Tag Archives: Washington DC Museums for Kids

“Real Pirates” Coming to the National Geographic Museum!


You all probably know by now how much I love the exhibits at the National Geographic Museum. They are always a perfect mix of entertaining and educational, with intriguing displays, fun interactives, engaging multimedia, and, of course, stunning photography that is practically their signature.

This is much of the reason why I am so excited about the new exhibit coming to Nat Geo in a couple of weeks. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship will be on display from March 8 through September 2. I have a feeling it’s going to a popular one — with kids and adults alike.

The exhibit tells the story of a slave ship turned pirate ship and the diverse people whose lives converged on the vessel. Sunk in a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts in April 1717, the Whydah wreckage was found by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984, becoming the first pirate ship discovered in North American waters to be authenticated and fully excavated. Here’s more background on the ship:

The three-masted, 300-ton galley was built as a slave ship in London in 1715 and represented the most advanced technology at that time. She was easy to maneuver, unusually fast and — to protect her human cargo — heavily armed. The Whydah’s purpose was to transport human captives from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, but it was fated to make only one such voyage. In February 1717, after the slaves were sold in the Caribbean, the Whydah was captured off the Bahamas by Sam Bellamy, one of the most successful pirates of his day. Bellamy and his crew hoisted the Jolly Roger, and the slave ship became a pirate ship.

Just two months later, on April 26, 1717, in one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded, the Whydah, packed with plunder from more than 50 captured ships, sank off the Massachusetts coast. All but two of the 146 people on board drowned. Some 270 years later, Clifford found the first remains of the ship. In a recovery operation that has spanned more than two decades, Clifford and his team have brought up hundreds of artifacts, not only gold and silver, but everyday objects that shed light on this tumultuous period of American and world history.

Many of the artifacts will be on display in the exhibit, including weapons such as swords, cannons, muskets and pistols as well as daily necessities such as tools, kitchen utensils, buttons, coins and personal belongings from the captain’s quarters. In addition, visitors can climb aboard a replica of the ship and experience what it was like in the captain’s quarters and below deck.

Pirate booty will be part of the display, of course

Pirate booty will be part of the display, of course

If you want to mark your calendar way ahead, there will be a free Pirates Family Festival featuring re-enactors, a treasure hunt, and more on June 22. Plus, the Museum will be offering Pirate Birthday Parties starting in March for kids ages 5-12.

The National Geographic Museum is located at 1145 17th Street NW. It’s open daily from 10am – 6pm. Photography exhibitions in the museum’s M Street gallery and outdoors are free, but exhibitions in the 17th Street galleries are ticketed. Admission is $11/adults, $9/members, military, students, seniors, $7/ages 5-12, and free for ages 4 and under and for local school, student, and youth groups (18 and under; advance reservation required). Tickets can be purchased online or at the National Geographic ticket booth.

Street parking can be tough in that area. If you drive, your best bet is one of the nearby garages. Metro’s Farragut North (red line) and Farragut West (blue/orange lines) stops are fairly convenient.

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Filed under DC, Educational, Exhibit, Gradeschoolers, Museums, Preschoolers, Preteens, Teens, Weekdays, Weekend

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy: A True Hidden DC Gem

A replica of the USS Constitution fighting top, the centerpiece of the Navy Museum


Sometimes the best things are right under your nose. Or, to be more literal, about nine blocks from my house. This was the case with the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, anyway. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it before — I’ve even posted about some of their special events — but I had no idea just how cool it was until Owen and I toured it last week.

The funny thing was, it was my poor planning that prompted the visit. We had intended to go ice skating at Canal Park on his day off from school, but upon our arrival at the rink realized it didn’t open until noon on weekdays, and it was not quite 11am.  So, I did some quick thinking about what else was in the Navy Yard area in southeast, and the light bulb went off: The Navy Museum.

The museum is located on the Navy base, so we drove down that way and found metered street parking nearby 9th & M Streets SE.  However, it wasn’t until after we were out of the car that I read on my phone how to get on base.  The visitor entrance is at 11th & O SE, so we walked there, and a guard at the front gate let us know we needed to go to the Visitor Center, located immediately to the left of the gate, to get a pass for base access. Once inside, I filled out a short form and showed ID, then was given a pass and a map.  The friendly gentleman at the desk highlighted the way to the museum on the map, just a few minutes’ walk away.

