Tag Archives: Museum Exhibits for Kids

“Explore! With the Portrait Gallery” in this New Activity Space for Children


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.

Getting a tutorial in the strike a pose station

Getting a tutorial in the strike a pose station

Testing it out myself

Testing it out myself

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.

Voila! There I am bottom right

Voila! There I am bottom right


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.

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Filed under Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Gradeschoolers, Indoor Play, Museums, Preschoolers, Toddlers, Weekdays, Weekend

Animal Close-Ups & Crocs at the National Geographic Museum

If you don’t get off the well trodden museum path of the National Mall every now and then, you could miss out on some amazing exhibitions in other areas around DC. One place where you can just about always count on a great, enriching experience is the National Geographic Museum. The exhibits often appeal to a wide age range, include interactive elements that engage visitors, and focus on aspects of the world that are both fascinating and significant.

In fact, there currently are two exhibits at Nat Geo that meet these standards — and then some. Photo Ark, which opened in the fall is a gorgeous collection of portraits of the world’s animal species.

The exhibit puts the focus on conservation through photographer Joel Sartore’s lens by showcasing images of species and highlighting their conservation status, which range from least concern to threatened to endangered to, sadly, extinct (with more levels in between).

Many of the portraits were shot at zoos and aquariums around the world, and you can get an idea of how some of them were done by peering into photo tents on display — inside are adorable videos of small animals posing for their close-ups. You can also catch scenes of the process on TV screens mounted on the walls.

A whole area is dedicated to various species of reptiles and snakes, their unique features and brilliant skin patterns projected on and streaming across large screens. There is also information about each creature and quotes printed on the walls. All of it together makes the exhibit as thought-provoking and engaging as it is beautiful.

The museum zooms in on one animal with a whole other exhibit: CROCS. And it’s one you can really sink your teeth into (from their tagline!) through a variety of interesting displays, interactive components, video, and live crocodiles!

We joined a guided tour of the exhibit to get some background on crocodilians, which are up to hundreds of millions years old. But you can learn a lot on your own from the many displays and installations. Some of the kids’ favorite features included a sound board where they could listen to different croc calls, a force gauge to compare their strength to that of a croc’s jaw, and a life-sized model of one of the world’s largest crocodiles, Gomek.

The highlight, though, were the real crocodiles in a few dioramas around the exhibit that were made to simulate their natural habitats. The crocs don’t actually do that much — just seeing an eye or mouth open or a foot move the tiniest bit was cause for excitement — but it was pretty neat to see them hanging out in the museum. You might catch baby alligators swimming in one of them, which is a pretty cute sight.

You can check out both of the National Geographic exhibits in one outing — they don’t take a long time to tour (though you could definitely spend a good amount of time if you wanted to), and admission to the museum gets you into everything. Even better, both can be appreciated by visitors of all ages.

Photo Ark will be on view through April 10, CROCS through May 8. Admission is $15/adult, $12/seniors & students, $10/ages 5-12, free for 4 and under — look for a discount here. The museum is open daily 10am – 6pm.


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Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Museums, Spring, Weekdays, Weekend, Winter

Go Monster Fish at the National Geographic Museum


The National Geographic Museum just debuted its newest exhibit, and true to what I consider their signature style when it comes to these showcases, it’s fascinating and educational and fun all at once.

Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants takes visitors on a journey around the globe to discover some of the behemoth creatures that lurk beneath the world’s rivers. Based on the Nat Geo WILD series Monster Fish, the exhibit highlights nearly 20 fish that show host Dr. Zeb Hogan has found and featured in various episodes.



Owen and I got a sneak preview before it opened to the public, including a chance to tour part of it with Zeb himself, and we both found it interesting and fun to view and experience. The displays are presented by regions of the world with background on different kinds of fish, supplemented with video from the series, photography, and some other interesting visuals, like actual scales from some species. But the centerpieces of it all are magnificent sculptures of several fish, commissioned for the exhibit and intricately designed to convey just how massive and unique the river dwellers are. Even better, a couple of them are actually accessible to visitors — you can touch the scales of a giant barb and climb upon a sawfish.



