New Series: City Kids – The Building Museum

City Kids is a new series written by Caroline. Caroline lives in Takoma, DC.

The National Building Museum is often overlooked. In a city packed to the gills with free museums, why pay for one? Especially when I’ve wandered through in the past; it’s a pretty building, but doesn’t seem to have a lot going on at first glance.

That first glance is deceiving. Any parent or caregiver who has been cooped up with a little one can tell you the value of having a safe, interesting, and large space to let that little one blow off some steam. The Building Museum is a convenient go-to.

The main atrium of the Building Museum is ornate and cavernous. It’s a warm winter respite with enough space for kids and office lunchers to each do their thing without bothering the other. When we went on a Thursday, there were foam blocks to play with in addition to open running space and a cool fountain.

Continues after the jump.

Just off the atrium is the Building Zone. This is aimed at kids ages 2-6, but would be interesting and safe for any little one who is big enough to be aware of their surroundings. The Building Zone featured a sandbox with digging toys, a fully furnished playhouse, a reading nook with books and puppets, and an area with jumbo-sized Lego and foam blocks.

On a weekday afternoon, this area was busy but not overly crowded. Museum staff limits the number of people who can use the Building Zone at any time. Eager parents wielding digital cameras were more of an issue than the kids themselves.

The Building Zone admits people at one-hour intervals. An admission fee is required for visitors over age two.

PLAY WORK BUILD is an exhibit running through mid-November of 2014. There were four areas with different attractions, all of which would be interesting to visitors of a variety of ages.

Adults and bigger kids will enjoy (and may feel nostalgic) with the table of Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. Smaller visitors will enjoy eating them. A second area had a large lit table with small foam blocks and tubes. A third padded area featured massive foam blocks. During our visit, a group of school-age kids built a house. In other places, large tubes and pool noodles jutted from the walls. Lastly, there was an interactive computer graphic projected across a 30’ x 15’ expanse of wall.

Visitors of all ages were engrossed in the various areas of the exhibit. It was nearly empty on a weekday afternoon. The only down side, personally, was that I had to mind a toddler, and I couldn’t build my own fort out of foam blocks.

Admission required for this exhibit for visitors over age two.

The Building Museum is a great resource for a day with the kids, or if family or friends with kids are visiting. The toddler review panel (sample size: 2) gave it two grubby thumbs up, and then promptly fell asleep. That earns thumbs up from parents too.

The National Building Museum

401 F Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
202.272.2448

Metro Red Line (Judiciary Square).

Stroller-accessible entrance at G Street.

Who: Activities for babies through teens, and also engaging for adults.

When: Monday–Saturday, 10 am–5 pm; Sunday: 11 am–5 pm. The Building Zone closes at 4 pm. PLAY WORK BUILD runs through November 18, 2014.

Cost: $8 for adults, $5 for youth, students, and seniors, $3 for Building Zone only. Free under age two and for museum members. Free access to atrium, café, and shops.

11 Comment

  • The Building Museum has the best gift shop in town.

  • saf

    Buy a membership! This supports the building and gives you nice discounts.

    And it is SO not only for kids, so the rest of you, buy a membership too.

    • and the membership includes unlimited access to the Building Zone and Play, Work, Build.

      They also do great special events for kids like building, arts, engineering and Cherry Blossom festival activities.

  • Overlooked by whom?? The place is mobbed on weekends and holidays. Get there early or be prepared to wait 2+ hours for your playroom time slot. Or to not get in at all.

    Oh, and the thing, Play Work Build? that replaced the Lego exhibit sucks. Randomly shaped blue foam pieces that don’t fit together or adhere or otherwise lend themselves to any kind of building. It might be ok as a soft baby play place, but a building exercise it is not. My kid gave it a good try, but I didn’t blame her for bailing after 15 minutes. And she used to spend well over an hour on the Legos. I can’t believe it’s going to be around for two years.

    I do agree with monkeyrotica… gift shop is fantastic. And the exhibits are often quite good for not-kids.

  • Agree with other comments – the building museum may be overlooked by tourists, but not by locals. Almost everyone I know has been to some kind of special event there over the years, and the gift shop is great for holiday shopping. The history of the building itself is very interesting!

  • Hurray for a kids series!
    Sad that they close so early during the week. I tried dropping in, one night after picking up my kid from daycare a couple blocks away just after 5, they were already closed.
    Thanks for the reminder though, I only went in a couple of times with my kid, and never paid for the activities, usually because 2 adults and one under two toddler would pay $16. I’ll have to go back along with the kid for it to be priced right.
    Could anyone who’s been to both compare the legos thing at the NBM to the lego exhibit ongoing at the Kennedy as far as fun for toddlers? It’d help plan out my Sunday.

    • The current exhibit at the Kennedy Center is on my list of things to check out. Unfortunately I never visited the Lego exhibit at the NBM.
      If you have other things that you would like to see reviewed, please let me know!

  • We went with our 18 month old. He was a little young to appreciate the Play Work Build Area. He was happy about the open play area.

    Their system making you get a ticket ahead of time is an awful idea though – you can’t get one online which would mean I would have to haul my toddler there twice, once to get a ticket, and once to use it. NOT happening.

    Our son’s favorite thing about the whole place was walking up and down the stairs and pressing the buttons in the elevator.

  • I saw Dionne Warwick sing here for a gala once. This is easily in the top 5 most impressive buildings in DC, IMHO.

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