The National Air and Space Museum has lots of hands-on activities during its Family Days. The past two years have focused on Mars, but this year there’s a “Discover the Moon Day!” (Mark Avino/National Air and Space Museum)

Summer is officially 15 days old. Are you tired of it already? Don’t fret. We can help. Washington’s amazing museums have lined up cool summer activities. Whether you are interested in bugs or ballerinas, whether you dream of flying to the moon or enjoy unraveling a mystery, there’s something fun (and free!) just for you. Read on.

Calling all space cadets

Pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared on a flight around the globe in 1937. But she’ll be at the National Air and Space Museum on July 16 — the museum’s first Family Day of the season — to tell you all about her adventures. (Okay, it’s actually an actress pretending to be Earhart, but her stories should be exciting anyway.) NASA astronaut Patrick Forrester will be there to answer your questions, too. It’s all part of the museum’s “Milestones in Aviation and Space” program for families. Come learn how aviation and space exploration changed the world.

Another Family Day event takes place July 25. At “Discover the Moon Day!” you can steer a robotic rover, examine meteorites that were found on the moon, see the capsule that took the Apollo 11 astronauts there and back and view images of the lunar surface using 3-D glasses.

You can create lunar art and take a moon quiz. We’ll give you one example: July 20, 1969 — 45 years ago this month. Do you know what happened that day? (The answer is in the “If you go” box on Page 3.)

The U.S. Botanic Garden’s Junior Botanist program helped visitors, from left, Gracie Dodd, Imiloa Borland, Lauren Xu and Christina Dodd learn more about plants. (U.S. Botanic Garden)
Get your hands dirty

See. Smell. Touch. You’ll do that and more on your way to becoming a junior botanist at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Botanists are plant experts. The tools you’ll need to become a “junior expert” are in the neat backpack that kids can borrow while visiting the center. There’s even a plant fossil in there!

Roam around the large building (called a conservatory) and get hands-on with the plant world as you complete a 16-page adventure workbook. Your adventure will include learning about endangered plants and plants used for medicines, and discovering how plants survive in climates such as deserts and jungles.

It may take more than one visit — and some work at home — to finish the work sheets. A real botanist will review them before you get your certificate and badge. Even cooler: All junior botanists get a behind-the-scenes look at the conservatory’s huge plant collection. Since only about a third of the plants are on public display at any one time, imagine what treasures lurk in those greenhouses!

During the Artful Conversations program at the National Gallery of Art, kids focus on one piece of art for an hour. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
Here’s looking at you, kid

The National Gallery of Art has sketched out a full summer for you, starting with its film program on weekends and Wednesdays. American Mary Cassatt and France’s Edward Degas, artists who became close friends after meeting in 1877, are the stars. It’s a great pairing, as she once said that seeing his paintings for the first time “changed my life.”

The museum is showing an animated short film about each artist, plus longer films about the pair. After watching them, you might want to tour the gallery’s “Degas/Cassatt” exhibition, which runs until October 5.

Also on weekends, the museum’s Artful Conversations program lets kids and parents explore a single piece of art for an hour. You might sketch it, write a poem about it or create a soundtrack to bring it to life. Attend three or more programs and you’ll get a prize!

At the National Portrait Gallery, meanwhile, everywhere you look, people are looking back at you. Who are they? What’s their story?

To find out, borrow a museum Portrait Discovery Kit and get busy. The kits have detective guides and seek-and-find cards to help you zero in on the famous people hanging around. Each kit also comes with a doll in costume, which you can compare with the subject of a painting. How are they alike or not? A booklet in your kit will help you decide. You will also be asked to write a label describing one of the portraits.

And if, after staring at the faces of all these famous people, you wonder how your picture might look up on that wall, the kit has a self-portrait pad and pencil. Go ahead and sketch yourself. When you become famous, someone might buy your drawing and hang it in an art museum.

Moon quiz answer: On July 20, 1969, U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said as he made history.

— Marylou Tousignant


The programs listed in this story are free. Always ask a parent before going online.

National Air and Space Museum

Independence Avenue at Sixth Street SW

Open daily 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. through September 1 (with a few early closings; see Web site for details). Family Day programs are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

All ages, but best for age 7 and older.

For more information, call 202-633-2214 or go to

U.S. Botanic Garden

100 Maryland Avenue SW (near U.S. Capitol)

Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The junior botanist program is for ages 9 to 12. (An adult is needed to check out the program’s backpack).

For more information, call 202-225-8333 or go to

National Gallery of Art

Constitution Avenue at Sixth Street NW

Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This program is for ages 8 to 11, with adult participation.

For film dates and times, go to

Intro films are for age 4 and older. Other films are for 8 and older.

For information about Artful Conversations, go to

For more information, call 202-737-4215 or go to

National Portrait Gallery

Eighth and F streets NW

Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Discovery kits are available on some Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and some Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. To check dates, go to

The kits are for ages 5 to 14, with adult participation.

For more information, call 202-633-8300 or go to