catch Art on the Horizon’s By the Seashore at The Lab at Convergence in Alexandria. Showtime is 10:30am, and tickets are $6.
Thursday – Spend the hot day in the cool underground world of Luray Caverns. Take a day trip to behold the amazing stalagmites, stalactites, and other amazing limestone formations in the massive cave system. There’s even more to explore there above ground: Check out vintage rides in the Carriage and Caravan Museum, stop in the Luray Valley Museum, and make your way through the Garden Maze. Hours are 9am – 7pm. Admission for the caverns is $27/adults, $14/ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under. Some of the other attractions cost extra.
Friday – Join author, performing artist, and educator MiMi Zannino for Books Alive!, a new program for preschoolers in Gaithersburg, MD, featuring theater, storytelling, music, and crafts that celebrate literacy. Explore Constitution Gardens Park with a treasure hunt and storytelling, then make a butterfly craft, sing and dance to ukulele music, and end the adventure with an interactive nature walk through the Garden.
Monday – Visit the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress, to explore children’s books, see interesting exhibits, and marvel at one of DC’s most beautiful buildings. The Young Readers Center is open 9am – 4pm and welcomes visitors to read books and hang out in the cozy space. And be sure to spend time checking out the rest of the LOC, too — it’s truly magnificent! Hours are 9am – 4:30pm. Admission is free.
Tuesday – Get revved up for Strolling Thunder! Join parents and babies from across the country as they stroll on Capitol Hill urging Congress to Think Babies. Events will emphasize the importance of making our youngest children’s potential a national priority. The Stroll takes place at Upper Senate Park from 12:30-1:30pm.
If you prefer to keep the day non-political, go for a walk in the woods and explore the grounds of Woodend Nature Sanctuary in Chevy Chase. The home of the Audubon Naturalist Society is perfect for hiking with little ones. The trails are mellow, there are several small exhibits like bees nests and bird feeding areas, and wildlife sightings are practically guaranteed. Open dawn to dusk. Admission is free.
Wednesday – Explore the grounds and play in the gardens, particularly the Children’s Garden, at River Farm. The American Horticulture Society’s headquarters overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria are as lovely as they are fun. Hours are 9am – 5pm. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
Thursday – Discover American Indian culture with all kinds of hands-on pursuits at imagiNATIONS, the family activity center at the National Museum of the American Indian. Weave a big basket, play in a teepee and models of native dwellings, do some arts & crafts, build an igloo, hear bird calls of the wild, read kids books in the library, and much more. Plan on lunch or a snack at the Mitsitam Cafe, where they serve indigenous cuisines of the Americas that are interesting and tasty! Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm (cafe 11am – 3pm). Admission is free.
Friday – Spend the day at Flower Mart, the annual spring festival presented by the All Hallow’s Guild of the National Cathedral. Don’t let the name fool ya — along with plant sales and floral and horticultural displays, there is tons of fun for all ages. Music and entertainment, games and rides, tasty foods, the All Hallows Guild antique carousel, and other activities will delight the younger set. Admission is free, though concessions and some activities will cost a fee. Read about one of our experiences at the fair. (KFDC tip: The Beauvoir Playground will be open to the public that day since The Cathedral School is closed, so take advantage of weekday play there!)
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring is open for the season!
This first weekend of spring is full of seasonal fun and then some! Enjoy a cherry blossom-inspired event, celebrate Maryland’s birthday, zip through the treetops, catch a live show, have fun on the farm, learn to make slime….plus, the blossoms should be in full bloom anytime now, so plan get out and see the DC in peak mode. Happy Weekend!
Cherry Blossom Celebration
Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum
When: Saturday, 11:30am – 3pm
Join SAAM and the National Cherry Blossom Festival for a celebration of Japanese culture! A taiko drumming performance kicks off the day, followed by Japanese music and dance performances, face painting, and cherry blossom themed crafts. Make your own tatebanko (a Japanese paper diorama) with our friends from the Smithsonian’s Freer Sackler Asian art museums. Go on a scavenger hunt to find spring-themed artworks and more!
