ncm frontBack when I moved to DC in the fall of 1991, there was a Children’s Museum on the north side of Capitol Hill. Lo and behold, 14 years later when I started having children and wanted to go to a great playspace, there was no Children’s Museum to be found in the DC area. Just my luck, right?

Now the National Children’s Museum is back in a beautiful space at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. My five year old Ramona and I had the chance to check it out a few weeks ago and she was thrilled. Between the construction area, the fire station, the pint sized performance, the physics experiment involving racing cars, and the very accommodating “big kid” (Hi Charlie!) who played so nicely with her, it was a day worth remembering.

I really like that the museum had only one entrance/exit so it was nearly impossible to lose sight of your child. The layout is all one level which makes it easier for older children to play semi-independently without a parent having to stay right on top of them. The bathroom had a little kid sized toilet, a lower sink for easier hand-washing, and there was a water fountain right outside the bathroom door. The space also has a coat rack. When I had really little kids, these things were CRITICAL for a successful outing!

Food and drink is not permitted in the museum, but there are ample places in National Harbor for a casual (or fancy) sit down meal and a handful of quick casual eateries. Generally speaking, I would give my kids a snack before we head in and then hit the new and fancy McDonald’s on the way out if we need a meal.

The staff members we interacted with at the Museum were great in showing Ramona how to use some of the materials and then sitting back and waiting for her to invite them for play. In particular, a young woman named Brittany had a very positive and calm aura about her that Ramona was really attracted to. I would love to see their roles evolve into a “Playworker”, a person trained in how to stimulate play in children.

Hours at the National Children’s Museum are 10am – 5pm daily and they have timed tickets on anticipated busy days (weekends and holidays). Check out the details on the timed tickets so you can plan your visit accordingly.

If you haven’t yet experienced the new museum, this Friday night is a great first visit! Starting Friday, January 18th, the National Children’s Museum will host its inaugural “Free Family Night sponsored by GEICO” from 5 to 8 p.m. The Free Family Nights, will take place one evening each month to provide local children and their families access to the museum’s exhibits and programming without the regular cost of admission. Free family night tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the NCM box office beginning at 5 p.m. each free family night.

Play is a critical part of a child’s development, and Beezus (aged 7) and Ramona will likely spend many school holidays and some afternoons after school at the National Children’s Museum. Being in an environment with children they don’t already know gives them practice in navigating new social skills and practicing their still developing interpersonal skills.  Child’s play is much, much more than just play !

Hope to see you there.

In addition to searching for fancy new McDonalds everywhere, Ellen blogs semi-anonymously as Thrift Store Mama from Gorgeous Prince George’s County on mothering, organizing, religion, thrifting, and community activism.

Photo credits belong to the author.