KidsPost: National Children’s Museum opens at National Harbor
By Christina Barron
Dec. 17, 2012
The Washington area is full of museums. But as of this month, local kids once again have a museum to call their own: the National Children’s Museum.
The new museum, which opened this past Friday in National Harbor, is a place where kids can learn not just by looking but by playing with everything. KidsPost got a peek at the museum the day before it opened, and we wanted to let you know what to check out.
The museum, which is best for kids age 9 and younger, welcomes visitors with a large map of the world on the floor. From the map, you can head toward My Town or Our World, the two areas for school-age kids. (If you have toddler brothers or sisters, they have a play area with a “Sesame Street” theme called 3 & Under.)
In My Town, you can buy food in a general store, sit inside the front end of a fire engine and “cook” in a mini pizza parlor, the favorite spot for Malonte Quinn, 10, who previewed the museum with her Seat Pleasant Elementary schoolmates.
“I like how you get to make the pizza and find toppings,” Malonte said.
There’s also a campaign headquarters, where you can create a political button and see if candidates for mayor, named Cool and Awesome, are around to talk about how government works. The town harbor has a crane with a wheel that kids can turn to move mini shipping containers.
Our World begins at the Departures Area, where a small luggage carousel, like you see at an airport, holds suitcases with cut-out windows. Peer inside to see if you can guess where the mystery traveler is going. (One has snorkeling equipment, a boomerang and a jar of Vegemite sandwich spread. Any ideas?) On the other side of the carousel you can pack your own suitcase from a bin of clothes and accessories.
From Departures, you arrive at a marketplace similar to ones found in the east African country of Tanzania. The market includes woven baskets of fruits and vegetables.
“We chose Tanzania because we thought it was a place kids might know but not know a lot about,” said museum President J. Willard Whitson.
Around the marketplace, the museum has play centers with themes of building, eating, creating, dressing, talking and traveling. In Where We Eat, a row of ovens shows how cooking is done around the world. (A clay oven demonstrates how people often cook and bake in India.) What We Wear has child-size kimonos and other clothes to try on. How We Travel has a three-wheeled taxi from Indonesia, called a tuk tuk, that kids can climb aboard.
The museum also has a theater and is planning an outdoor space a block away with a climbing mountain, gardens and water play. Whitson said he hopes the outdoor part will open in 2014.
The Washington area hasn’t had a museum that’s focused completely on children since the Capital Children’s Museum in Washington closed eight years ago. Seat Pleasant student Teairra Spence, 11, who said she had visited other museums, liked that everything at this one was meant to be touched.
“Basically they made it kid-friendly. You get to have an adventure, and you get to be playful.”
Style: Families flock to National Children’s Museum for long-awaited opening
Lonnae O’Neal Parker
Dec. 14, 2012
Staff and workmen carried duct tape and tools and made sure the giant atlas was hinged just right Friday morning in the half-hour before the National Children’s Museum at National Harbor opened its doors, returning to the Washington area after more than eight years.
Then, promptly at 10 a.m., a blue-shirted museum guy made it official: “We’re opening,” he called out and dozens of of staffers burst into applause. A line of families streamed through the doors, and all of a sudden the place got loud and busy.
The $6.7 million, 18,000-square-foot space, filled with maps, plastic foods, construction gear and interactive touch screens, felt like a play-date invitation waiting to be answered.
“I just got goose bumps,” said Michal Miller, a museum spokeswoman. It was a reaction shared by some parents who thought this day would never come.
Chris Garber of Alexandria, her husband, Andrew, and sons Ben, 3 and Luke, 2 were among the first to arrive. “We kept hearing: ‘Oh, it’s coming soon, it’s coming soon,’ but I was doubtful. I’m just glad it finally did,” Garber said.
The former Capital Children’s Museum closed its H Street NE location in 2004 and functioned as a “museum without walls,” focusing on community outreach programs and partnerships in events such as the White House Easter egg roll. Though it had become the only congressionally designated children-focused museum, there were delays with funding, and a planned move to L’Enfant Plaza fell through.
Thomas M. Berger, executive vice president for the museum, said: “This is the end of the beginning. This is what it’s all about.”
The museum features a Sesame Street-themed “3 & Under gallery” for toddlers, an “Our World” gallery of maps, world culture stations and a mini-town, and a theater, which smelled like new carpet. But even if a planned 60,000-square-foot “outdoor experience,” to include an amphitheater and a Big Wheel raceway, opens in 2014, it will still lack the size of some comparable museums around the region. The Please Touch children’s museum in Philadelphia is 136,000 square feet, Baltimore’s Maryland Science Center is 170,000 square feet and Port Discovery is 80,000 square feet.
The National Children’s Museum core audience is 10 years and younger, said Berger, who noted that although science museums have activities for young children, they usually start at age 10 and up. “This is Location 1, and we fully expect that over the years we will grow,” Berger said.
By 10:30 a.m., the “3 & Under” gallery was literally crawling. “What do we have here?” a museum staffer playing reporter asked the Garber boys in the “My Town” section, which featured barrels of play imports being lifted by a play crane.
“Oh, that’s a tire,” said 3-year-old Ben, who paused for a brief tug of war with his little brother over a few wedges of Mexican cheese. Several feet away, a group of young girls were climbing all over a three-wheeled “tuk-tuk” in the “World Cultures” section and conversations got appreciably louder as one little girl laid on the horn.
Wendy DuPree, a homemaker from Springdale, said she grew up going to the Children’s Museum in the District. “I was like, when is the museum going to open? This has been on my calendar for months!”
DuPree was waiting in line to buy a membership with her mom and three kids, one of whom shared a stroller with Yodit Crouch’s 2-year-old son. “Before this opened, we were going to [Port Discovery] in Baltimore,” said Crouch, also homemaker, but the new museum is closer with better parking. “It’s such good exposure, people will be coming from everywhere,” she added, talking loudly to make herself heard over all the noise.