Tag Archives: National Museum of Natural History

Become a Butterfly Spotter at the National Museum of Natural History

A peek inside the Butterfly Pavilion


I know all about the butterfly obsession.  I blogged about Sasha’s love of them this past summer and can vouch that her passion for the pretty insects is still going strong.  In fact, I sent her off to school today in one of her many butterfly shirts, jeans embroidered with a butterflies, and boots adorned with brilliant butterfly designs on the front.

When we visit the National Museum of Natural History, she always begs to visit the Butterfly Pavilion — sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. After all, it’s one of the few among the Smithsonian offerings that requires an entrance fee ($5/person), and there are a lot of other great exhibits to view for free.

So, I am really excited to learn about the Museum’s new Butterfly Spotter Membership Program.  For $20, members get unlimited admission to the Butterfly Pavilion, a ticket to see “Flight of the Butterflies 3D” at the Johnson IMAX Theater (regularly $9), and 10% off purchases at any Natural History Museum store. If you do the math, this is a fantastic deal, especially for museum-goers who adore butterflies like my little girl.  It should be noted that the membership is valid through March 2013, plenty of time to take advantage of the great indoor activity this winter.  Not to mention you can buy them just in time to give as holiday presents!


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Filed under All ages, DC, Deal, Educational, Exhibit, Holidays, Museums, Winter

The Weekend Round-Up: February 11-12

Watching the chocolate making process at last year's "Power of Chocolate" festival


This post is going to serve a dual purpose.  Along with my regular list of weekend happenings, I want to make some blog roll shout-outs.  It’s been too long since I’ve done so, plus I’ve got good reason for making special mentions of other local bloggers: I had the lucky pleasure of meeting some of them last night.

I was invited to join a few ladies who pen some of the blogs I follow for dinner and wine (have to note the wine, as the invitation was very specific about drinking wine, which was a good sign), and talk about kids, life, and whatever else the conversation might evolve into after a couple of glasses. Long story short, it was pretty awesome meeting the people behind the blog posts, and it confirmed that my online reading is coming from good places. So, Darcy from No Monsters in My Bed, Shannon from But I Do Have a Law Degree, Rebecca from Not-So-SAHM, and Cath from Constance Reader, thanks for a fabulous night out!

Aaaand… here’s where fun of the family-friendly variety can be found around town over the next few days. Happy Weekend!

Mmm…ChocolateJust in time for the holiday that goes hand-in-hand with the gift of chocolate, the National Museum of the American Indian is hosting their annual “Power of Chocolate” festival. We attended last year and found it to be a treat for everyone, and it sounds like many of the festivities will be repeated: Live food demos, hands-on activities, dances performances, and artisans showcasing their work.  Especially for kids are opportunities to create paper molas, grind cocoa beans to make their own hot chocolate, and sample the tasty treat (while they last).  Some activities require free tickets for timed entry. For specifics, you can download the festival brochure here. This free event is happening on Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4:30pm both days.

Butterfly Birthday BashCelebrate the fourth anniversary of the Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History on Saturday from 1-3pm. There will be special arts and crafts activities for children of all ages, and museum educators will be on hand to talk about about metamorphosis and native butterfly species of our region. This is part of the Second Saturday Arts & Science series, the museum’s monthly program for families. Admission is free.

Super Science SaturdayThe second Saturday of each month is also calendar-marker at the Dulles arm of the Air & Space Museum. Guests are immersed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics topics related to aviation and space exploration. This month’s theme is Scientists & Inventors.  Admission is free, but parking at the museum is $15.

African American Pioneers in AviationThe Air & Space on the National Mall is hosting it’s own program for guests of all ages on Saturday in honor of Black History Month. The museum’s annual African American Pioneers Day focuses on the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen. Visitors can listen to Tuskegee Airmen and their descendents talk about the challenges and triumphs as members of the groundbreaking African American World War II fighter group.  In addition, the Black Gents of Hollywood will be presenting excerpts of Layon Gray’s off-Broadway play, Black Angels over Tuskegee.  The event also includes hands-on activities, story times, and book signings. The event is from 10am – 3pm, admission is free.

