Best Washington DC Museums for Kids by Age (and Parental Tolerance)
DC is no stranger to museums. In fact, there are about 70 museums and galleries in the district. Families can entertain their kids for over a year’s worth of weekends without ever leaving DC. Not every museum is right for every age group though. Some of the city’s museums tackle tough events in history, or just don’t cater to the younger crowd. We’ve pulled a few of our favorites for every age group, so you can have a great time when visiting the Washington DC museums with kids. Even better, we are also telling you the parent which museum you will like with your kids. Let’s face it parents, we don’t ALL want to sit in kiddie museums on our day off.
Washintgon DC Museums for Preschoolers
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
OK, so this is not a traditional DC museum. We are including it anyway because really, what kid doesn’t love a zoo. The National Zoo is best known for its panda exhibit, which is part of an international breeding program. In 2015, the zoo welcomed another panda cub, Bei Bei, who has joined his big sister, Bao Bao, along with mom Mei Xiang and dad Tian Tian in the panda exhibit. The zoo is also home to elephants, apes, reptiles, and mammals from across the globe. Make sure you head to the Kids’ Farm for hands-on activities with the animals and vegetable gardens. There is also a playground here if your kids need to jump and climb for a bit.
National Air and Space Museum
Airplanes and rocket ships—do you really need to say more to get a toddler out the door? This air and space museum is actually in two separate locations. The original National Air and Space Museum is downtown, but it has a counterpart, the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is basically a big hanger out by Dulles airport that is filled with aircrafts, like the space shuttle Discovery, the Concorde Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. The downtown museum has a How Things Fly exhibit that is the best place to start with younger children. This hands-on exhibit allows kids to touch and sit in an airplane, push buttons and find out just how these massive vehicles get into the sky. An online counterpart to this exhibit is a fun way to prep kids for a visit or continue their flying education at home.
DC Museums for Grade School Kids
National Museum of Natural History
Dinosaurs are the biggest draw for families heading to this museum. Parents should note that the main fossil room is under renovations until 2019. Dinosaur fossils are still on display in The Last American Dinosaurs exhibit on the second floor. Other reasons to bring your kids include a look at the Hope Diamond, a walk through the butterfly house and a look under the ocean in the Sants Ocean Hall. This interpretive exhibit may be best known for the 45-foot long North Atlantic Right Whale hanging from the ceiling, but it brings the biology, geology and anthropology of these waters to kids through 647 marine specimens and models, hi-def videos and ever changing exhibits that highlight different aspects of our planet’s waterways.
National Museum of American History
As children dive into their U.S. history lessons, the National Museum of American History is a great place to connect those in-school lessons with actual artifacts from that time. The museum is home to Abe Lincoln’s top hat ad the original Star-Spangled Banner. Families can pick up a self-guided tour sheet at the museum that includes games, facts and questions to spark more interest in the exhibits.
The youngest members of the family will love the Spark!Lab and Wegman’s Wonderplace. Kids ages 6-12 can get hands on at Spark!Lab where creating, collaborating, exploring and inventing are encouraged through activities like making a skateboard or figuring out how to adapt a vehicle so you can drive it with no legs. In Wegman’s Wonderplace, children ages 0-6 can cook their way through a child-size replica of Julia Child’s kitchen or captain a tug boat. This exhibit is free, but you do need a timed ticket to enter this Washington DC museum.
DC Museums for Teens and Tweens
International Spy Museum
Step into the secret world of spies. Test your spy skills at interactive stations, and check out over 200 spy gadgets, weapons, cameras, vehicles and tech. Walk through the history of spies going all the way back to the Trojan Horse and the Civil War, or simply test your skills at making and breaking codes. The KidSpy Zone on the museum website is filled with activities to get kids excited about their visit and continue their spy education long after they get home.
Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a place that everyone, no matter your age, should visit. However, it can be a very intense, hard to understand experiences for younger children. Parents of children under age 10 should be very careful. Be prepared to answer hard questions before they bring little ones. Every guest is given an identification card that brings you through the life of someone who was in the holocaust. By the end, you learn if that person survived or not. Throughout the three floors of the exhibit—Nasi Assault, The Final Solution and Last Chapter– families will see a model of the Auschwitz Crematorium, a powerful room piled with the shoes of people who were killed in the concentration camps, and learn the stories of the people from across Europe who tried to rescue Jews.
If you have kids that long to enter the news business, this Washington DC museum is for them. Step into a CONUS1 truck, the world’s first satellite newsgathering vehicle, which changed the way local news could be broadcast on location. The NBC Interactive Newsroom is where kids can really show their journalistic chops. Find out what you need to do to prepare a front-page story for the paper. Get on air with a variety of backdrops and read the teleprompter to give your report. Visitors can also wander along a 12-foot section of the Berlin Wall and view Pulitzer prize-wining images. Make sure you take photos with the Capital behind you on the Hank Greenspun Terrance.