Places to Go - The National Building Museum's Big Build (Washington D.C.)


On Saturday we decided to spend a few hours at the National Building Museums' annual Big Build festival, which I cannot say enough good things about.

We arrived to a lawn full of bulldozers and other construction vehicles for kids to climb in; volunteers stood by to both explain how all the knobs and levers worked and to assure that nobody's turn lasted too long. Nice. While T and I waited to "drive", Dan visited a tent with P and F where they made bricks. All before we entered the building.

Once inside each of my kids quickly nabbed a free construction helmet (not surprisingly, P and F chose pink, whereas T went with the old yellow standard). A booth next to the helmets had stickers and markers so they could add some bling. Throughout the museum other wonders awaited - F cut a log with a real saw and tried to chisel through rock. P hugged Curious George. All three kids spackled a wall. An imagination playground and various other building sets encouraged creative building, but for those craving a more standard education workmen and workwomen of all sorts stood by with gadgets and advice (how to wire an air conditioner, how to model a building, how to plan a garden, etc). The event is aimed at children 4-11 and (in my eyes) it did a great job meeting this demographic, with tons of "toys" for kids of all ages.

But most impressive of all was how many different activities were offered for different kids' needs and interests. F originally didn't want to attend the festival, stating that building was "a boy thing" (yup, my heart sank, actually sank), but after 10 minutes she came up to me and said "! was wrong, mom, this place is pretty cool." And while the pink construction hats were obviously purchased with girls in mind, nothing was ever specifically divided by gender - crafty stations (decorate a wood necklace or key chain) intermingled with tools and wood stumps - so boys crafted (sometimes) and girls drove bulldozers (sometimes), while this seems obvious enough, with marketing being how it is these days it felt refreshing to just see kids be kids and BUILD STUFF TOGETHER, with no obvious gender bias.

All in all, a great event. The Big Build only occurs once a year, so next fall I highly suggest a visit. As best summarized by T, "mom that was awesome! We got to keep these hats and make a lot of stuff and keep a lot of stuff and drive the things that builders drive. Really really awesome!"

(Even though the Big Build is a yearly event, the Building Museum's Building Zone playspace is always a great place to take younger children - click here for my past review - though keep in mind, the exhibit is no longer free, admission now costs $3 per ticket for everyone 3 and older - and is well-worth it. Click here for more info).


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