Happy Birthday, Abe! – Ford’s Theatre Society is celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Saturday with a free open house featuring a variety of programming and activities. Visitors can attend author discussions, ranger talks and one-act play performances exploring Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. They can also view the exhibits at the new Center for Education and Leadership, participate in workshops with the Education Department, and enjoy scavenger hunts and prize drawings. The Ford’s Theatre Museum will be open for visits on the hour beginning at 9am. Tickets to the event are free and will be available at the box office beginning at 8:30am that day.

Show Time The theatre is a good place to spend a cold day, and there are several options for live entertainment this weekend.  I highly recommend Peter and the Wolf at The Puppet Co. – read my review of it here. Last I checked there were still tickets available for the 7pm performance of The Snowy Day at Adventure Theatre (though all others are sold out). P. Nokio will be on the Imagination Stage many times throughout the weekend. This week’s Saturday Morning at the National is Theatre IV’s performance of Jack and the Beanstalk. The Wings of Ikarus is still running at The Kennedy Center. And 1st Stage Theatre’s a capella version of Three Bears just opened.  You can find more details and ticket info for all of these productions in this post about winter entertainment.

Stories in ArtThe National Gallery of Art’s drop-in program for kids is back on Sunday, and this time exploring the work of artist Georgia O’Keefe. Encouraging them to see the natural world as the artist did, guests will hear a reading of the book Through Georgia’s Eyes then create watercolor drawings inspired by plants. Sessions are at 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm. Sign-in takes place in the East Building Atrium, beginning at 11am, and continues until all spaces are filled. Admission is free. Read a KFDC review of the Stories in Art program here.

Tommy’s Traveling Book ClubIn celebration of the 50th anniversary of the children’s book The Snowy Day, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells is leading a special storytime this weekend. Enjoy the free reading of the Ezra Keats classic at Deanwood Libray (1350 49th. Street NE) on Saturday at 10am.  All ages are welcome.

Making Dental Health FunIn celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month, the National Children’s Museum wants to provide all of the information that children need to keep their teeth healthy and clean! Science experiments will demonstrate how toothpaste works and then attendees can learn how to make their own! Friends from Adventure Dental and Kids Smiles DC will present some fun interactive activities about dental health. And the Tooth Fairy will be making two very special guest appearances at 12:30pm and 2pm for “Tooth Fairy Storytime”! Drop in at the NCM’s Launch Zone for this free event on Saturday 11am – 4pm.

Design a DragonThis month’s Arts for Families program at the Textile Museum is inspired by their newest exhibition Dragons, Nagas and Creatures of the Deep. Guests are invited to make their own dragon paper mola.  Molas are the colorful appliqué panels made by the Kuna people of Panama and Coastal Columbia, two of which are on view in the exhibit. On Saturday from 2-4pm, kids can create a paper mola with scissors, glue, and their wildest imaginations. The free program is recommended for ages 5-12.  No reservations required.

And it looks like this post with even more ideas for indoor fun will prove useful this weekend as well:

Rainy Day Recreation (ie, Indoor Fun)



Filed under All ages, Annual, Art, DC, Educational, Festival, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Seasonal, Theatre, Virginia, Weekend, Winter

Where to Play on the Weekdays: January 30-February 3

Mesmerized by an aquarium full of fish in the Sant Ocean Hall at the Natural History Museum


Monday – Since I just wrote a big post about it, and because it’s one of DC’s best attractions for kids, visit the National Museum of Natural History.  See if there’s an exhibit you have yet to explore.

Tuesday – Head to the National Children’s Museum Launch Zone for Toddler Tuesday.  This week, toddlers ages 2-4 can drop in from 10:30am – 2:30pm to discover which animals hibernate and which animals can stand the cold. Activities may include stories, games, art, and movement for children and adults to experience together. Admission is free. The Launch Zone is located at the National Harbor.

