Tag Archives: Smithsonian Museums

The National Postal Museum Always Delivers a Great Outing

Exciting displays in every direction in the lofty atrium

Exciting displays in every direction in the lofty atrium

I like to think of the National Postal Museum as a locals’ secret, overlooked by tourists and overshadowed by its counterparts on the Mall. Whether it really is or not, I’m not sure, but I do know that it wasn’t even on my museum radar until I took Owen to an event there when he was about two years old. I remember feeling surprised that I wasn’t aware of it before then. Part of the Smithsonian, it’s quite an interesting attraction and aesthetically pleasing space, plus it’s located in the beautiful historic City Post Office building next to Union Station where I’d been plenty of times to both send mail and eat at the Capitol City Brewery that used to be housed there.


Mailboxes from around the world

Mailboxes from around the world

Anyway, since I became aware of the Postal Museum’s existence, it’s been a staple in our local museum rotation, as you’ve likely gathered by now from my many recommendations to visit. (A recent rainy day outing there prompted me to finally blog about it.) Like many local galleries in DC, admission is free,  it’s conveniently located — we can walk or bike there, and for folks farther out, it’s Metro accessible — and we can lunch at Union Station pre- or post-outing.


The cab of a semi is a huge hit with kids

The cab of a semi is a huge hit with kids


But the best features of the museum are the collections, which appeal to a wide range of ages, and are particularly compelling for kids. Presenting the history of mail and the postal process, there are big installations like old mail trucks, a train car, an airplane, and other modes of mail transport on display in the beautiful atrium. And most exhibits contain interactive elements that keep young visitors engaged — they can explore the Pony Express, stamp letters, sort packages, create postcards, and much more.




I also appreciate their family workshops, which are always fun and well-organized. We’ve created Valentines and holiday cards at some and attended events that celebrate milestones in mail. Most of these programs take place on weekends, but every now and then there’s something special during the week, too. Of course, I always try to keep you posted on all of them. But event or not, the Postal Museum is worth a visit anytime.

Creating Valentines at a card making workshop

Creating Valentines at a card making workshop


The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE. It’s open 10am – 5:30pm daily, except December 25. Admission is free. It’s right next to Union Station, which is on Metro’s Red Line. If you drive, you can park in Union Station’s garage for about $10, though you might get lucky and find metered parking near the SEC on the east side of Union Station or even an unmetered space in the residential area just beyond.


Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Indoor Play, Museums, Ongoing, Weekdays, Weekend

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