You really can’t help yourself. The moment you walk into the Great Hall at the National Building Museum, your jaw will hit the floor. As you crane your neck to take in the magnificent Corinthian columns, keep in mind that the building which houses this museum was conceived with greatness in mind. The architect was actually inspired by Michelangelo. Of course, that fact will likely be lost on your toddler or preschooler. What won’t be lost on them though is how much fun they will have exploring this grand place. The National Building Museum is a great place for a family adventure on pretty much any day. Then, there are special event days that really just make the fun irresistible. Read on to find out why!
#1. Look Up!
One of the biggest reasons to visit the National Building Museum is the building itself. The Great Hall is very impressive and dramatic. You probably don’t need to be told to look up. However, you might want to plan to sit your preschooler down with a baggie of goldfish crackers so you have a moment to just take it all in. This is really a very impressive building.
#2. Play Work Build
This ongoing exhibit on the 2nd floor is a must do, even if you don’t have kids with you. Of course, everyone in the family will love building structures with these life-size tinker toys. My 3-year old also had a blast busting a move in the shadow play area as well.
In addition to the super big building materials, there are various tables filled with smaller widgets. We spent a good hour in this exhibit and probably could have stayed longer if there weren’t so many other fun activities!
#3. The Building Zone
The National Building Museum really takes the education of younger kids seriously. They also recognize that sometimes, little kids need a space to decompress and not be on sensory overload. You need to reserve a ticket for a timed-entry time slot. The museum limits the number of kids that can play so that each kid in the exhibit has room to explore. That is one of the many reasons why The Building Zone is such a great play and learn exhibit. Kids can get dressed up as a construction worker and pretend to make repairs on a play house (they can also fix you a cup of tea if you want one I suppose). Note: admission to the Building Zone is $3/person. It is totally worth the extra $3 though.
The big bins full of giant legos were a big hit. There are also numerous centers with smaller building blocks, magna tile walls, walls with drills and hammers for kids to explore, books on engineering. This space really knows their customer– incredibly curious toddlers and preschoolers.
Just about every inch of The Building Zone is covered with some fun adventure in experimental learning.
#4. to #6. Special Family Days
There are three main special family days that the National Building Museum holds every year. We have been to one of them (guess which one) and based on that experience, I have to tell you– this place knows how to throw a great event for kids!
The Big Build
This is a ‘hands-on family festival of tools, trucks, and construction.’ Kids will get to actually saw logs, hammer nails, and climb on real trucks. Also, the museum brings in professionals like plumbers, architects, woodworkers, etc.. so kids can meet them and ask questions. The next Big Build will be October 15th, 2016
Discover Engineering Family Day
We went to this awesome festival this past February and I have to tell you– it is one of the coolest festivals for kids I have ever attended. The entire Great Hall was filled to the brim with activities and games. Curious George even made an appearance. Some of the super fun activities include building paper towers, designing a cardboard tube road system, trying on a fighter pilot helmet, building ‘flinkers’ (will they float or will they sink?), and other experiments in physics, chemistry, and engineering. This is a very STEM-friendly event! The next Discover Engineering Family Day will be held on February 18, 2017.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day
Every year during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the National Building Museum dedicates one full day to special family fun. Last year’s activities included origami craft projects, trying on traditional Japanese clothing, and other Japanese culture-focused activities.
#7. Everyday Activities for Kids
In addition to Play Work Build and The Building Zone, there are a few activity packs you can check out to do with your kids any day you visit. There are recommended age ranges for the activities. Here are the two that are geared towards younger kids:
Tool Kit #2, Patterns: create architectural patterns using stamps and rubbing and build patterns with mini bricks.
Amazing Arches: Explore arches by trying to construct your own 7 foot tall arch on the floor of the Great Hall.
#8. Special Summer Exhibits
If you have heard about the National Building Museum already, it is likely due to their very special summer exhibits. In years past, the exhibits have featured a Big Maze, Mini Golf, and last year’s awesome BEACH exhibit.
This year, the super special summer exhibit it ICEBERGS! If you decide to check ICEBERGS! out with young children this summer, here are some tips to maximize your experience:
- The absolute best time to go and avoid the crowds in Tuesday morning at 10AM (when the museum opens).
- If you can’t go on a Tuesday, try to arrive as close to opening time as possible.
- You can purchase tickets in advance online. This won’t guarantee an entry time, but it will mean a shorter line to wait in when you get there.
- Based on the popularity of last year’s exhibit, you need to be aware that ICEBERGS! could get very busy. There could be as many as 650 visitors at a time in the exhibit. Clearly, if you have small children they could easily get overwhelmed or cranky and whiny.. or all of the above. If that happens, I might suggest speeding through the exhibit and heading upstairs for some young child friendly play time at Play Work Build.
- Having said that, this will be a fun exhibit for your kids to explore. Kids will love running around and in and out of the icebergs. There are iceberg-shaped bean bag pillows kids can sit on or play with. You can climb two flights of stairs with your kids and peer out over the surface of the water to see the tips of the icebergs. Then, you can descend one flight of stairs and slide down a couple of very fast slides.
- If you want a treat, there are snow cones for sale inside one of the icebergs ($7 for one snow cone. They are big enough to share).
Bonus Tip: The Museum Shop!
Don’t skip the Museum Shop! It has a reputation for being one of the best gift shops in Washington DC. There are tons of unique building and science and technology toys, books, models, and kids decor.
Know Before You Go
- Admission: Non-Summer Exhibit cost: $10 adults, $7 (kids age 3-17, students, and seniors). During ICEBERGS! the cost is $16 for adults and $13 for kids, students, and seniors (60+). Admission cost includes access to ICEBERGS!
- Location and Parking: If you are taking public transit, the National Building Museum is located right across the street from the Judiciary Square Metro (Red Line). Otherwise, there are numerous parking garages, as well as metered street parking available. We have used Parking Panda to reserve parking, and have had success with parking meters. It all depends on when you visit.
- Food: The Firehook Bakery and Coffeehouse does offer gourmet sandwiches and yummy baked goods. However, there are scads of kid-friendly dining options all around the National Building Museum. The Verizon Center is about 1 1/2 blocks from the museum and there are fast casual restaurants like Chipotle all around the area.
- Strollers? Yep, the museum is stroller friendly and there is no stroller check.
- How long? On a non-special event day, I would recommend budgeting 2 hours for the National Building Museum (or longer if your kids spend a ton of time in PLAY WORK BUILD. However, on special event days you may want to stay longer. We could have stayed all day during Family Engineering Day.
So, if you want to nurture a love of STEM or STEAM-related activities in your kids, definitely plan a trip to the National Building Museum. It is absolutely high on the list of Fun Things to Do With Kids in Washington D.C.
Thanks for reading!