Wednesday – Explore seasonal nature topics through stories, crafts, and activities at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria. There are still spots available in the Nature Detective program for 3-5-year-olds. The class starts at 1:30pm. (A few spots are also open in the Thursday sessions.)

Thursday – See Mouse on the Move at Imagination Stage in Bethesda.  The show about two adventurous mice ready to explore the world beyond their little mouse hole is recommended for ages 1-5. Showtimes are 10:30am and 11:45am, tickets are $10.

Friday – Boogie on down to the Atlas Performing Arts Center where Mr. Skip will be playing the Boogie Babes show at 10:30am.  Admission is $5/child, free for siblings 6 months and under. The Atlas is located at 1333 H Street NE.


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Filed under Animals, Art, Babies, Class, DC, Educational, Free, Gradeschoolers, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Music, Preschoolers, Seasonal, Theatre, Toddlers, Weekdays, Winter

The Permanent Collection: National Museum of Natural History

Sasha, at one year old, holding a giant cockroach in the Insect Zoo

One of my New Year’s blogging resolutions was to re-organize a bit. I devote so much of this space to posting about special, timely events that I often neglect writing about the “tried and true,” those mainstay DC attractions that are  go-to pursuits for families. They’re mentioned now and then as recommendations for weekday or weekend activities, as well as in round-ups of indoor and outdoor ideas, but it’s not often that one gets a dedicated post with tips and insights garnered from my own adventures with my kids. This is somewhat ironic, since many of those places and activities are our trustiest, things we’ve been experiencing for years and enjoy on a regular basis — you’d think I’d have an overload of rambling posts about them.

So, with January nearly over, it’s about time I paid heed to that resolution and began documenting the tried and true as what I’ll call “The Permanent Collection”.  And what better way to start than with one of our absolute favorite places, the National Museum of Natural History. Or, as my kids like to call it, the Dinosaur Museum.

Hence, the "Dino Msueum" nickname

Hence, the “Dino Museum” nickname

One of the most popular of all the Smithsonian venues, the National Museum of Natural History never fails to thrill the kids. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve toured the exhibits; Owen is like my own personal docent when we visit, guiding us through the displays, naming every creature, and handling interactives like a pro. But the museum is a big place, and it’s practically impossible to see everything in one day, so we usually pick two or three exhibits/activities to explore (or re-explore, in our case), the following being our favorites. (Of course, if I am missing something really good, please let me know in the comments section!)

The  Elephant in the Room
You can’t talk about the Natural History Museum without mentioning the African elephant exhibit smack in the middle of the grand Rotunda. Even though they’ve seen it countless times, my kids still stand below, mouths agape, as they take in its enormity. They also like to press buttons on a surrounding display panel to hear its wild calls.

The lure of this collection in The National Fossil Hall is pretty obvious: What kid isn’t fascinated by the giant skeletal models of prehistoric beasts? And, like most museum exhibits, it gets better for the kids all the time. As Owen has gotten older, he’s become interested in smaller displays, like maps and dioramas that illustrate where different species lived and cases full of real fossils. And we always stop by the FossiLab to watch paleontologists at work through glass walls. (2021 Update: This exhibit went through a five-year renovation an reopened as the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils-—Deep Time.


A giant caterpillar encounter in the Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum

A giant caterpillar encounter in the Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum

Bugs & Butterflies
With interactive exhibits, live creatures on display, and opportunities to hold some of them, the Insect Zoo may just be my kids’ favorite part of the museum – both were handling giant caterpillars, cockroaches, and beetles before they could even talk. At various times throughout the day, museum volunteers bring out all kinds of creepy crawlies that guests can view up close and hold.  And depending on timing, you may be able to watch a tarantula feeding, too. For exhibits that aren’t alive, but still fun, kids can check out the “house” in the southwest corner to find out where different insects might make their home in your abode or try to match up bugs with their contributions to the human world on an interactive panel nearby. They can also crawl through a termite tunnel and examine scads of live insect species in terrariums.  Right next door, is the Butterfly Pavilion, where guests can walk among nearly 50 different species of butterflies as well as exotic plants.  It’s one of the few exhibits that requires a fee — $6/adults, $5/children 2-12, $5.50/seniors.  KFDC Tip: It’s free on Tuesdays, but you need to get timed tickets day of, so I recommend getting them when you arrive in case they are for later.  Then you can tour other exhibits, and return to the Butterfly Pavilion at your scheduled time.

