Visiting Washington DC with Elementary Ages
Everyone needs to see Washington DC, right? In second grade Lynn learned some American History. She also owns an Isabelle American Girl Doll, whose story is set in modern-day Washington DC. I had some credit with an airline from a canceled trip that needed to be used, and credit card points for a hotel. So after I put these pieces together, it didn’t take long to decide on: a mother-daughter trip to the Nation’s Capitol!
My first tip for planning a trip to DC is tell your member of Congress that you are coming
The major government buildings, including Congress, the White House and Supreme Court, all require reservations to tour. Your Representative or Senator can make these for you. The White House has very limited tours, can be hit or miss if you receive one, and can be canceled at the last minute based on official business. Our Representative’s office was able to schedule tours for us for Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and the State Department.
Other Options for the White House
If you are unable to secure an official tour of the White House you can still visit the White House Visitor Center near by and admire it from the street or National Mall. The Visitor Center does offer a Junior Ranger program for children. There are many artifacts from previous Presidents during their time in the People’s House. We visited during December, which meant the National Christmas Tree was lit and the State Trees around it were decorated, which Lynn thought was really cool.
Visiting the National Mall
For Lynn one of the most exciting parts of the visit was seeing the Lincoln Memorial. You can view the entire Mall from the steps: all the way to the Capitol building. At night, you can see President Kennedy’s Eternal Flame burning at Arlington National Cemetery across the river from the back side of the Memorial. I enjoyed getting to see the World War II Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that have both been built since I visited as a teenager.
The Junior Ranger Badge for the National Mall is unique. Each monument you visit you collect a separate page to fill out, and when you have visited the required number of Memorials and collected the required number of pages you earn your Badge. The Badge can be picked up at any Ranger Station at any Memorial. This is one book that is available online as well. We printed the pages at home and used it to prepare for our trip. Lynn was able to complete most of it at home but there were activities that required being there and observing.
So Many Museums…
Another whole area to explore on your trip to Washington DC is the variety of museums. The Smithsonian Institute has 17 different museums in DC. We visited 2 of them and the Library of Congress. We visited The National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History. One hidden place at the Library of Congress for your book-loving kids is the Young Readers Room. It’s located on the the side of the main reading room and is full of children’s literature. We spent some quiet time here, resting, in the middle of our busy day of exploring.
The National Museum of American History has many fun exhibits. Historical Exhibits and Pop Culture are both found here. Lynn enjoyed visiting the Spark!Lab designed for kids to become inventors. It’s a very hands-on exhibit and creative space. Kids walk through the invention process starting with finding a problem to solve, designing it on paper, and then building their creation. Lynn even explained to the staff how she would program it using what she knows about coding to do the things she had planned!
A few last tips!
There are not a lot of food options around the National Mall, but most of the Smithsonian Museums do have a cafeteria, and so do many of the government buildings You just have to know where to look. Also the hours: government buildings are limited to normal business hours, so keep that in mind when planning your schedule. We found the Smithsonian museums open a few extra hours. Only the monuments had extended hours, and they are quite a sight to see when lit at night.
There is so much to see and do here, you can’t possibly do it all in one trip. We couldn’t even see a whole Smithsonian (the main one) in a day! Another thing to keep in mind as you plan your visit is: not everything will be appreciated or understood by children. We are saving the Holocaust museum for a much later visit. We also did not visit Arlington National Cemetery. Many of the important people buried there she hasn’t studied yet. I feel like seeing the various memorials on the National Mall was enough for her at 8 years old to understand the sacrifice many have have paid for our nation and it’s freedom. Someday we will go back to see the others, when she has more context to understand them.