This year we decided to visit the Smithsonian museums with our son who is three years old. My sister and niece also joined us during the trip. We were very excited about showing our son and niece the dinosaurs, airplanes, mummies, pre historic animals, and space artifacts in the museums. These are a great source of information and a great educational experience for anyone. The fact that they are free, well, that is just the gravy on top. In all honesty, I was very excited too. I hadn’t been to these museums in almost a decade, and I really enjoyed them the first time. I had a chance to visit them more than once when I was an intern living in Virginia a few years ago. During two consecutive summers I worked in the area and spent my weekends visiting these museums. This is something I specially wanted to share with my son someday.
We traveled to the DC area and stayed in an hotel in downtown for a few days. The public transportation in the city is really good so we decided to use it while there. Truth to be told, it was really cold, and walking from the different museums and monuments to the metro stations was a challenge. I’d recommend doing this type of trip during the summer. The national mall area is a great area to walk around. It is very pretty, full of museums and other places to visit, and has good places to eat too. We visited the Museum of Natural History first and were so disappointed to found out that the dinosaur exhibition was closed for renovations and will not open again until 2019. This was my favorite part of the museum. There is a small dinosaur exhibit in its place called “The last American dinosaurs”. It is very small but it was at least something, if you like dinosaur exhibitions. The rest of the exhibitions were good but this museum does not have many hands on activities for the younger kids so is a good idea to remember this and plan to go to the exhibition you are most interested in first because the kids may get tired quickly. The are hands-on and immersive experiences there are good but most of them are more targeted to older kids (probably 6 or 7 years old or older). Also the IMAX and the Butterfly Pavilion had an additional cost.
There are two Air and Space Museums in the area, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in downtown DC and the National Air and Space Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. We were able to visit both of these during our trip. The one in Chantilly is about 40 minutes from the city and is specially great for airplane lovers. They have a huge exhibition of airplanes from all times. There are also three different simulators, one of which is open for toddlers too. Most of the museum consists on the airplane exhibition, the IMAX experiences and the simulators, and although they did not have as many hands on activities for the little kids the airplanes were very impressive and our kid really enjoyed it. The other Air and Space museum, the one in downtown, was my favorite. This one has a greater space exhibit. They have only one simulator but there are various hands-on experiences for kids throughout the museum. There is also an IMAX and a planetarium, both of which were interesting and fun. If you get an Smithsonian membership at one of the gift stores or already have one, you can get a discount at both the planetarium and the IMAX at any of the Smithsonian museums. We saw the “BIG DREAM: Engineering our world” movie in the IMAX and “Journey to the stars” at the Einstein Planetarium. These were both good and informative and lasted just about 25 minutes each, just the right amount of time when visiting with young kids.
One thing to keep in mind is that the museum of Air and Space has a separate bathroom for families which has a baby changing station. Also, food is not allowed inside the museums but there is a cafeteria on every museum. The cafeteria on both these museums though consisted on a McDonalds. Besides the food, the trip to visit these museums was great. Our son and niece both loved the museums and enjoyed the trip very much. They both were able to learn about space, science and history and we really enjoyed watching their curiosity emerge. It was great to get to share this with the new generation. I really recommend this trip for families. Teaching our kids appreciation for Science and History can sometimes be a tough job. Places like these can make the experience more entertaining and even thought-provoking. A good way to spark the curiosity.