We love raising our kids in the D.C. area — except in January, February and March, when outdoor play options are limited, cold weather drives us indoors and schools are often inexplicably closed. If you and your crew have had your fill of family-focused hygge this winter, check out these 12 get-out-of-the-house destinations filled with adventure, learning and exercise for kids.
Wegmans Wonderplace is a paradise for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergartners. A Smithsonian Castle play structure with slides dominates the room, with artifacts from the museum’s collection housed inside, such as a Civil War-era military band E-flat fluegelhorn (complete with kid-centric placard). A scaled-down version of Julia Child’s kitchen allows kids to use replicas of Child’s pots and pans, and a play market provides their recipe ingredients. Next door is the elementary-to-middle schooler focused Spark!Lab, which brings STEM inventions to life through hands-on learning. Visitors can serve as inventors of vehicles, devices and even musical instruments. Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th streets NW. Open daily (except Tuesdays). Free.
Tweens and teens will be drawn to an array of interactive exhibits that are every bit as exciting as an iPad game. The subject matter at this museum, located a block south of Verizon Center, is divided into three sections — Earth Lab, Life Lab and Idea Lab — and all areas focus on the connections among science, technology and community. 525 E St. NW. Open daily (except Tuesdays). $5; students $3.
On name alone you might think this Smithsonian museum’s subject matter is too dry for children. It’s not. In the “Systems at Work” exhibition, kids can sort packages by throwing them, and craft their own stamps and postcards. They also can “train” to become a member of the United States Postal Inspection Service. Little ones will love climbing all over mail transportation exhibits, from a Pony Express carriage to a mail train. 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Open daily. Free.
Entering this Dupont Circle mansion (actually five connected rowhouses) and embarking on a scavenger hunt through its many staircases, winding hallways and secret doors is like walking into an episode of “Scooby-Doo.” This museum-slash-hotel contains more than 100 themed rooms packed with eclectic collections of objects (all of which are for sale). Rosa Parks stayed at the mansion; visitors can explore her favorite areas, memorabilia and hear stories about the civil rights activist from H.H. Leonards, the mansion’s founder who is generally on-site. 2020 O St. NW. Open daily. $15 online, $20 at door. Themed tours cost extra.
Housed within the Davis Library in Bethesda, the KID Museum offers drop-in, always changing exploration sessions for elementary and middle schoolers on weekends. Kids might assemble robots using motors and circuits on one visit, and code their own video game the next. Sign up in advance for special one-hour workshops that introduce children to such skills as soldering, 3-D printing and wearable device design. 6400 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda. Open Saturday-Sunday. $8; memberships available. Sure
Next door to the Maryland SoccerPlex in northern Montgomery County sits the Discovery Sports Center, where sports-minded kids from elementary to high school can drop in and join a game. In the winter, two synthetic turf fields are rolled out for indoor soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball and rugby. Come March, eight basketball and volleyball courts are set up for play. 18031 Central Park Cir., Boyds. Open Monday-Friday. $5; monthly passes available.
Since 2009, this family haven has been a favorite of young kids and parents looking for a place to play on winter days. (It’s usually open on snow days.) Modeled on a city neighborhood, there are 12 rooms where kids can pretend to be firefighters, jam on instruments, paint ceramics, visit live pets or primp in the beauty salon. 7000 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. Open Monday-Saturday. $9; 11 months and younger free.
Instead of scaling a faux rock face, how about climbing an indoor replica of Mount Rushmore? The Lincoln Memorial? Or a giant bookcase, a la “Honey I Shrunk the Kids?” In addition to 75 creatively themed walls that vary in difficulty (so even courageous 2-year-olds can climb), the harnesses and ropes are adjusted especially for kids. Although kids age 12 and younger must be supervised by a parent or caregiver, ClimbZone’s hydraulic auto-belay system allows kids to descend easily on their own, without relying on an adult to lower them. Preschoolers will enjoy the inflatable slides and bounce houses. 13200 Mid Atlantic Blvd., Suite 130, Laurel. Open daily. $25; ages 2-5 $12; children younger than 2 free.
In Fair Oaks Mall, between Lord & Taylor and Sears, families will find a STEM-focused exploration center, with both traditional exhibits as well as dynamic, drop-in workshop-style learning. Preschoolers through elementary students will enjoy participating in experiments, engineering design challenges and engaging in imaginative free play. 11948 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax. Open daily. $12; seniors $11; children younger than 2 free.
Crawlers, new walkers and industrious young preschoolers tired of traversing the couch will be thrilled with the array of soft play equipment at the indoor play areas at the Arlington Mill, Fairlington and Lubber Run community centers. They can safely climb, build and explore without any damage to noggins or furniture. No shoes, food or drinks are allowed, but a sense of adventure is encouraged. Arlington Mill, 909 S. Dinwiddie St.; Fairlington, 3308 S. Stafford St.; Lubber Run, 300 N. Park Dr., Arlington. For hours, go to parks.arlingtonva.us./programs/tots. Free.
Babies and toddlers need to get out of the house for play, too, and Nook is designed just for them. This tranquil, modern space is divided into separate nooks for art, music, reading, building, climbing and sensory play, as well as an area especially for infants. Passes are good all day, so families can head home for a nap and then come back refreshed for more play. 5649 Lee Hwy., Arlington. Open daily. $20; caregivers and babies younger than 1 free.
The latest addition to the indoor bounce house genre, Leesburg’s Atomic Trampoline has wall-to-wall trampolines, a foam pit, dodge ball and slamball courts. There are designated kids jump times especially for the 6 and younger set, and open jump sessions for older kids and teens. 1604 Village Market Blvd., Suite 110, Leesburg. Open daily. $12-$27, based on length of visit.
Jessica McFadden is a mother of three and blogs about D.C.-area family life at A Parent in Silver Spring.