We’ve been fans of the National Building Museum since our oldest was a toddler, but it wasn’t until this exceptionally cold and never-ending winter that we really appreciated what a fantastic place it is for kids and parents alike.
Housed in a beautiful building built in the 1880s as headquarters for the U.S. Pensions Bureau, the National Building Museum has a bit of something for everyone: lectures and exhibits for design buffs, a fantastic gift shop, and lots of programs for children and families.
If you’ve got a kid with energy to burn, the Building Museum is the place to be. The Building Zone is a hands-on play space for children ages 2-6. Filled with building toys, tools, dress up clothes (with a rare and much appreciated selection of gender neutral costumes!), and books, the Building Zone is a clean, bright play space that inspires imaginative play. Both of my kids – ages 2 and almost 5 – spend much of their time in the Project Playhouse, a child-sized custom built “green” house.
Admission to the Building Zone buys 45 minutes of playtime in this kid-oriented gallery. Tickets are available every hour, starting at 15 minutes after the hour, and the last entry of the day is 3:15 pm. In addition to being fun and educational, the Building Zone is also clean – something that can’t always be said about indoor play spaces!
For a long time, our visits to the Building Museum began and ended with a trip to the Building Zone – and maybe a pit stop at the museum’s café for a treat from Firehook Bakery. When we finally ventured upstairs, I couldn’t believe we’d missed out on the amazing PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit for so long.
PLAY WORK BUILD combines three hands-on block play areas, beautiful selections from the museum’s Architectural Toy Collection, and a brilliant digital interactive feature that lets visitors play with virtual blocks – then knock them down.
Tinker Toys and Lincoln logs are laid out for play on a long table as you enter the exhibition. A huge light table is ringed with bins of small blue foam blocks, and visitors are invited to build and play. From there, visitors walk into a space filled with super-sized versions of those same blue blocks. My daughter calls this portion of the exhibition the Goldie Blox room, and both of my kids named this as their favorite part of the exhibition.
The digital interactive feature lets visitors dance and move as virtual blocks appear on the wall before them. As you move, the blocks do, and it’s fun to send them cascading to the ground. Both of my kids aren’t quite patient enough to wait for the blocks to appear and so they amuse themselves watching their outlines run and dance on the wall instead.
We spent so much time at the National Building Museum over the winter that my parents bought us a family membership for my son’s second birthday. We loved escaping the snow for a few hours of fun and educational indoor playtime, and it will be just as nice to escape the sticky, humid days of late summer in our favorite place to play and build.
The National Building Museum is open from 10 am – 5 pm Monday-Saturday and 11 am – 5 pm on Sundays. The Building Zone is open from 10 am – 4 pm Monday –Saturday and 11 am – 4 pm on Sundays. Admission to the Building Zone is included in the admission ticket for all Building Museum exhibitions ($5 per child ages 3-17, $8 per adult), or you can purchase a ticket to visit just the Building Zone for $3 per person ages 3 and up.
A big thanks to grandma and grandpa for the family membership to the museum! Allison writes about life at home in the Maryland suburbs at Home and Never Alone.