Big anchors out front hint at the great collection inside

En route, we passed the Navy Art Gallery, saw a few cannons outside, and caught a glimpse of the USS Barry moored nearby before arriving at the entrance, a stark white brick facade with two large anchors on either side of the doorway. And then we walked inside. (2016 Update: The USS Barry is no longer berthed at the Navy Yard.)

The lofty, hangar-like space

The Navy Museum is one of those places that makes an immediate “WOW!” impression.  Large ship models encased in glass, a tall replica of the USS Constitution fighting top, striking nautical displays, big guns, and an airplane hanging from the rafters are among the spectacles on view in the long, lofty, hangar-like space.

Something to gawk at in every direction

Model ships, from various eras, on display everywhere

It gets even better when you start touring the exhibits. For the most part, they go in chronological order from the front to the back of the museum, covering the American Revolution, Civil War, Forgotten Wars  of the 19th Century (actual name of the exhibit) like the War of 1812 and Mexican-American War, Artic Exploration, and World Wars I and II. There are also exhibits dedicated to specific topics like submarines, navigation, and underwater exploration.

Art and artifacts from the “forgotten” 19th-century wars

Checking out the WWII exhibit

The best part is that there are interactive elements everywhere. In the submarine exhibit, one of the first we visited, you can look through periscopes for a view of the USS Barry outside; steer, push buttons, and flip switches on a real sub control panel; and learn how a sub operates through a few electronic displays.  You can sit in the gun seats in the World War II area, and test your knowledge of Navy trivia on various touch screen displays around the museum.  A few movies about sea battles are playing within the exhibits, including Master and Commander in the Gun Deck, which is made to look like one with low ceilings and wooden beams.

Operating the periscope to get a view outside

Taking a quiz on one of many digital interactives

All ages can enjoy this museum — young children will love the big installations, older kids (with an interest in this kind of thing) will appreciate the history as well as the smaller displays. Owen’s favorite parts were the submarines and Arctic Explorations, where he learned about some of the first expeditions to the North Pole and viewed the actual equipment that had been used there.

Relics from an early arctic expedition

What started as a way to kill time before ice skating turned out to be a pretty fantastic outing.  And did I mention we practically had the place to ourselves?  Yep, a true hidden gem. I know that there are some people who’d love to keep it that way, but this one is just too good not to share.

Guests are welcome to sit in the gunseats

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy is located on the Navy base just off M Street in southeast. Non-military visitors must enter at 11th & O Streets SE. There is visitor parking in a garage inside the base. Be sure to bring ID with you to gain access. The museum is open daily with the exceptions of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Hours are 9am – 5pm Monday – Friday, and 10am – 5pm Saturday – Sunday. Admission is free, but there is a donation box near the entrance/exit with a suggested contribution of $2.



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

Play, Work, & Build at the National Building Museum


After much anticipation, the National Building Museum debuted its newest exhibition, “PLAY WORK BUILD” just over a week ago.  We checked it out last week, so I can tell you firsthand that it is pretty awesome. It’s replaced the much loved LEGO exhibit in both museum location (the southeast corner of the second floor) and as a go-to hands-on experience that all ages can enjoy.  Here’s an inside look at what you can expect there.

The first area you walk into showcases toys from the Museum’s world-class Architectural Toy Collection. You’ll see Tinker Toys, an Erector Set, and other building toys of the past.  Most of them are under glass, so you can only look at them and feel the nostalgia. Except for the Lincoln Logs (which, I learned, were invented by John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright). There is a whole table full of the wooden pieces, where guests can build mini log cabins.

You can build with more modern toys just beyond that at a table that looks like a giant lightbox.  It’s topped with scads of small blue foam blocks and pieces in various shapes and sizes that fit together to help you form all kinds of cool creations.

And then comes the awesome part: The big foam blocks. Every kid there seemed like they were in a state of pure bliss as they played in this sea of soft blue pieces.  Many configurations of blocks are there to pile on top of each other, lay end-to-end to make tracks and roll plastic blue balls along, stick into holes in the blue foam on the walls, hang out among, or make use of in some other fun and creative way.

Playing among the very pleasantly colored blue foam blocks

A few older kids looked like they were on a mission, gathering particular pieces for their projects. Babies crawled around the soft space. Sasha was very keen on putting long noodle-like pieces into the walls then trying to hang on them.  Other children constructed small platforms, climbed aboard, then jumped into a pile of the soft blocks below.