Below the Surface
My kids are mesmerized by the aquariums full of colorful fish in the Sant Ocean Hall, underwater scenes projected on the walls, the whale and skeleton suspended overhead, and the giant squid stretched out inside a display case in the center of the hall. Located on the first floor on the opposite side of the Rotunda from the entrance, this exhibit is a must-tour for anyone, young or old, with an interest in oceans and marine life.

Hall of Mammals

Hall of Mammals

Animals on View
The Hall of Mammals, a popular exhibit on the main floor, is a very cool showcase of animal species — and masterful taxidermy. The mammals have been preserved so well they look real; even their stances and expressions recall scenes from the jungle, out of the ocean, or off the African plains. Just beyond the wildlife display is a theater where guests can watch a short film about mammal evolution and get a photo op next to the bronze sculpture of Harriet the chimp.

Being Human
The Hall of Human Origins presents a study in human evolution with reconstructions of early humans and cast reproduction of real human skulls and bones. Don’t miss a favorite interactive element of the exhibit, a face morphing photo booth that snaps your pic and shows what you would have looked like as a Neanderthal.

The Really Big Screen
Many of the films playing at the Johnson IMAX Theater are perfect for young movie-goers with interesting topics relating to nature, relatively short run times (an hour or less), and the 3D aspect of “being there.” See the current schedule here.

Get Q?rius
The interactive and experiential learning space at the Natural History Museum is, in a word, awesome. Visitors can view up close, and in many cases handle, real artifacts and specimens from the museum’s collections. Microscopes let young guests feel like real scientists, and drawers full of everything from animal species to cultural relics are accessible for examination. It’s promoted as a space for teens and tweens, but my younger kids have really enjoyed it, too.

Make Discoveries
Young children can enjoy fun, interesting activities in Q?rius Jr. – a discovery room. They can dress up in costumes from different cultures, examine fossils and minerals up close, do related puzzles, find books, and much more. However, the hours are limited, so be sure to check the schedule as you plan a visit there.

Rock Out
While the Gem Gallery isn’t a usual stop for us at the museum — my kids go for the less subtle exhibits right now — I know it’s very popular with many folks, so it’s still worth a mention. And given Sasha’s penchant for sparkly things, it’s likely to become a favorite soon.

If you plan to go:

* The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW. The closest Metro station is Smithsonian on the Blue/Orange line.

* If you drive, parking is available on nearby streets, or in parking garages across Constitution.

* There are two entrances, on the National Mall side and on Constitution Avenue. 2021 Update:  Entrance will only be on the Constitution side when the museum reopens.

* Admission to the museum is free, but fees are required for the Butterfly Pavilion ($7.50/adult, $6.50/age 2-12, $7/senior) and IMAX movies ($9/ticket). As mentioned, it’s free on Tuesdays!

* There is café located on the ground floor that sells sandwiches, salads, coffee and treats. 2021 Update: Food will not be served at the café, but you can BYO to eat there.

* Beware the museum shop if you leave via the Constitution exit. Small toys and other neat items are on open display, practically calling your child’s name. (We’ve had a couple of near-accidental shoplifting incidents because of it!)



Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Free, Movies, Museums, Weekdays, Weekend

The Weekend Round-Up: November 11-13

The Bright Beneath, an exhibit inspired by bioluminescence, at the Museum of Natural History


With Veterans Day conveniently falling on a Friday this year, we get to start the weekend a little early. While most of the activities listed here are happening Saturday and Sunday, they may spark some ideas for things to do today. Or you can check this post from a few days ago for suggestions on where to spend the day off from school. Whatever you and the kids do, enjoy the extra time together. Happy Weekend!

