Museum Story Time

By Jessica McFadden
Friday, October 30, 2009

If you're a parent or grandparent of young children, you have undoubtedly become a practiced bedtime storyteller, complete with voices for each character. And it's very likely you've also become a regular at your neighborhood library or bookstore's story times.

But some of the best -- and least-known -- story times in the D.C. area are at museums, galleries and science centers.

Some museums, such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, even have staff to cater to their youngest visitors. "We noticed that families of older kids were excited about the Imax or planetarium shows, but with the story times at Air and Space, we seek to provide something for the younger children in the family to enjoy. We read them a story relating to aviation or space and then follow with a toylike craft kids can walk away with that will extend the learning and fun outside of the museum," says Ann Caspari, an early childhood education specialist for the museum.

Alison MacDonald, 33, and her two children are fans of the Kreeger Museum's monthly story time. "I like how the instructor discusses art with the children, leading them in a really great discussion of a Picasso or a Monet," the Takoma Park mother says, noting that her 3-year-old's favorite part of the session comes when the kids get to make art projects.

But whether you and your child seek tales of art, aviation, science or history, each of these museums' story times strives to enhance the museum experience for kids.

At the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, the goal is to teach children not just about native history "but that native people are still here," says the museum's Leonda Levchuk. While these story times are aimed at the young ones, they aren't the only visitors who can get a lot from a story well told, Levchuk says. "The connections made through storytelling are something everyone can relate to."

Here are some museum story times for you -- and your young story fans -- to check out:

National Air and Space Museum: Flights of Fancy Story Time features stories -- either factual or fanciful -- about aviation or space exploration. An experiment, craft or other hands-on activity follows each session. Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m., Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Additionally, every Friday at 10:30 a.m. and on the first Saturday of each month at 10:30 a.m. there is a free 20-minute planetarium show, "One World, One Sky," for very young children featuring "Sesame Street" characters. A story time follows.

Independence Avenue at Sixth Street SW. 202-633-1000. No registration necessary. Free.

National Museum of the American Indian: Stories about Indian folklore and history are shared with young visitors twice each day, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The 11 a.m. story time features a trip to a museum exhibit and the 1 p.m. event includes a coloring activity.

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