Museum Minute Vol. 7 – National Children’s Museum

Nat'l Children's Museum

Museum Minute is written by Elle O’Flaherty. Elle lives in Mt. Pleasant and previously wrote about the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

I was pretty excited to take my kid to the National Children’s Museum at National Harbor, but after going once I won’t be in a hurry to return.  For starters, entrance for two adults and one kid over 12 months will run you $30.  That’s a lot of dough in the city of mostly free museums.  Once we got in and poked around we realized the museum is really small without all that much to it.  It kind of reminded me of a large, fancy daycare.  They’re trying to give the “exhibits” an educational spin, but really they’re run of the mill children’s activities.  For instance, one exhibit is about what people wear around the world, but it’s just pictures of kimonos, saris, and the like with cheap cotton kimonos, etc. the kids can try on.  The next area over features what people eat which is, again, just pictures and a few puzzles of international food along with a kitchen play area.  It felt chintzy and way overpriced, like paying to hang out at that one friend’s house whose parents bought too many toys.

elmo tunnel

I should say that the kids all seemed to be having a good time and my daughter, who was probably a bit young for it at just under ten months, enjoyed the outing.  However, if you’re looking for an incredible children’s museum and don’t mind a drive, I highly recommend the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond instead.  Now that is an awesome museum which, for about the same price, is huge and has real educational exhibits as well as a nice IMAX theater.  In contrast, the National Children’s Museum (much like everything at National Harbor, as far as I can tell) was just designed to part you from your money.

36 Comment

  • Cute kid, bad museum.

    • 10 months is not the right age to test a museum, for sure. At that age, they’re fascinated with the ticket stub. Very cute kid, however.

  • saf

    No cheaper, but I have been told that it is really good.

    • it is really good. Port Discovery is a fun, whimsical place that I think people of all ages can get a kick out of. I actually went to a bar mitzvah there, which was pretty interesting.

    • Port Discovery is one of my son’s favorite places. It’s fantastic, particularly in crappy weather when outside play isn’t possible.

  • National Harbor is a joke to anyone who lives in DC. Totally a tourist trap. I have had friend stay there for conferences and have said over and over that their company would never return. Its just to inaccessible to DC and in the middle of no where for site seeing DC.

    • As a DC resident (with a car, I should note) I appreciate the National Harbor. I like being able to drive 10 minutes and be in a place that’s absolutely nothing like DC. I only go there about once every two years, so I guess I don’t need this faux-vacation fix very often, but it’s nice to have a place like that when the urge strikes.

  • This post made me wonder: is there any governing body that decides how the qualifier “National” is used? In a city with a lot of (free) museums that are the “National Museum of ___________,” it seems a little disingenuous that a sub-par, private business like this could tack on National to their name and get a ton more tourist traffic. If that’s the case, could I hang up some velvet blacklight paintings in my basement, charge $15 admission, and call it the National Gallery of American Art or something?

    • The National Children’s Museum USED to be locate on H Street NW. Therefore garnering the name, since it WAS located in the Nation’s Capital. The H Street Bridge was part of the project. Now Giant/Condo’s populate the original location…

      • my aunt took me to that museum when I was little and visiting her…it was awesome! there was a section about food around the world and I remember fresh tortillas and Mexican hot chocolate. I also remember getting my leg stuck in a pulley in the “simple machines” section and my dad having to extricate me before I was hauled upside down.

        it’s sad that they weren’t able to take some of those exhibits to the new site. or, i guess, maybe the exhibits weren’t as great as I remember…so much stuff I thought was amazing when I was little is less so now (e.g. giant locker-shaped backpacks, Hi-C Ecto Cooler juice).

        • @sbc–yes yes yes! the mexican hot chocolate and tortillas! and the agora..and..and the rest is gray and foggy–some kind of firehouse? really cool old phones?….sigh nostalgia.

          • …and wax necklaces, and the real live goat, and the light machine that left your shadow on the wall as it flashed, the grocery store, and the smell of that place are all still vivid to me.

          • remember the maze of paneled fabric??? too much fun

        • YES!!! I can still smell it! It was the best.. that museum has some of my favourite memories as a child growing up in DC… and if you’re looking for that hot chocolate, go to the American Indian museum, they serve it in the cafe…

      • I guess that makes a little more sense, but is there any regulation on just any business in the DC area (or anywhere else, for that matter) tacking “National” onto their name to gain a little more cachet? Maybe I’m no better than a gullible tourist, but I assume that a “National” museum has some connections to the government or Smithsonian, and I’d expect it to be free.

        • Does the National Shrine have any official standing? According to wikipedia (so it must be true) that status is conferred by a religious group, not congress. National Cathedral at least has a nod from congress as a “national house of prayer” (though not a “national cathedral”).
          But I don’t see why a business couldn’t just use the term. National Plumbing, National Lawncare, National Museum of This and That. And not just in DC, I’ve run into “National Museum of [insert topic here]” all over the country.

