If you are a parent in central Maryland and you’re reading this, odds are you’ll share the refrain I hear so often “The Smithsonian museums are so close to us, yet we only go if guests are in town.” It’s really sad when parents say this because their kids miss out on so much great stuff.
I’d like to recommend two relatively new exhibits at the Smithsonian that are truly outstanding. They are especially good because they are interactive and unusual, not to mention fun. The exhibits in question are at the National Museum of American History and at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History.
Spark!Lab: Become an inventor at the National Museum of American History. This exhibit is great for young people to be creative while learning STEM concepts. There are several stations they have created that mostly coincide with the current theme. For example, when we visited, the theme was “things that roll”, so there were several stations dedicated to wheels, pulleys, etc. My kids had a great time inventing a skateboard that they made out of cardboard and then got to test it on a miniature skateboard ramp. They also had to use pulleys and wheels to create something that would roll along a “high wire.”
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There was also a station where the kids had to invent a controller for a video game. This was our favorite. The kids are shown a video game and given a controller box along with some “parts”…they can plug things into the controller box and learn to control the characters on the screen with their invention. There was a staff member at the station to help guide them as they worked through what worked and what didn’t. We spent about 25 minutes at this station, and the kids loved every minute of it.
We can’t wait to go back when they change the theme to see what else they can learn there. The museum is open every day but Christmas day (December 25), but note that the exhibit isn’t open on Tuesdays and that this exhibit’s operating hours are 10am-4pm.
Q?rius (pronounced “curious”): This exhibit found in the basement of the Natural History Museum is fantastic for kids of all ages. They have powerful microscopes and thousands of samples for visitors to explore, including, birds, fish, bones, insects, sand, rocks, and more. To say it’s “cool” is an understatement. They also have several preset activities, and the kids can sign up to get a badge and an account to track their investigations. Bring your kids and check it out for yourself. The exhibit hours vary quite a bit depending on the day of the week and time of the year. You can see the hours here, but mainly note that the exhibit is closed on Mondays.
As a bonus, you’ll want to check out the WONDER exhibit at the Renwick art gallery, complete with wallpaper made up of thousands of insects arranged in interesting shapes.
Want to know more about what’s going on at the Smithsonian. They have a calendar of events that I find very helpful. BTW, here is a special tip to thank you for reading this article – if you drive to DC on a Sunday and arrive at the museums before 9:30am, there is a good chance you’ll get free parking on the street – even right in front of (or behind) the museums.
[Looking for activity and trip ideas for homeschoolers? Also, see my list of party favor ideas for children’s birthday parties]