Family Field Trip: The Smithsonian Museums
May 10, 2011
The Smithsonian is a sprawling collection of 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo, most of which are located along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. All together, the Smithsonian forms the largest museum and research complex in the world. The Smithsonian offers no shortage of educational and engaging sites to visit. The biggest problem you may have is deciding what to do first.
Before You Go
Simply planning a trip to the Smithsonian provides a chance to learn about the United States and its culture and history. Discuss with your child which museums comprise the Smithsonian and which ones are of the most interest to visit. It would take a long, exhausting trip to complete a comprehensive tour of all the museums, so it's best to focus on one or a few that seem most appealing.
The Smithsonian website offers guides to all of its museums. This can help you and your child see what's available. There are also tips for visiting with children, since the breadth of even a single Smithsonian museum may seem intimidating, especially for young children. Many museums have sections that are specifically tailored for young audiences, while others are more geared for adults.
Establishing a plan for your visit before you go will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. However, build flexibility into your plan in order to account for the unexpected. With the Smithsonian's proximity to the National Mall, you may find that your child welcomes mental downtime on the grassy expanses outside the museums. This is a great spot to relax and take in the view of the Washington Monument, Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial.
Teaching Moments at the Site
Learning opportunities at the Smithsonian will vary significantly based upon which museum you visit. Your child may learn about art at one of the many galleries, including the National Gallery of Art, Freer Gallery of Art and National Museum of African Art. Many children enjoy visiting the Air and Space Museum, which teaches about the history of human flight. There is also the American Indian Museum, where your child can learn about the history, art and culture of this continent's native people.
There are more whimsical moments to be had at the Smithsonian as well. For example, the Arts and Industries Building features a working carousel. For a different type of learning experience than you'll find at a museum, travel north of the Mall to the National Zoo. The zoo features giant pandas, western lowland gorillas, Sumatran tigers and many other species among its 2,000 animals.
The Ride Home
After leaving the Smithsonian, ask your child to reflect upon what he or she saw. What was the most memorable experience? You may have encountered an astounding array of sights, from the Wright Brothers' plane to the Hope Diamond. Your child may benefit from creating a journal about the experience to help remember everything.
If a return trip is possible, then the ride home also provides a great chance to discuss what you didn't see. Were there museums on your schedule that you didn't get to? There may also have been museums you heard about while visiting the Smithsonian that you can note for the next visit. Your child may even want to visit the same sites again to relive the magical experience the Smithsonian offers.
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