    • How does this make sense? Why should things named “National” only be located in the Capital? Isn’t Maryland part of the nation? Isn’t Oregon, for that matter? There’s nothing in the word that implies or requires location in DC or even any connection to the government. Otherwise, National Car Rental better look out.
      (And what about “American”? Should the American Ballet Theater change its name because it’s ‘only’ in New York? Does American Airlines have a problem because it doesn’t serve all fifty states?)

    • how do you feel about kentucky friend chicken?

  • I took my kids to Marble’s Museum in Raleigh, NC over the holiday and it completely blew me away. Perhaps they should send an emissary down to learn how a real children’s museum should function.

  • That does sound like a bummer. I was thinking about heading there but sounds like I’ll save that museum for a time when I am going for another reason. I’m a big fan of the building museum and pizza playground at the National Zoo. Has anyone ever been to the one in Capital Hill?

    PoP – Thank you for the kid-friendly post.

  • I could not agree more. We took our then 6 year old and her friend and mom there last winter. They were bored in under 30 minutes, and we kept looking for the rest of the place, thinking “there must be an upstairs, this is the lobby, right?” Not worth it at all. The old one in DC was much, much better. They shouldn’t have let it go over there.

  • Go to the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore!

    My Girl Scout troop participated in a sleepover/lock-in when I was young, and I loved it. I remember being right next to the electric eel tank that measured the amount of electricity it produced, accompanied with a big ZAP sound effect each time. Cool stuff.

    • Yes – Md. science Center is great. I’ve taken kids from 6-15 and they all can easily spend 3+ hours very interested. Lots of hands on stuff.

  • It looks like this place was built by marketers to sell more sh#t to kids. Let me guess – Ronald McDonald was there giving out Happy Meals?

  • I was wondering if this was the same museum that used to be in DC. If so, it’s apparently changed a lot. I remember it as being very low-key and child-centered. There was a room with a maze — that smaller children loved — while the taller adults could easily look down and see their kids. There was a room with bubbles — including a giant hula hoop on a pulley that you could use to surround yourself within a bubble. There was the much petted Rosie the goat, and Mexican chocolate! Kids loved it, and it was the kind of place that younger kids who enjoyed hands-on activities would easily enjoy going to a couple of times a month. If this is the same organization, It sounds like it’s changed for the worse. The location and the prices make it less than ideal for the kids and families that might most benefit from a child-focused hands-on type of museum. Bummer.

  • Terrible museum!!! My 5 year old was bored after 30 minutes. It’s the size of two large rooms. The Playseum at Eastern Market is far more interesting and closer. The old children’s museum was amazing – wish I’d had a child back then.

  • The National Harbor is overpriced garbage. It’s no where near DC, not accessible, the parking is a million dollars, the restaurants are a million and one dollars, this museum is OFFENSIVE at best. Hard working mothers don’t need to be insulted like this. But for Prince George’s County, I guess any new infrastructure and tourism is an improvement.

  • I also remember going to the original one on H Street NE as a kid. Does anyone remember being able to crawl ‘beneath the street’ through the manholes, or the Lunar Lander (I think) video game they had? I do remember the tortilla’s you could make. Damn, I hadn’t thought of that in probably 25 years : )

    Anyway, I did go to the new one at National Harbor with our kid. He loved it, which is the true test, but I thought it seemed kind of sterile. Everyone should give it another year or two to fill out. You can’t create character. Places need to exist for a bit to gain it.

  • BRING BACK THE OLD ONE!!!! the 70s were the BEST

  • “It felt chintzy and way overpriced…” Yep, sounds about like something in National Harbor.

  • I’m sorry, but not surprised, to hear of this.

    The old CCM (which was, by the way, entirely on what is now the Senate Square complex, in the old buildings that were once a convent; the new Giant is across the street on what was then a gas station) was a wonderfully eclectic place which kept my children entertained on many afternoons from preschool through middle school. We celebrated several birthdays there, and left the kids at home with a sitter for at least one fancy fund-raiser that gave us free run of the building — the bones of the 19th-century convent and nursing home were quite visible.

    While it lasted long enough for my girls to outgrow it naturally, the institution was clearly approaching the end of its useful life and would survive, if it did at all, only in a very different form. But it’s really too bad that it became, in effect, a zombie at the parasitic National Harbor. A clean end would have been much nicer. At least its repeatedly repurposed old buildings still grace the west end of H Street, even if they’re slightly obscured by the Hopscotch Bridge (its tiled dancers another legacy of the CCM).

  • Go to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum if you want the biggest and best in the country. Seriously, it can’t be beat. Now you just need a reason to have the family in Indianapolis.

Comments are closed.