Dear PoPville – Dear PoPville – Activities for Very Young Kids?

Photo by PoPville flickr user pablo.raw

“Dear PoPville,

My 3.5 year old nephew will be visiting next month, and I’m looking to put together some fun items for him to do. The last time he came, we did the Air & Space Museum and the Zoo, so those are probably off the list. The Natural History Museum is probably a must-do, but we’re looking for some more non-museum options. We live in Adams Morgan and since they’re driving down from New York, they probably don’t want to do too much additional driving. Are there any cool playgrounds that have water features (besides the plaza in CH)? Is Kenilworth Gardens fun for kids?”

We once spoke about recommendations for for things to do with a 7 and 10 year old but does anyone have good ideas for a 3 and a half year old? Any museums that cater to the very young?

54 Comment

  • The National Building Museum. It has a playroom and tons of building blocks, legos, etc. for kids.

    • I was going to suggest this, as well. It’s great fun for all ages!

    • austindc

      Absolutely! NBM is amazing, and the Lego exhibit is really, really, really fun.

      Ok, I might go there right now.

    • Ditto the building museum.

    • just fyi, about a month ago NBM started charging $8 for adult admission into the exhibits, including the legos.

      • saf

        Unless you have a membership.

      • This is from the National Building Museum’s website regarding admission prices. The charge is for the exhibitions only. Entrance to the building is free and builing tours are still free.

        -Free Museum members, Children age 2 and under.
        -$8 Adults
        -$5 Youth (ages 3 – 17), Students with ID, and Seniors (age 65 and over)
        -$3 Entrance to Building Zone only. Ages 3 and up. (The Building Zone is appropriate for ages 2-6)

  • Brookside Gardens in Wheton is worth the drive. My 3 year old LOVES the butterfly house. Go on a day like today, when it’s not too sunny or hot, because the butterfly house is a greenhouse.

    Also the National Gallery. The East Wing (modern) is great for kids. Plan to have lunch in the cafe between the two wings, and the kid will spend the whole time with his face up against the fountain window.

    • Don’t forget the “star tunnel” between East and West wings – kids can spend an hour riding this!

  • Yards Park has some neat water features.

    • I second Yards Park! It is really nice!

    • Yes! We just took our 4 year old there and she had a blast in the water feature! Great for this hot, hot weather. (And you can pack a picnic!)

    • If you’re already over on the south side it might be worth checking out the new Playseum on 8th Street SE. I’m not really sure what it is but it looks like it’s for little kids.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        I have a Playseum post going up at 4:30pm I probably shoulda reordered the postings a bit…

  • The Building Museum is packed on the weekends and there’s often a wait to get into the playroom. I don’t know that I’d make it a destination, but definitely worth a stop if you’re down there.

    We like the Petworth playground/spray park at 8th and Taylor. It’s small but the kids really enjoy it. It’s not open on Sundays. A new spray park was supposed to be opening in Chevy Chase, and there’s also one at Turtle Park. The absolute best playground is Cabin John in Rockville, but that’s a hike from here.

    Roosevelt Island might be fun; it’s a pretty walk and you can throw rocks and sticks in the river.

  • I love that photo!

  • paddle boats at the tidal basin, the zoo is always fun even if they have been before, water park at Petworth Rec center, wading pools at the Capitol riverfront park, Columbia Heights day petting zoo (end of august), kenilworth aquatic gardens are beautiful but not sure if the lilies will be blooming (but a great place for parents to take pictures of the kids), and riding the metro (especially above ground), my 4 year old nephew went crazy for the metro and that was his favorite part of the trip!

    • Little kids HATE the paddleboats. Mostly because of having to wear life jackets – also, they are just hot and boring when you’re 3. Roosevelt island is great – statue area is fun with bridges and fountains, and the boardwalk swamp trail is good. Netherlands Carrilon (at Iwo Jima) is fun (lions to climb on) Aquatic gardens – NO – (long confusing drive – then what – Flowers? You’re 3 you don’t care about water lillies!)

      National art gallery west wing is actually great for this age – have a scavenger hunt – find pictures with dogs, horses, fruit or dead birds.

      Zoo – The pizza and Amazonia (giant fish)can occupy half a day – or go to the free-flight bird cage at feeding time (though can be scary) Small mammal house is good too – Meerkats and Tamarinds actually move around. (Most animals in the zoo don’t and are really boring for toddlers.)

      Great Falls Md. side is super – walk on bridges over the falls and climb on rocks. Rock Creek park on weekend closure time is great fun – bring a tricycle – climb on rocks – but watch out for mad bikers – honestly, they are out to squash children. Also the Melvin Hazen trail (near Peirce Mill – or just north of Cleveland Park Metro) is great for kids – safe trail with lots of fallen trees to walk on.

