My eight-year-old may not have a full grasp of the bicameral legislative branch of the US government, but I still want him to experience some of the historical and political significance of America’s capital. The United States has been called the ‘great experiment,’ and when asked about the form of government, Ben Franklin said, “A republic, if we can keep it.” Washington, D.C. is the place where it all happens, the seat of power for the most powerful nation on the planet.
Serious business, maybe, but you can still have fun. And that goes for the kiddos too. In a way, the trip to DC is a perfect match for someone young, rambunctious and filled with boundless energy.
Naturally, we start at the National Mall. Two miles of manicured city park space between the Capital building and the LIncoln Memorial is where you will find the Smithsonian Institution with its eleven separate museums. Each of these considerable facilities could be an institution in its own right, and as a visitor you could take a full day to explore just one building. But don’t be intimidated. These are not all essential viewing for those ten and under. You might want to save the National Portrait Gallery until they get a bit older.
That being said, a trip to the Air & Space Museum will create memories that last a lifetime. The collection of historic planes and spacecraft on display quite simply cannot be seen anywhere else. The museums of Natural History and American History may share more in common with local museums in your hometown, but with permanent collections that feature kid-friendly topics and interactions, they are the standard all other aspire to. And when the weather is nice, going back and forth on the spacious and historic mall can be just as fun as exploring the museums.
Just off the Mall you will find the International Spy Museum. Although not part of the Smithsonian, this institution has all the quality and fun you expect from the other Washington museums. Find out all the shady details about stealing secrets, in fiction and in real life.
If you are staying in the vicinity of the National Mall, then you are just a quick ride-share or leisurely stroll to Georgetown. Although it has lost some of its funkyness over the past few decades, the area around M Street and Wisconsin Ave is still alive with life and crowds and color well past sunset.
Washington, D.C. is an important place and even a child can sense that. Going there is almost a basic civil duty, but that doesn’t mean the kids can’t have fun.