Places to Go - Out and About Summer 2013, Part I - The National Mall

We've spent some time this summer on the National Mall (free museums are a huge perk of living in the DC area) sometimes with the camera, sometimes without the camera. All three kids are FINALLY old enough to understand the no touch rules of museums (even though they still forget from time to time). Here is a list of some of the new exhibits and places we've explored:

What are your favorite places on the mall?


1. The Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art - This was our first time at the Freer, which had several crazy old breakable objects on pedestals (so be careful). Lots of the art looked a little scary, but detailed and beautiful as well, especially the gigantic statues carved from wood that line the museum's corridors. T liked finding all the old swords and knives with intricately carved handles. And we all were a little enchanted with the peacock room, as we debated what it would be like to eat dinner in such fine surroundings. A beautiful courtyard sits in the middle of the museum, but, unfortunately most of it is blocked off.


2. The Hirshhorn's Over, Under Next - Exhibits in Mixed Media - This temporary exhibit runs through September 8 and has a few quirky pieces kids will love. All the kids and their friends couldn't stop giggling as they put on white booties over their shoes to walk on a floor made of beeswax in a room full of fluttering post it notes, cabbage, and snails. We also enjoyed Nick Cave's bunny tree with legs and a greek goddess-type statue surrounded by laundry. It's especially fun to to try and guess the materials that compose each artwork (lots of unconventional stuff).


3. The Hirshhorn's Peter Coffin Here & There
- The Hirshhorn has some wonderful kid-friendly stuff on view this summer (of course, this is my favorite museum on the mall, so I tend to oversell it). This exhibit in particular is worth the trek downtown. The huge, lifelike black dog amused all the children, as did the courtyard's circular staircase leading nowhere. But my favorite exhibit (perhaps ever) was where Coffin used a variety of paintings from the museum's permanent collection and created a projected video animation/light show around them in the museum's basement. Suddenly flowers grew out of nowhere and spinning lights began to encircle an austere lady's profile. Haunted house meets art museum. Wonderful. Though T and P found the whole thing scary (sound effects accompany the dark lighting) and booked it to the gift shop. The exhibit runs through October 6.


4. The Smithsonian Natural History Museum's Human Origin Exhibit - By the time we reached the Natural History museum all the kids were fading, so we made a quick circuit through the human origins exhibit. Everyone had a blast learning what they'd look like as an early human.

5. The Smithsonian American History Museum - I didn't bring my camera for our visit, but we had a great time. Immediately upon walking into the museum (through the Constitution avenue entrance) the kids spotted Harry Potter's cape from the movie. Magic. Although HALF OF THE MUSEUM is closed for renovations until 2015 (including all of the kids' discovery rooms), we still enjoyed: learning about the history of American food (a huge table with spinning platters kept the youngest children entertained), "riding" the Chicago L train, guessing all movie clips in the transportation exhibit, learning about Golden Books, seeing the first Apple computer and Abraham Lincoln's top hat, gasping at the star spangled banner's hugeness, and dreaming of fancy events while viewing the first ladies' ball gown collection.

Upon our arrival at the museum, a costumed actor took us back to the late 1860s to teach us about the museum's origins and electromagnetism. Further, another costumed actor brought back the civil rights movement as she staged a lunch counter protest. Hopefully the museum continues to have several character actors wondering its hallways, as it really does bring the whole experience alive for children (and adults).

I asked the kids about their favorite exhibits, here's the list:

F (age 7.5)
* "The walls of notes" (Over, Under, Next's beeswax room in the Hirshhorn)
* Dorthy's ruby red slippers (Smithsonian American History museum)
* The first ladies' dresses (Smithsonian American History museum)
* Harry Potter's cape (Smithsonian American History museum)

P (age 6.5)
* The first ladies' dresses (Smithsonian American History museum)
* Gabby Douglas's leotard (Smithsonian American History museum)
* Becoming a caveman (Smithsonian Natural History museum)

T (age 4)
* The giant dog (the Hirshhorn's Peter Coffin exhibit)
* The Yellow ladders and stuff hanging from the ceiling (Hirshhorn's Over, Under, Next exhibit)

Me (age 37)
* The light installation in the Hirshhorn's basement (Peter Coffin exhibit)
* Huge statues carved from wood (the Freer Gallery of Art)
* The peacock room (the Freer Gallery of Art)
* The first Apple computer (Smithsonian American History museum)
* The history of Golden Books (Smithsonian American History museum)

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