      Meridian Hill Park drumming circle on Sun. 4-9 is perfect. Archives/Navy memorial is unexpectedly entertaining (bas relief bronze sculputures – a walk around map) The Freer Gallery is good – big scary sculptures, the peacock room and the courtyard.

      The botanical gardens are perfect.

  • Take him to the playground in Walter Pierce and/or Kalorama park.

  • Fab new playground and great pool at Upshur Park.

  • If it’s raining, take him to the Wilson pool. They’ve got an awesome kiddie pool.

  • Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. The lotuses should still be in bloom, and they’re absolutely gorgeous.

  • Little kids have short memories and often love repetition, so don’t fret about doing something for a second time!

    For our 2 year old…I second National Building Museum. The courtyard at National Portrait Gallery is great (though for a three year old, maybe just for lunch). the 3rd floor has some amazing installations/sculptures (on the Museum of American Art side).

    There’s a trolley museum out in MD:

    • Ha – I was going to say the same thing – he is 3! He doesn’t remember going to the zoo the first time! You can pretend its all new! 🙂

    • I think some of the Portrait Gallery art could appeal to a kid as well. I’m thinking in particular of some of the wacky folk art on the American Art side. And it might be fun to go through the portraits side pointing out famous people.

  • So my 2 year old loves the bus, the dinosaurs, the zoo, the ballgame and “water play”. The last is well-covered in these entries.

    My 2 year old loves the bus. Seriously, she loves it more than anything. Even though she takes it almost every day. So take the bus to Natural History (the hall of mammals, the sea exhibit, and dinosaurs) and while you are down there, do the carousel on the mall and get one of the giant popsicles. i would suggest Ellas if you want food down there–great kids menu–and the owner has little ones himself and you can get some beers while you are at it. The National Portrait Gallery has an awesome courtyard and since it isn’t so crowded my daughter also likes to look at some of the art there ie the giant O’Keefes.

    Also, my kid cannot get enough of the zoo. Even if it is just the small mammal house, the animal farm, or a peice of it, animals are a huge hit. My daughter could go every day, so even if you have done it before, it still might be an option.

    Not sure of the date, but my daughter also loves going to the ballgames at Nats Park. Its so not-crowded that its a nice time for smaller kids.

  • Dog park

    • The Upshur dog park is much more family-friendly than the one at 11th and Park.

      • What?! This seems like a terrible idea! Dog parks are for dogs to play and run around, not the greatest place for a toddler that can get knocked down or otherwise.

        Also, not all dogs are kid-friendly. I realize I’m biased (my dog is terrified of kids, so kids ruin the dog park experience for him) but there may be other dogs who bite, or are aggressive or are otherwise completely not socialized for kids. Generally, I’m not sure it’s good for the kid or for the dogs unless you are watching from the outside. Petting zoo at the national zoo is much better for animal interaction.

        • Clearly you missed the PoP posting earlier today replete with comment about giant mean dogs and the children who love them.

          • Yeah, sarcasm carried over from another post. But I’ll reiterate here: if your dog is scared of kids, please tell me politely and I will remove my kid from the park without complaint.

          • Ha, sarcasm missed.

            dreas, you sounds awesomely reasonable. I appreciate that.

          • Thanks. I try. I can’t promise that everyone else will be reasonable–something about dogs and kids seems to bring out the worst in everyone on this site–but sometimes it’s worthwhile to actually try to talk to your neighbors rather than get pissed off in silence and/or complain to a local blog. But, of course, if talking doesn’t get anywhere or the person isn’t reasonable: complain away to POP, by all means! 🙂

          • dreas, did you or did you not bitch and complain on this blog about some dog “mauling” your child instead of “talking to your neighbors?”

          • Dude, I did try to talk to the guy about his dog and I said as much. He was a self-absorbed hipster asshole who was too busy with his iPhone and his skinny jeans to pay attention to what his dog was doing or to get his dog under control. And people like that don’t belong in dog parks. So, yeah. I followed my own rule: I tried to talk to him, got nowhere, I complained about him on here. See?

  • I have a four-year-old sister (half sister, for anyone trying to do some mental math) so I definitely have some ideas… Yards Park has a wading pool, as does Marie Reed rec center in Adams Morgan (happy hollow kids pool). Yards Park also has some nice grassy knolls to lie on, a cool bridge to run on, and nice views. There’s apparently a new water park in VA that is amazing for kids and free — I don’t know the name, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. Turtle park in NW is very popular with the under 5 set and has a pretty cool “sprayground”. Depending on your nephew, the Building Museum playroom might be too “little” for him — I know some 4-year-olds who aren’t into it anymore. Walter Pierce park has a popular playground, and that’s pretty close by.

  • I also have a 3.5 yo and live nearby, she loves the pet worth spray park and they are open everyday even Sunday at 11am, Walter pierce park is shady and fun, I 2nd cabin John although it did take me about 20 minutes to get there from 16th St. Heights area, a closer option is candy land park on northern edge of rock creek park(east west highway). Building museum is fun but they do charge for admission and she enjoys union station on a weekend and of course the carousel on the national mall(the metro ride provides enough excitement on it’s own).