Where: Annapolis and Southern Anne Arundel County
When: Friday – Sunday, times vary by activity
Admission: Activities are free or just $1
Celebrate Maryland’s birthday and rediscover the state’s history during fun-filled annual festival highlighting the uniqueness of the Four Rivers Heritage Area, as local cultural and heritage sites offer special activities and tours. Stroll through downtown Annapolis or visit Historic London Town and the Annapolis countryside to enjoy educational tours, costumed re-enactors, art exhibits, kids’ activities, and more. Visit the website for more details ad schedule of events.
Kites of Asia Family Day
Where: National Air & Space Museum
When: March 25, 10am – 3pm
Get ready for the Blossom Kite Festival and celebrate spring and Asian heritage! At the Air & Space Museum’s annual event, you can talk to kite experts, see pan-Asian kite displays, marvel at indoor kite flying, make your own kite, and maybe even take a dance lesson!
Japanese Culture Day
Where: Library of Congress Young Readers Center
When: Saturday, 10am – 3pm
Learn about Japanese culture as you create origami artwork creation, try on kimonos, and enjoy more other activities. Cherry Blossom princesses from the last few years will instruct children in the art of tiara-making. At 11am and 1:30pm, the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC, will present “Japan-In-A-Suitcase,” a program about Japanese life and culture. Following each of these presentations, there will be a karate demonstration along with other attractions. Children can also explore the Library’s Young Readers Center, which is full of current and classic children’s literature – read more about it here.
Friendship Between Nations Family Day
Where: National Archives
When: Saturday, 10am – 4pm
Join the National Archives for a fun, activity filled day exploring the many ways countries show their friendship. Investigate treaties, learn about some of the crazy gifts countries have given, and participate in interactive activities designed for the entire family to enjoy.
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
The kick of warmth starting today should give the cherry blossoms the final nudge needed to get to full bloom, so get out and view the splendor of it all. The Tidal Basin is the most iconic spot to see them, but other places in the area also showcase the famous flowers. This post suggests some spots and offers tips on making the most of your viewing experience.
Adventure in the Trees
Where: Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
When: All weekend long
Admission: Varies by age
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring recently opened for the season! Kids as young as 5-years-old can experience thrills on the ropes courses and ziplines in the park’s aerial adventure forest, the largest in North America. Children ages 5-6 and an accompanying adult have access to two of the easier courses. Older kids can do much more. It may seem like a pricey venture, but it’s so worth it. Trust me. Read more about the park in this KFDC post.
Where: National Arboretum
When: Saturday, 10am – 12pm
Join Washington Youth Garden for a family-friendly Urban Composting workshop lead by Compost Cab. Join them at the demonstration garden to learn about indoor and outdoor home composting and leave with the knowledge to make your own soil for your garden. Wear clothing that can get dirty — compost can get messy!
Where: Local Theatres
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by show
* Reserve free tickets to see Bilbo’s Journey presented by Traveling Lantern Theatre Company, this week’s Saturday Morning at the National show
* Jack and the Beanstalk in on the Main Stage at The Puppet Co.
* And Magic Toyshop is this week’s featured Tiny Tots show
* Paper Dreams at Imagination Stage will delight young audiences
* Older youth audiences will enjoy The Manhattan Project’s production of Alice in Wonderland at the Bethesda theatre
* From the Mouths of Monsters is a Frankenstein-inspired show at the Kennedy Center
* Justin Roberts is playing the Saturday morning show at Jammin Java
* See To Sail Around the Sun at the Kennedy Center
* Go KidFree at a performance of The Select (The Sun Also Rises) at the Lansburgh Theatre
Spring Farm Fun
Where: Ticonderoga Farm
When: Saturday & Sunday
Admission: $14.95 ages 2 and up
Start celebrating Easter as soon as this weekend at Ticonderoga’s annual spring festival! With giant slides, awesome jumping pillows, playgrounds, animals, mazes, and more, the farm in Chantilly is a blast everyday (it’s open daily), but they take the fun up a notch on weekends in early spring. Along with the permanent amusement, there are egg hunts and visits from the Easter Bunny. Be sure to check the website for timing of specific activities. For an idea of what’s there, see this post about their Winter Festival, which is much of the same, but with Easter instead of Christmas festivities.
