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.”
IF YOU GO: What you need to know before you go
REVIEW: The National Children’s Museum from Style
— Christina Barron