This spring had to be the most anticipated one ever. I mean, we always look forward to emerging from the cold and darkness of winter, to color returning to the landscape as trees begin to flower, to longer days, to renewal. But this year it’s about so much more.
With this spring comes hope and optimism in a way that we couldn’t have fathomed in previous years. After a year of fear, uncertainty, disruption, and heartbreak that Covid heaved upon us, we are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s still a ways to go, but that glimmer is getting brighter all the time.
This first day of spring did not disappoint. The sun was shining, the weather pleasant, and it was a Saturday, so we could be out and about to enjoy it all. We did that at one of our very favorite places in DC: The National Arboretum. We hadn’t been in awhile, because we thought there was a no dogs rule — we like being able to bring Teddy on our outings, especially if we’re hiking around outdoors — but we just learned that our pup can go to the Arb as long as he’s leashed.
So, that’s where we headed to ring in the new season. If you’ve been reading KFDC awhile, you probably know how much I love the Arboretum — it tops the round-up of best outdoor spots. (You can see more about it here, here, here, and here.) It’s a wonderful place to go any time of year, but this visit was especially auspicious as some of the cherry trees were blooming…on the first day of spring!
There is a self-guided cherry blossom tour to follow through the US National Arboretum app, or you can do what we did and see them as you wander around randomly and just refer to the app for the few that are blooming right now.
Be sure to explore the rest of the Arboretum to see even more bloom beginnings — rhododendrons, dogwoods, daffodils — and the many collections of plants and trees. The Capitol Columns in the Ellipse Meadow are quite striking and have to be one of the most photographed spots in DC.
Get out and celebrate spring and all the hope that comes with it this year. The U.S. National Arboretum is located in Northeast DC, off of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue, the entrance at 24th & R Streets (from Bladensburg). Hours are 8am – 5pm. Admission is free.
PS: We are happy to report that Teddy loves the Arboretum just as much as we do. And now that we know he can go, he’ll be a regular visitor, too!
Holiday lights and history on a tour through Georgetown
[Note: This is a Guest Post contributed by Canden Arciniega from DC By Foot.]
Hi! I’m Canden, a tour guide and historian in Washington, DC, and a mom of two. It has been a weird line between getting the kids out of the house and keeping the kids in the house this year, not quite knowing what to do or what’s open and meets the safety standards that we’ve set for our family. KidFriendly DC has been my go-to in figuring out what is happening [editor’s note: 😊], so I’m excited to share with you what my company is doing this December as a kid-friendly option for something fun, festive, and perfect for these social distancing times.
DC by Foot offers over a dozen walking tours, available each day. Let’s get the safety protocols out there first: All our tours are entirely outdoors, in small groups to allow physical distancing, with mask requirements of all guests and guides.
For the holiday season, starting December 4, we’re excited to offer a Holiday Lights and History tour of Georgetown daily! This 1.5-hour tour starts at 6pm and explores the holiday windows and light displays. We’ll weave in stories of Georgetown history as we walk — for instance, did you know the Gap in Georgetown used to be a Civil War prison for deserters?
If you’re not interested in Georgetown, we also offer a Downtown History & Lights tour on a private basis that visits the Holiday Market, Macy’s Windows, Willard Hotel, and National Christmas tree display.
Wondering whether our guides will be engaging and fun enough for your kids? Not to worry! In the before times, our team of full time guides worked mostly with student groups. We tell jokes so bad they are good and pride ourselves in winning over even the most angsty teen.
See festive window displays in local shops
Our Georgetown Holiday Lights tours are name-your-own-price from Wednesday to Saturday, and ticketed Sunday to Tuesday. Name-your-own-price tours allow you to take the tour and then decide at the end what you thought it was worth, paying the guide directly when the tour is finished. Guides strive to make the tour such a memorable experience that you’ll want to support them, but if that’s not in your budget, or you didn’t feel like it was worth it… that is your choice.
With the limited number of people and tours right now, many of our tours are ticketed in order to support our guides, but we’re happy to be able to offer select tours on the name-your-own-price basis.
Interested in more information about our Holiday Lights or any other tours? You can find them all on our website, DC by Foot, or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!)
Listen up under the Speaking Willow
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.
Greetings from the wall of words
Audience participation encouraged
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.)
Interactive word play
Explore languages across the globe in The Spoken World
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.
Do you know?
A first look at the library
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!
Magic awaits here
A peek into a picture
Painting with words
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.
A “surreal” scene
Watch notable speeches…
…and recite one
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.)
Easy to keep a straight face in the joke games 😉
Get your karaoke on
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.
A whirl of ad insight
Fun with Wordplay
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.
Any guesses which is mine?
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: * There is metered parking along nearby streets and a parking garage right next to the museum on 13th St. * McPherson Square (Blue/Orange & Silver) and Metro Center (Red) are the closest Metro stations. * 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, Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free, but a donation is suggested.
Biking with kids along the Anacostia River Trail is not a new recommendation from me. Spanning the river from Southeast DC to College Park, MD, it’s one of our favorite trails to ride, plus the paved path with just a few gentle hills is a great one for families and kids of all ages to cruise together.
