Tag Archives: DC Weekday Activities

Money Talks at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing

"Got my mind on my money and my money on my mind."

“Got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.”

Over the winter break we managed to check a couple of items off our list of places around the DC area we still have yet to visit (yes, we have a list, and a fairly lengthy one, at that). One of them was the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where visitors can take free tours to learn about and see the money-making process firsthand.

It took us awhile to get there for a few reasons: 1) It seemed best for kids old enough to have an understanding of money and how it works, 2) Tours are only offered on weekdays, when kids old enough to understand are usually in school, and 3) We deemed this an “Owen” activity, so we had to wait until I had a day to spend with just him.

The stars aligned over the winter break, as Sasha’s school was back in session earlier, so Owen and I made plans to take the money tour. Since you can’t make a reservation unless you have a large group, we just went to the Bureau’s Visitor Center located at 14th & C Streets SW and hoped for the best. We were lucky and arrived to a very short line outside — at this time of year, tours are offered every 15 minutes from 9-10:45am and 12:30-2pm — and waited about 10 minutes for someone to direct us through a metal detector then into the tour gallery area, where we waited for our tour to begin.

Plenty to see in the gallery before the tour

Early money folding machines

Many displays about the history of money and early money printing equipment are on display in that area, so we checked them out during the 15-minute wait. We saw how the engraving process works, machines that folded money to test its endurance, panels with information about the earliest forms of currency and other facts about money’s history, and a glass enclosed case of one million dollars stacked in ten-dollar notes.

The engraving process explained

One meeellion dollars!

Our tour began with a five-minute video offering an overview of the money printing process. From there, our guide took over, and our group of about 40 people lined up and followed her down an escalator to see the presses at work. There are four phases of the money printing process, and you can view them all through windows on either side of two long hallways. First the printers add background color to the paper, which is comprised of 25% linen and 75% cotton. Then the green and black ink is pressed into the notes and the seals are added. Then it goes through an inspection phase, given serial numbers, and divided up into individual notes. Most of the presses were in operation at the time, so we could see the machinery at work, a highlight for many kids on the tour. It really is pretty fascinating to see, especially when you think about just how much money is right there in a stack — thousands and thousands of dollars.

A wall of money in the gift shop

We learned a few neat facts while on the tour, like they also print official White House invitations; they only print notes, all coins are made at U.S. mints; the one hundred dollar bill is the largest amount in circulation, but that used to be the one hundred thousand dollar note and featured President Woodrow Wilson. I also asked and found out that there are actually five levels of money printing facilities in the DC location (there is one other location in Fort Worth, TX), but the tour just takes you through one level, though you do see the whole process.

Photography is not allowed in the printing press area, so unfortunately I can’t offer a glimpse of that part of the tour. You’ll just have to go see for yourself!

The whole tour, video included, takes about 35 minutes. It ends at the gift shop, where you can view a few more displays about money and pick up some souvenirs. Yep, they are keeping the money circulating!

If you go:

– If you take Metro, the Smithsonian station on Blue/Orange is the closest stop.

– There is street parking nearby, but most is only for one hour. That might not be enough time if you have a long wait for a tour.

– I recommend this for about ages 5 and up, though it does depend on the kid. Younger children will probably dig watching the presses at work, but won’t be able to follow along the explanation of the process. Plus, they might get antsy if there are long waits.

– While we barely had a wait, I have heard and read that it can be long — up to two hours. And since tours are first come, first served, you might want to have a back-up plan just in case the wait is too long or the tours are all full.

– The schedule changes during peak season: From March – August, tours operations run every 15 minutes from 9am – 3:45pm, then 5-6pm.

– All tours are FREE.

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Filed under DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Gradeschoolers, Preteens, Teens, Tweens, Weekdays

“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” at the Hirshhorn

A starburst of Qing Dynasty stools at "Ai Weiwei: According to What?"


My kids and I have been admiring the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculptures on display in the Hirshhorn’s central plaza since they were installed there last spring.  They love finding our Chinese calendar characters, and we’ve spent several outings circling and discussing them all — the cool dragon, the happy dog, the mean tiger, the creepy bunny, etc. (That last one is my Donnie Darko-obsessed take.)

So, I was pretty excited to learn that the museum would be showcasing a new exhibit by Ai Weiwei, the artist behind the bestial works. “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” opened this past Sunday, and we stopped by for a first look.