The interactive elements don’t stop there — there are games for all to enjoy — and they all relay some kind of lesson in sustainability and conservation. You can maneuver a ball through an ecosystem (a game table that you tilt) to areas designated to protect habitats and avoid ones that are threatening. There’s a giant scale that multiple people can stand on to compare your collective weight to different monster fish. Little ones will love “going fishing” for rubber balls then release them through a plastic chute. Another game has players determine if you keep a fish or throw it back depending on the species and size. You can view footage form the Monster Fish show in a mini-theatre made to look like an air boat. An interesting — and eye-opening — installation shows the “water cost” of our everyday habits.





If you want to see fish, you don’t just have to view the models. There are a few aquariums filled with fish, though aside from one alligator gar, they are all little fishies. But that just illuminates the magnitude of the monsters.


Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants will be at the National Geographic Museum through October 11, 2015. Hours are 9am – 6pm. Admission is $11/adult, $7/ages 5-12, free for 4 and under. FYI: Goldstar has a deal on tickets for select dates.


Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Fall, Museums, Spring, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

Supra Cool Art at the Hirshhorn

Walking through a jungle of blue nylon strings at Suprasensorial.


The Hirshhorn usually isn’t the first museum that comes to mind when I think of outings on the National Mall with the kids.  The permanent collections, particularly the many interesting sculptures on display along the main walkways, and my kids’ curious little hands are an unfortunate combo among “do not touch” works.  And most of the traveling exhibits at the venue dedicated to modern and contemporary art are way over their heads.

But Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color and Space is an exception. In the Hirshhorn’s words, it’s “the first exhibition to reevaluate the evolution of the international Light and Space movement through the work of five pivotal Latin American artists.” In my 3-year-old daughter’s words, “It’s so cool!”


I first heard about it from a friend a couple of weeks ago, then again among the comments on my post about the disappointing exhibit at The Torpedo Factory. My curiosity was piqued, so Sasha and I headed to the Hirshhorn a couple of days ago — the stroll down to the Mall a nice way to enjoy the incredible weather, and the exhibit a good way to make up for the letdown of Play.

Suprasensorial may not have been created with kids in mind, but many of the installations can be appreciated on several levels, including from a child’s perspective. The artwork is intended to immerse viewers, so they can experience light and space in new ways.  All of the displays are interactive in some way, and a few are exceptionally fascinating, and quite fun.  “Chromosaturation” even requires special paper covers for your shoes before you enter a room divided into three areas lit by different colors, creating an illusion of seamless space, making you feel enveloped in ethereal color.

A dazzling light show

“Light in Movement” takes you through a room illuminated by light reflected off small, square metal plates dangling from a large rectangular board mounted high on a wall, light projected directly on it.  The light bounces off the plates and looks like it’s dancing on the walls, quite a mesmerizing sight.

Both Sasha’s and my favorite installation was “Blue Penetrable BBL,” a large rectangular cluster of blue nylon strings, hundreds of them, hanging from the ceiling. And you’re supposed to walk through them, feeling the rings swarm around you and making the open space just beyond seem to disappear. Sasha must have wandered through it 20 times, interrupting the relative quite of the museum with squeals of delight.

We had a peek at “Trashiscapes,” a large room with blue mattresses and pillows scattered about the floor, each supplied with an emery board (so you could file your nails, of course) as large images from the 60’s were projected on walls and Jimi Hendrix played loudly. I thought it looked pretty rad, but Sasha was freaked out, so we didn’t get the whole experience of lying down and grooming our nails while listening to trippy tunes.

Purple world

We moved on to the final display, which looked like a long fence constructed of blue lights. It gave everything a muted purplish glow, which absolutely awed Sasha: “Why is my jacket purple now? It was pink!” We took time to inspect more of our clothes before making our way out.

The entire exhibit took about 40 minutes to view, and that included some post-tour strolls through the blue string jungle.

The Big Man sculpture

Afterward, we checked out  exhibits on the lower level, where my sweet girl elicited quite a few laughs from museum staff with her comments about the Big (Naked) Man sculpture. And back upstairs, we walked among those pieces that usually draw Sasha’s hands right in, and I got indication that she’s learning how to be a good museum-goer: A “No touching!” warning to others viewing the art.

Hey, she’s getting there.

For the art that you can touch, Suprasensorial will be on exhibit through August 12.  The Hirshhorn is open daily from 10am – 5:30pm, and admission is free.  It’s easily accessible via Metro’s Blue/Orange (Federal Center and Smithsonian stops) and Yellow/Green lines (L’Enfant Plaza stop).



Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Free, Museums, Weekdays, Weekend