Last month my 10-year-old daughter and I did something that I believe she’ll remember for the rest of her life: we slept at the National Archives — right in the Rotunda, directly underneath the cases where the Declaration of Independence and the other Charters of Freedom are displayed. Washington D.C. offers dozens of cool sleepovers, but after three, this is our favorite. Here are seven reasons we had such a great time.
1. From the moment you arrive, you know you’re in for a special night. There are dozens of staffers on hand to take your photo (with your stuff) and usher you into the Archives. We loved that it was like walking a Red Carpet, and that all the staffers were so excited to talk to us, help us navigate the building, and make us feel at home for the night.
2. The theme of the sleepover is History, Heroes & Treasures, and our three featured explorers were Meriwether Lewis, Louise Arner Boyd, and Sally Ride. It was amazing to meet the explorers and ask them questions about everything from how they got interested in their fields, what their challenges were, and what they ate on their explorations.
3. There are countless activities for your kids to do — making crafts, interviewing the explorers, dressing up, going on a scavenger hunt, and learning about various aspects of the featured explorers’ lives and careers.
4. There was a press conference with the three explorers, and almost every kid who wanted to was able to ask a question. Many of the questions were directed at Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.
5. You sleep in the National Archives’ Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom! It’s a spectacular sight and an amazing feeling to lay your head down in the same room that houses the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.
6. You get a full breakfast prepared by National Archives staff. Our chocolate chip pancakes were made by David Ferriero, 10th Archivist of the United States!
7. Every participant (parent and child) receives a special goodie bag or string backpack filled with an impressive array of Archives merchandise and books. But more than that, you and your child will have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of sleeping in the home of the country’s most valuable documents.
A few tips for parents and kids:
1. Wear something comfortable. Although there were definitely a few fashionable mamas walking around, the vast majority of parents (and kids) wear jeans or loungewear. As you can see from the photos, my daughter and I opted for a Patagonia fleece and comfy bottoms.
2. Prioritize what you want to do during free activity time. Unlike other sleepovers, where there’s a small number of activities everyone does (usually rotating in groups), the Archives offers a LOT on every floor, and it’s nearly impossible to do everything. If you really want a slow, guided tour of the Rotunda, do that but know your child may miss out on time to the dress up or crafts offered on another floor. If you really want all the take-home crafts, you might not have time to do the scavenger hunt or talk to the explorers.
3. Sensitive sleeper? Bring eye mask and earplugs. My daughter and I were able to sleep in the Rotunda without any trouble. I wish I could say everyone followed the rules and kept their portable devices off, but there were definitely a few kids (and adults) who sneaked looks at their phones/devices, causing shadows and spotlights. Also, some parents (and kids) snored, but having slept next to a snorer for 14 years, that didn’t bother me too much! Besides, who cares about the minor inconvenience when you get to sleep among the country’s most treasured documents and wake up looking at the legendary Faulkner Murals!
4. Get in the line with the Archivist for breakfast. He makes awesome chocolate chip pancakes, and how often will you be able to say the 10th Archivist of the United States made you breakfast?
Interested in the National Archives Sleepover? Register today!
Upcoming dates: July 25, 2015
Time: 6:30pm Saturday until 8:30am Sunday
Location: National Archives Museum, Washington, DC
Price: $125 per attendee; $100 for Foundation members
Ages: children 8-12 years old; chaperones must be 21+
Disclosure: The National Archives Foundation offered my daughter and me a complimentary stay for the January sleepover. All opinions are my own.