  • Have you checked out Clemyjontri Park? You’d have to drive, but TOTALLY worth it!

  • Building museum is still free for the great hall – charging for exhibits – and $3.00 for the kids building gallery.

    From their website –

    Washington, D.C.– National Building Museum executive director Chase W. Rynd today announced a change to the Museum’s policy regarding admission, which has been free since its opening in 1985 as a private, non-profit institution. Starting Monday, June 27, 2011, the Museum will charge admission for entry to its exhibitions. Public access to the Great Hall, Museum Shop, and cafe in the Museum’s landmark historic building will continue to be free, as will the Museum’s docent-led historic building tours. The Museum’s three annual family festivals‒Discover Engineering Family Day, the National Cherry Blossom Family Festival, and the Big Build‒will remain free to all.

    The charge will be $8 for adults and $5 for youth (ages three through 17), students with ID, and seniors (age 65 and over); Museum members and children age two and under will be free. Active-duty military personnel and their families will enjoy free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For those families that only wish access to the Building Zone, the Museum’s hands-on building gallery designed for children two to six, the fee will be $3 for each adult and child (free for members).

    “Over the past few years, the recession has been particularly devastating for the culture and arts community, as well as the building and design industry,” wrote Mr. Rynd in a note to staff. “The many people who have deep affinity for the National Building Museum understand all too well, therefore, that this institution has been greatly impacted by the economic crisis.”

  • Although it requires a car, my 3 and 5 year olds love Glen Echo Park in MD. There is a playground, an old school carrousel, and puppet and theater shows.

  • Take the metro or drive to downtown Silver Spring. It’s not that far away and there’s plenty of parking. The splash fountain is open from 10am to 9pm and they always have some kind of games going on the kids. There’s a program every Wednesday called Tiny Tots on Ellsworth Drive but I don’t know if it will be featured next month when your nephew will be visiting. Don’t forget kids never get tired of the zoo.

  • If they are coming from a non-subway city, Metro is an activity in itself for a 3 1/2 year-old. Watching planes take off at Gravely Park next to National is also great if its not too hot. A guaranteed good time(again if it’s not too hot) is to get some balloons with a hand pump and shoot them up in the air at the Mall. (Pump and balloons come together in a package for $5-10.)

    You said no driving, but if they are here for awhile, the Children’s museum in Baltimore is fantastic. “Museum” is a misnomer–it’s basically a big indoor, air conditioned, playground.

    • Sorry – shooting balloons is not a great idea. Creatures eat them and die. (Twisted tangled guts etc.)

  • man, i wouldn’t worry to much about the specifics of entertaining a 3 yr old.

    you need food, bathrooms, and entertainment. you got those, you got a good day. go to the zoo or the natural history museum and have fun.

    aint no way the kid will be all like “p’shaw, we went to the zoo last time. so boring”.

    the parents might get bored, but pack a thermos with some margaritas and chill.

  • Great idea Beerdude! Stinky urine-soaked surfaces!

    • No different than most daycares…

      But seriously, that was a sarcastic post to an earlier comment thread from today. I don’t let my dogs off leash if there are kids at the park, and they go right back on leash if some crazy kids come rambling over.

  • It requires driving, but there is a Living Classrooms location at Glen Echo park that is terrific for three year olds. As much as the kids love the animals, they get as much of a kick out of the slide and indoor tree house.

    I think admission is $5.

  • Here are some things I sent to a friend recently:

    * There are some nice beachy spots along Rock Creek that we go to including close to the police station. You can walk along the trail and there is a horse area close by too. When we want to get the kids out of the house, sometimes we go there and throw rocks in the water.

    * Turtle Park – My daughter loves it! It has a water park and a fun sandy playground with a little house. You can check it out here:

    * MD or DC Great Falls park. The MD side sometimes has exhibits and ferry rides.

    * the national colonial farm just south of DC in MD. It’s about a half hour drive but really neat with live animals:

    * Building Museum for really hot days.

    * Zoo – many people don’t know but you can see a schedule of things like feeding times, talks, ect. Use this link for the current day and move forward from there depending on which day they are going.

    The more interesting activities zoo are in the second half of the page. You can tell by the time periods. Many of them are just listing when volunteer interpreters will be in an area and most of them are from 10 am – 4 pm. If you page down you can see where they have specific activities such as feeding various animals, hearing talks from a Keeper, letting the orangutans out on the O-line overhead and other demonstrations depending on the day. These only last 15-30 minutes and the locations are spread out so it’s good to plan ahead if there is something of particular interest.

  • OP Here, Thanks for all the great suggestions! The visit has been put off to some time this fall, but we’ve got a whole lot to do based on the above! Thanks again.

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