LEGO® Robots!See the classic toys come to life and solve problems of food safety at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art, where the First LEGO® League Tournament is being held on Saturday from 11:30am – 5pm. Cheer on your favorite team and their student-designed robots, built from LEGOS, as they complete various tasks and tackle real-world engineering challenges.  There will also be music, demos, and more activities, all in the museum’s Kogod Courtyard.

Light PaintingOn Saturday from 1-3pm, learn about light in the ocean depths at the National Museum of Natural History’s monthly Second Saturday Arts & Sciences program. Using glow sticks, guests will create a deep-sea organisms as they discover the process of bioluminescence. Afterward, explore the related exhibit, “The Bright Beneath: The Luminous Art of Shih Shieh Huang.”

Stage Time – You have your pick of kids shows this weekend. Encore Studios presents Robin Hood for its second and final weekend at Artisphere’s Sprectrum Theatre. The Rough-Faced Girl: A Native American Cinderella Story opens at Synetic Family Theater. This is the last weekend of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at The Puppet Co. And Imagination Stage presents What Does Red Do on Thursdays?, a new theater experience for ages 3 and up. Visit the websites for more info and to purchase tickets.

Saturday Morning at the National – Trick shot artist Spencer “Spinn” Johnson takes to the Helen Hayes stage at the National Theatre’s weekly series. Kids are invited to step up and participate in dazzling fast-action tricks that teach inspiring lessons in confidence, goal-setting, and self-respect. Performances take place at 9:30am and 11am, and tickets are required for admission. Free tickets are distributed half an hour prior to the start of shows on a first-come first-served basis. Only one ticket per person, and all attendees must be standing in line to receive a ticket. Children must be accompanied by an adult, who remains present for the entire performance. Seating is limited, so get there early!

Georgetown Story TownGet lost in a good book and let the imagination run wild on at Georgetown’s “Social” Safeway as they partner with the Georgetown Library for the first-ever “Georgetown Story Town.” From 10:30-11:30am on Saturday, kids can experience the fun and excitement that books have to offer. Recommended for ages 4-11.  Refreshments from the Georgetown Safeway Bakery will follow.

The Moon & BeyondIt’s Super Science Saturday at the Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. During this session of the monthly program, visitors of all ages will become immersed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics topics related to aviation and space exploration through demonstrations and hands-on activities. Drop in between 10am and 3pm. Admission is free, though parking is $15.

A Day of Building StoriesVisitors can activate their imaginations at the National Building Museum by creating their own book with author Isabel Hill as she shares her stories, technique, and experience as an architectural photographer. Guests will discover the stories behind our local Judiciary Square buildings and the museum, then sketch and bring out their inner artists. The $15/member, $20/non-member registration fee includes a signed copy of Ms. Hill’s newest book, Building Stories.  Recommended for ages 7 and up, and all children must be accompanied by an adult. The workshops place on Sunday from 10:30am – 12pm.

Free ParkingThere’s no entrance fee to national parks that usually charge admission this weekend, so it’s a good time to hit the trail at Shenandoah or Great Falls, take a ride on Skyline Drive to see the mountains covered in autumn colors, or visit Harpers Ferry. See the full list of participating parks here.

Happy Birthday, Pizza Paradiso!The popular pizza place is turning 20, and among the week’s celebration is a Family Day on Sunday at their Alexandria location. From 1-4pm, kids can participate in a Make Your Own Pizza demonstration with Chef Ruth Gresser, and the first 20 kids’ pizzas are free.

And these posts are always chock full of ideas for more family fun, both outdoors and in:

The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Rainy Day Recreation (ie, Indoor Fun)



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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Free, Live Entertainment, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Preschoolers, Theatre, Toddlers, Tweens, Virginia, Weekend