A play space for all ages

And there’s more. The exhibit goes digital at the far end of the room, where you can stand on a blue mat and watch as blocks form a “reflection” of your figure on the wall. You can also watch as virtual blocks fill the wall, then knock them down. There’s not much more to it than that, but kids will spend a good few minutes checking it out.

Virtual building blocks


As bummed as we wee to see the LEGOS go, we’re pretty psyched about the replacement.

PLAY WORK BUILD is scheduled to be at the National Building Museum until next November.  Admission is $8/adults, $5/youth for non-members, but free for members.  And just in case you’ve missed my many recommendations to get the NBM Family Membership, I’ll say it again: It’s so worth it. Just $90/year gets you six admissions to exhibits per day, comp admission to select programs, access to birthday parties, and more.



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

Mission: Good Time at the International Spy Museum

View of the entrance, as photos are not permitted in the Spy Museum - it's all top secret, of course!


Whenever one of my kids has a day off from school and the other doesn’t, I try to make a  point of planning an “age-appropriate” activity, or at least one that I know whomever is home with me will especially enjoy, that the other probably wouldn’t so much.

This is what brought Owen and me to the International Spy Museum earlier this week. It wasn’t our first time there — both kids have actually been, which is how I determined it to be an “Owen” activity — but it was definitely our best visit yet.  His age (6.5), ability to read, and newfound penchant for intrigue and mystery (takes after his mama!) greatly attributed to a terrific outing.

It’s all presented as a mission, one that starts on a black and neon light-filled elevator that whisks you up a level to a room where you choose an identity from several posted on pillars in the middle of the room. After a few minutes to memorize the details, a door open that leads to the Briefing Room, where “secret agents” take a seat to watch a quick film about the exciting world of espionage.

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Filed under DC, Educational, Exhibit, Gradeschoolers, Museums, Preteens, Teens, Weekdays, Weekend

Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 6-10

Kids can do more than look at the pretty flowers in the Children's Garden at the USBG


Monday – It’s the final week of Stories in Art at the National Gallery. Kids ages 4-7 can explore the works of Vincent Van Gogh at the summer drop-in program. They’ll enjoy a reading of the book, “Katie and the Sunflowers” by James Mayhew, then join Katie’s imaginative adventure through museum masterpieces, exploring van Gogh’s still-life paintings. After, guests will make their own flower-filled works of art to take home. Sessions begin at 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, and 1:30pm on Monday (and Tuesday). Sign-in takes place in the West Building Rotunda, beginning at 1oam, and will continue until all spaces for all five time slots are filled. Read a KFDC review of the program here.

Tuesday – Make it a movie day! Catch a flick for just $1 with the Regal Summer Movie Express, which presents family movies on the cheap Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am through August 22 — go here to find a theater near you and see what’s playing. Parents with really little ones can take advantage of AMC Theater’s Bring Your Babies Matinee, which occurs the first Tuesday of every month.

Wednesday – Play and get a little glimpse into the past at the newly renovated Jones Point Park in Alexandria.  We haven’t been yet, but Preparing for Peanut has a great write-up about the locale just off the George Washington Parkway under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  Open dawn to dusk, admission is free.

Thursday – Experience Suprasensorial, the super cool interactive exhibit at the Hirshhorn, before it closes on August 12. A walk through doesn’t take very long, so head over to the nearby U.S. Botanic Gardens after to tour the plant collections, check out the Savage Gardens exhibit, and play in the Children’s Garden. Hours at the Hirshhorn are 10am – 5:30pm, at the USBG 10am – 5pm. Admission is free at both places.

Friday – Have a wild time at the National Zoo. Visit your favorite animals, and see the new cheetah cubs — zoogoers can now view them at 10am and 1pm as they explore their yard.  Be sure to check the website before you go to see what other daily programs are going on. The Zoo grounds are open 6am – 8pm, exhibit buildings 10am – 6pm.  Admission is free, though parking is $16 for the first three hours for non-members.   Look for street parking nearby to curb the cost, or take Metro — both the Woodley Park and Cleveland Park stations are a short walk away.


Hanna Andersson


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Filed under All ages, Animals, Art, Babies, DC, Exhibit, Free, Movies, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays