At the National Children’s Museum, kids can learn about goods from around the world in exhibits including a hands-on kitchen, left, and a Tanzanian marketplace, right.

One day, someone is going to get smart and open a children’s museum called “Buttons You Can Push.” The setup will be one giant room with thousands of buttons, none of which do anything (though lights will flash occasionally). Surrounding the room will be a bar with one-way glass so parents can watch the Toddler Thunderdome. There will be a two-drink minimum. Until this dream becomes reality, parents can visit the National Children’s Museum, which opened Dec. 14. We (meaning this writer and her 4-year-old son) got a sneak preview of National Harbor’s newest attraction.

Like a House on Fire

Really playing up the “kids like to push buttons” angle is a mockup of a fire truck that comes with firefighter costumes: boots, overalls, coats and hats. Kids get to experience what it’s really like to be a firefighter, assuming nearly everyone in the station needs their moms to help dress them and doesn’t know their left from their right and that three people at once get to drive the truck.

Hitting the Sack

In one of those weird glitches of the child brain, the highlight of the trip for our 4-year-old reporter was a bunk bed in the “home” area of the museum. To the adult eye, there may be nothing special about the bunk bed, but it clearly has magical powers observable only to preschoolers, because climbing up and down and up and down and up and down is the best thing ever.

On the Dock of the Bay

Right when you walk into the museum, you’ll come upon a pretend dock where kids, working together, can use a crane to hoist and move crates of imports from other countries (shoes, bananas, etc.). The museum’s staff — all friendly and engaging — attempt to guide the kids into learning about the countries represented. But it’s hard to compete with the thrill of repeatedly turning a crank.

Going Worldwide

A strong emphasis on multiculturalism — including examples of food, clothing and transportation from around the world — is one of the museum’s strongest points. The area dedicated to learning about other parts of the world has a pretend kitchen, a rack of child-sized kimonos, a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled, motorized cart used as a taxi) from Thailand and a bunch of computer keyboards from other countries mounted on the wall. So picture a horde of little samurai racing about, making dinner and driving a tuk-tuk, only taking a break to declare they are “checking the email.”


Size 18,000 square feet on one floor
Parking: Garages and on-street
Food: None allowed and nowhere to get any in the museum, but there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants nearby

National Children’s Museum, 151 St. George Blvd., National Harbor, Md.; $10; 301-392-2400.