Tackling the whole trail at once would be a bit much for little riders, so biking shorter portions is the way to go with them. And there is one stretch that is perfect for it, that includes recreation opportunities — hiking, exploring, playgrounding, paddling — beyond two wheels: From Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to Bladensburg Waterfront Park (or vice versa).
A view of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
The wetlands at Kenilworth
It’s the locations themselves that help make this bike ride so great; both make for fantastic visits on their own, so even better when you can incorporate them into one outing. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens — boasting lily pad filled ponds, gorgeous lotus flowers and water lilies (in summer), and acres of wetlands — is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in the area. You can hike around, explore the different areas, and look for creatures like frogs, fish, turtles, and all kinds of birds.
Fall colors popping at the Aquatic Gardens
Paddlers at Bladensburg Waterfront Park
Bladensburg Waterfront Park offers different kinds of activities. There are kayak and canoe rentals (weekends through Nov. 1), a riverside playground, a pedestrian bridge, gazebos to relax in, plus a train caboose and pontoon boat tours (though both are inaccessible during Covid).
Playground with a water view
The pedestrian bridge
The parks are just over two miles from each other on the Anacostia River Trail, a nice, easy distance for small pedalers to ride each way. You will have to put your bikes on a rack and drive to whichever park you make your starting point (or you can bike, of course, but then it’s not a short ride anymore) — there are free parking lots at both places.
Open scenic stretches
The path leading into Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
You can visit one park first, ride to the other, visit the second one, then ride back. Or you can start off your adventure with the bike ride, visit one park, ride back, then visit the second. You could also just visit one park, or even just do the bike ride.
Stop for some info and history on the area
Wind your way along the boardwalk
The route is scenic, flanked by expanses of wetlands, leafy trees and flowering plants, and lovely river views. You’ll ride mostly along a paved path, but occasionally over boardwalks that wind through wooded areas and also right along the river. It’s especially lovely right now brightened by brilliant fall colors.
Ride along the river
However you plan your outing, I recommend bringing along lunch or snacks and drinks. There are picnic areas at both parks, but concessions are not available. Other good things to know: Bike racks are located next to the entrance at Kenilworth and on the sidewalk by the river at Bladensburg. There are portable restrooms at both. And as noted above, there are free parking lots at both.
A diplodocus is one of the many dinos featured in the Hall of Fossils
Back in 2014, when it was announced that the Hall of Fossils at the National Museum of Natural History would be closing for five years to undergo a major renovation, one of my first thoughts was of Owen. He was eight years old then, in second grade, and still digging dinosaurs. At that time, he wanted to be paleontologist when he grew up (with a side gig as a hip hop dancer, of course) and loved visits to the “Dino Museum.” I remember thinking that when it finally opened again, he would be 13 years old, in seventh grade, and probably not so into the prehistoric beasts anymore. But it seemed like such a long time away that I couldn’t really even fathom what he would be like at that age — my little boy, a teenager!?
Checking out the old Hall of Fossils when they were little people
Well, that time has come. The new David H. Koch Hall of Fossils-—Deep Time is complete, which means the dinosaurs are back — along with a whole new presentation of 3.7 billion years of life on Earth and how the past informs the present and shapes the future.
A first look at the space
The Nation’s T.rex (the real deal!) devouring a triceratops
Stop and see the Centrosaurus
The 31,0000-square-foot exhibition is nothing short of impressive. Featuring everything from an authentic Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton (read the story of its discovery) to replicas of other large prehistoric species to displays of smaller fossils to all kinds of installations and displays about the history of our planet and the climatic, geological, and human impact on it. Carts with related hands-on activities for all ages are also set up throughout the exhibit. You can experience it all as a journey through time, starting billions of years back and following it into the future.
Smaller fossils on display are just as interesting as the giants
A mechanical pterodactyl
An activity cart about dino tracks
The exhibition was produced with some messages in mind: That all life — past, present, and future is connected and is continually changing over time. Geological processes and global cycles cause ecosystem and evolutionary changes, and mass extinctions have at times devastated life on Earth. There is also a call to us humans to recognize the impact we have and consider our role in shaping the future and the fate of life on Earth.
This all opens to the public on Saturday, June 8, with an Opening Ceremony at 10:15am — the first 300 visitors to the National Mall-side entrance can participate in it. After that, all are welcome to explore, though crowds are expected, and there will be lines. But the museum will be open late, until 7:30pm, both Saturday and Sunday. Costumes are encouraged, so come as your favorite dino or as a paleontologist (but be sure to note safety instructions on this page)! There will be even more events to celebrate the opening of Deep Time on several other weekends. Admission to most of them is free.
As for Owen… my teen is now a rising eighth grader. And while he no longer seeks out books about dinosaurs or requests Dinosaur Planet on Discovery Channel, he is still into science (and basketball and soccer and history and indie rock music, and if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he’ll wisely answer something along the lines of, “How can I know now? There are so many possibilities.”).
When I told him about the new Hall of Fossils after attending a preview, I remarked that it was kind of bummer it had closed when he was at peak dino.
His response, “Yeah, but the new one sounds really cool…when can we go?”