Going Wild Weekend
Where: Port Discovery
When: Saturday & Sunday
Admission: $$14.95/ages 2 and up
Spring is finally here – and it’s time to “Go Wild” at Port Discovery! Join Wildlife Adventures and programs all about wildlife: Interact with live animals, learn about wildlife with fun programs like Living WILD, Wild Tales, and UnWrap, UnRoll and UnWind, and enjoy animal-themed art projects where you can create Fire Breathing Dragons and Going Wild Masks. Plus, take part in interactive plays and theater performances, yoga for kids, and enjoy roaming music throughout the day!
Cántale a Tu Bebé (Sing To Your Baby)
Where: The Mansion at Strathmore
When: Saturday, 10am
Join a bilingual music party celebrating the release of Cántale a Tu Bebé, the Spanish-language version of the award-winning book/CD Sing To Your Baby by Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. Sonia De Los Santos (solo musician and Dan Zanes Band) and Jorge Anaya (Dc-area Latino vocalist) join Cathy & Marcy for this intimate event. Learn how to use music for fun, skill development and as an ongoing expression of love in both Spanish and English. It’s never too early (or too late!) to sing with family!
DC Youth Orchestra SpringFest
Where: Easter High School
When: Saturday, 11am
The DC Youth orchestra Program is celebrating Spring with the community! It’ll begin with a prelude concert featuring DCYOP chamber groups and faculty. The Orchestra Idol competition concert will follow — think Battle of the Bands meets DC youth! Over 200 students from 80 different schools will be assigned to one of three hybrid orchestras. Each orchestra will have one hour to prepare a piece which will then be performed in front of a panel of celebrity judges and community audience. The winner will be determined by the combined votes of the celebrity panel and audience texts score. Join to enjoy the music and chip in with your vote!
Museum Movie: The Eagle Huntress
Where: National Gallery of Art
When: Sunday, 11:30am
Among the isolated Kazakh tribe in the mountains of northwest Mongolia, the long tradition of eagle hunting has only been practiced by men. This documentary follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in 12 generations of her family to become an eagle hunter. Her decision causes controversy amongst older members of the community, but Aisholpan boldly embarks on a strict program of training. This inspiring film captures her courage. English narration, and Kazakh with English subtitles. Recommended for ages 11 and up.
Make Slime to Fight Cancer
Where: Stacy C. Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax
When: Sunday, 2-3pm
Local 9-year-old, Hannah, has been making slime since last summer, and with the recent with slime craze many kids have asked to buy it as well as how to make their own. So, her mom thought it would be fun have her teach a class for kids in the area — and this Sunday Hannah will be doing just that. (How cool is that?!) Even better, part of the proceeds will go to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which helps fight childhood cancer. All supplies are included in the fee, and you can use the code HANNAH to get a $5 discount.
Make Room for Matzah
Where: Edlavitch DCJCC
When: Sunday, 10:30am -12pm
Admission: $10/family by 3/24, $15/family after
Join for hands-on Passover workshop to get ready for Passover and learn more about this tradition for your interfaith or Jewish family. Your child will make a beautiful Miriam’s Cup to enhance your seder and do a mitzvah for seniors celebrating Passover. Then we will have a Seder Plate Taste Test, as you delve into why we have the things on the Seder plate that we do. Best for ages 3 and up.
Walks in the Woods
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale
Enjoy the season and some active fun. See flowers that are popping up with warmer temps, tramp in places with scenic views, hike and explore history at interesting locales, and savor the time outdoors. This post has a a bunch of recommendations for places to walk in the woods with the kids.
The magnificent Great Hall at the Library of Congress
Recently, I realized I had yet to post a write-up about the Library of Congress. Which is kind of surprising given that we live just blocks away, within walking distance, and it’s one of DC’s most iconic, fascinating, beautiful attractions that makes for a great outing with kids.