The exhibit begins with "Forever" in the lobby

The exhibit begins with “Forever” in the lobby

On the surface, the exhibit is actually quite whimsical, with many substantial installations that use everyday objects as art mediums. Bicycle frames are welded together to create a quirky circular sculpture displayed in the museum lobby.  A snake fashioned from green school backpacks meanders along the second-floor ceiling. More than 3,000 porcelain crabs are piled up on the floor. Ancient Chinese vases are splashed with brilliant paint colors.  A large expanse of steel rods laid out in a long expanse resemble a boardwalk or rolling terrain.

A backpack snake slithers through the second floor

A backpack snake slithers through the second floor

In case you were wondering what a pile of 3,000+ crabs looks like

In case you were wondering what a pile of 3,000+ crabs looks like

But reading about the works — the meaning behind them and, in some cases, the origins of the materials — provides a completely different, more serious, and sometimes somber perspective of the exhibit. The bicycle sculpture, entitled “Forever,” is an updated version of Weiwei’s “Forever Bicycles” piece that symbolizes cultural changes in China. “Snake Ceiling” honors the victims, many of them young students, of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.  The crab heap called “He Xie” is a statement about censorship. The vases doused with paint represent the clash between traditional and contemporary culture. The steel rods, nearly 40 tons worth, were salvaged from the earthquake rubble and straightened to make “Straight.”

Desecration of ancient relics or bold progression?

Desecration of ancient relics or bold progression?

Nearly 40 tons of salvaged rebar from the Sichuan earthquake comprise "Straight"

Nearly 40 tons of salvaged rebar from the Sichuan earthquake comprise “Straight”

There are many more large installations, about 25 total, along with photographs displayed on walls and smaller works that are equally profound and thought provoking — when you delve into them. On aesthetic alone, the art doesn’t necessarily convey its weighty intentions, and most of the works are quite extraordinary and fun to view. This is why I’d recommend it for adults and kids alike; regardless of whether children will “get” it, there is a good chance they will enjoy it. Though I should warn: This isn’t an interactive exhibit like Suprasensorial was, and we heard alarms going off everywhere as curious visitors got too close to the works.

A close look at the noggin

Don't miss "Cube Light" on the third floor, above the main area of the exhibit

Don’t miss “Cube Light” on the third floor, above the main area of the exhibit

I’ll definitely be checking out “According to What?” again (and again) while it’s here.  And I need to make at least one visit sans kids… those alarms that were going off, a couple of them were due to my overzealous babes.  🙂

Ai Weiwei: According to What?” will be on exhibit as the Hirshhorn through February 24, 2013. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free.



Filed under Art, DC, Exhibit, Fall, Free, Gradeschoolers, Museums, Preschoolers, Preteens, Teens, Weekdays, Weekend, Winter

Read, Build, Play with LEGO DUPLO at Local Libraries this Week

Photo, courtesy LEGO DUPLO


Looking for something different to do with little ones this coming week? LEGO DUPLO, of the preschool building toys designed for little hands, has partnered with the Association of Library Service to Children, to host FREE fun-filled library days, led by LEGO DUPLO Play Masters.

Developed to encourage play, building, reading, and creativity, the program includes a number of unique activities designed specifically for children under 5 and their parents. After a full week of local library stops in DC, the experience will be stationed at the Library of Congress National Book Festival, offering more inspiring opportunities for playing, building and learning.

Here’s where you can drop in to enjoy it this week:

Monday, September 17, 10-11am
Dorothy I. Height/Benning Neighborhood Library
3935 Benning Road NE

Monday, September 17, 3-4pm
Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library
4450 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Tuesday, September 18, 11am – 12pm
Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Library
1630 7th St. NW

Tuesday, September 18, 3-4pm
Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library
5625 Connecticut Ave N.W.

Wednesday, September 19, 11am – 12pm
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
901 G St. NW

Friday, September 21, 10-11am
Palisades Neighborhood Library
4901 V St. NW

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Filed under Babies, DC, Educational, Fall, Free, Indoor Play, Preschoolers, Toddlers, Weekdays

Math Has Never Been So Suh-weet!

Bridge to the Future, an apropos first stop at MathAlive!


It’s rare that I get to spend a weekday with just Owen. But the occasion arose this past Monday when he was off from school for Emancipation Day, while Sasha, who attends preschool part-time, was not.  To make it special I suggested we do a couple of things: 1) sushi lunch (he loooves it) and 2) an activity that doesn’t cater to Sasha’s age group.

For the latter, I offered a few ideas, including the new MathAlive! exhibit at Smithsonian’s Ripley Center.  When I told Owen what it all about and showed him photos online, he didn’t hesitate with a response: “Let’s do that!  I want to do math!” And with that, my little nerd and I had our day planned.