We don’t visit all that frequently, but we’ve spent a decent amount of time there over the years. I used to pop in more when the kids were little to stroll around the grand space, and Sasha and I would occasionally attend story time on Fridays at the Young Readers Center. And while I’ve mentioned it here and there over the years to recommend those regular book readings and other special events for families, there’s been no KFDC dedicated post. Until now.
It was the recent announcement of new Saturday hours at the Young Readers Center that brought this to my attention. Dedicated to readers from babies to teens, visitors are welcome to explore the collection of books and enjoy both regular and occasional special programs for kids and parents. On the shelves you’ll find everything from board and picture books to early reader chapter books to middle reader series and YA novels. And while you can’t check them out of the library, guests are free to settle in there with a good read.
Within such a palatial, stately building, the space is a nice, cozy place to hang out and read with kiddos (or let older kids read on their own). Plenty of comfy seating and even stuffed animals to snuggle with are available. There are also small toys around for little ones to play with as they explore. The Young Readers Center is open Monday through Saturday 9am – 4:30pm, and hosts a free story time every Friday at 10am (space is limited to 50 people, so plan accordingly). [2021 Update: The Young Readers Center is not currently accessible.]
Don’t make that your only stop on an outing to the Library of Congress! There is so much to see and do beyond that — it’s the largest library in the world, after all. The magnificent architecture and stunning design alone will wow visitors young and old. Stand in the Great Hall and look around — you’ll see lots of other people gazing up at the ornate ceilings, reading inscriptions on walls, examining sculptures and paintings and even the beautiful floors, and just wandering around marveling at it all. There are interactives where you can get information about the significance, history, and artistry of the various features. And two very popular displays are a Giant Bible of Mainz and an original Gutenberg Bible.
From the Great Hall, you can easily access Thomas Jefferson’s Library, a reconstruction of the third president’s library arranged in the same particular order he preferred. There are 2,000 volumes from his original collection (noted with a green ribbon), plus another 3,000 or so that match those destroyed in an 1851 fire at the Capitol (noted with a yellow ribbon). It’s a huge and impressive treasury of books!
Taking in the view of the Main Reading Room
Another must-see is the Main Reading Room, which you can’t actually enter without a special pass but can view from an overlook. The vast space has ceilings 160 feet high and at the center of its dome is a mural depicting twelve figures representing “the countries, cultures, and eras that contributed to the development of Western civilization as understood in 1897.” Be sure to also take a look around at the bronze statues representing great influences in various subjects. (This area is accessible to researchers ages 16 and up. Go here to learn more.)
The exhibit Exploring the Early Americas contains an interesting collection of rare maps, paintings, and artifacts. Show kids what explorers thought the world looked like centuries ago, and get a close look at a case of ceramic flasks and vessels sculpted with faces and symbolic designs.
There are even more exhibits downstairs that change out seasonally. Recently, paraphernalia highlighting presidents and the women’s movement were showcased. Follow the long hallway and you’ll come to the Bob Hope and American Variety exhibit and the American Folk Life Center. There is even a room of pianos dedicated to Gerswhin. [2021 Update: This part of the LOC is currently closed.]
I should note that all of this is in the Thomas Jefferson Building, one of three that make up the entire Library of Congress. It’s great to explore on your own, but guided tours are also available hourly every day beginning at 10:30am until 3:30pm (2:30pm on Saturdays). You can also check the calendar for any other programs taking place.
And if you’re feeling ambitious about your day out, take the tunnel from the Library to the U.S. Capitol Building. Yes, you can follow a long underground hallway to the Capitol Visitor Center and embark on a whole new tour there! [Note: The U.S. Capitol and underground tunnel are currently closed to visitors.]
The Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building is located on First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street. Hours are 8:30am – 4:30pm, Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.
2021 Update! The Thomas Jefferson Building is open to the public 10am – 4pm, Wednesday – Saturday. Free, timed-entry passes are required to visit.