I use “nerd” loosely, as the promos for MathAlive! make it look more like an X Games event than a museum exhibit, featuring images of snowboarders, skaters, and BMXers and claiming that “Math has never been so sweet!”  The descriptions make it sound even more rad, promising nearly 40 unique, interactive experiences, including video games, robotics, movie making, and many more hands-on installments. Both Owen and I had very high expectations.

And I am happy to report that MathAlive! does not disappoint.  It really is sweet (make that suh-weet!) and rad. It’s fun, engaging, and challenging. It’s cool to look at, both as a whole and by individual display.  In a nutshell, it is one impressive exhibit.

View from the entrance

The whole thing is housed in the Ripley Center’s International Gallery, just past the Discovery Theater. Walking in, it almost felt like I was entering an 80’s arcade — the lights are dim, lots of video screens are on display, electronic sounds reverberating.

The exhibit is divided into seven thematic categories that show how math is used in a real world context:  “Outdoor Action” features adventure sports, “Build Your World” focuses on  the environment, “Future Style” is about style and design, “Kickin’ It”  spotlights entertainment, “Game Plan” presents video and other games, “Robotics and Space” is exactly that, and there’s the “Resource Center” with general background info on everything.

Every area contains displays, both physical and digital, that explain how math figures into the concepts. While 6-year-old Owen could read most of them and figure out how to work the electronics, I definitely had to explain the math part (they’ve barely covered basic addition in his Kindergarten class). Even then, a lot of it was over his head, but he could still do every interactive there — and he, make that we, had fun with just about all of them. There are so many, I’ll just mention some of the highlights, but I can assure you there are much, much more.

Those photos of skaters and snowboarders on the promo materials aren’t just for show.  There are actually a couple of games that use them. One demonstrates how angles work with a snowboarding jump 3D video game, another shows how to modify variables for optimal effect, by adjusting board length, wheel size and placement in designing a digital skateboard.

Can this board do an ollie?


A rock climbing wall where guests can do a horizontal climb across explains a mathematical scatter plot.

Who knew math could be so fun?


On the Curiosity Rover (one of Owen’s favorites), you need to program coordinates to move a digital rover around to pick up virtual rocks to be analyzed for water.

Operating the rover


Another space-related station is On Target, which features a 3-D version of the International Space Station and a Robotic Arm that you move to different locations.

Astronaut prep


At the Mix it Up station, we got to explore the mathematics of rhythm as we played with different musical instrument sounds and the patterns of the music.

DJ O-man mixes it up


Style Revolution lets you do a 360-degree photo shoot using freeze-motion techniques. This one was really fun, not only because you could play it back immediately, but you got to watch people do funny poses and action shots.

Strike a 360 pose


You really have to go check out the rest for yourself — this exhibit is all about the interactive experience.  And something I consider a big bonus is its location. The Ripley Center is one of those museums that tends to elude the tourist radar, so it’s never very crowded.  Granted we were there on a weekday, but there was hardly a wait for any of the activities, and if something was already in use, there was plenty more to explore until it was free.

As for ages, older children would definitely get the most out of it, but I think even younger children (Owen is only 6) could enjoy it, too.  Hey, with lots of buttons to push, a dancing and music games, and that photo shoot, I may even take Sasha, after all.

MathAlive! will be on exhibit at the S. Dillon Ripley Center (the small domed building next to the Smithsonian Castle) through June 3.  Hours are 10am – 5:30pm daily, admission is free.

And P.S., for an excellent sushi/Japanese food meal, I highly recommend Kushi located at 465 K Street NW.



Filed under DC, Educational, Free, Gradeschoolers, Museums, Preteens, Spring, Teens, Tweens, Weekdays, Weekend

Where to Play on the Weekdays: March 19-23

The Tidal Basin during last year's cherry blossom peak.


Monday – Drop in for story time or to check out books at your local library. This early KFDC post has some background on the pursuit along with links to DC area county libraries.

Tuesday – See Art on the Horizon’s Out of the Box as it begins its six-day run at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Showtime is 10:30am. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased online through the Atlas website.

Wednesday – Have a “supra” fun time exploring the new art exhibit at the Hirshhorn.

Thursday – Go for a stroll around the Tidal Basin to see the lovely cherry blossoms.  The National Park Service just moved up the peak dates to March 20-23.  Be aware that crowds might start descending to see the blooms, too, but weekdays are always better than the weekends.

Friday – Wander around the beautiful grounds, play in the cute Children’s Garden, and enjoy their spring display both in the conservatory and outdoors at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md. The park is open sunrise to sunset, the Visitor Center 9am – 5pm, and the conservatories 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.



Filed under All ages, Art, Babies, DC, Educational, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Monuments & Memorials, Museums, Outdoor, Preschoolers, Seasonal, Spring, Theatre, Toddlers, Weekdays