Our regular trips to the museums started when Meg was 3 and Clare was not yet 2. I don't mind admitting I was terrified the first time we went. I feared that one of the girls might wander off in the crowd. I worried there might be a major meltdown. Meg was just emerging from her terrible twos and could be unpredictable during outings. But I had discovered something during our recent trip to Rhode Island to visit my husband's family. When we were on vacation as a family, we would meticulously plan daily outings to farms, children's museums and parks. During these times, everyone seemed happy. My normally high anxiety level was lower. My children seemed engaged and calm. I realized that I should be proactively planning such activities at home. We lived in a major family tourist center. I knew, with just a bit of research, I could plan rewarding activities and not just haphazardly (and ineffectively) come up with things to do during the day.
So on a cold January day the girls and I headed to the Air and Space Museum. It was not a crowded day and I could easily watch both girls as they explored an early passenger plane. Meg must have walked up the stairs, through the seats and out the exit thirty times. Honestly, that is the only exhibit I remember from that first trip, but that one exhibit was enough to engage my three year old, so it was a successful trip.
As the months passed and the girls grew a bit older, we expanded our museum visits--exploring different museums and staying for longer periods of time. Once the hot days of a Washington, DC summer hit, the museums became our refuge. The museums were a cool place where the kids could get energy out and be entertained. I discovered that many DC area moms established Museum Monday (or whatever day worked best for their family) and they would visit a different museum each Monday during the summer. We visited the American History Museum, the National Gallery of Art, but a firm favorite was of course the Natural History Museum. Meg and Clare established a Natural History museum routine. They would begin with the dinosaurs, make their way to the hands-on room, walk to the ocean exhibit where they would visit the Nemo fish (also know as the coral reef aquarium), and they would finish with the butterflies and bees on the top floor. During each visit, the girls would look for Professor Wiseman--the character from Curious George who works at a museum. By the time out-of-town friends visited at the end of the summer, Meg and Clare were able to act as tour guides.
Occasionally, we would take in a museum outside of the Mall. We visited the Aquarium in the Commerce Building, which was a convenient walk from my husband's office. We drove to Maryland to see the College Park Aviation Museum, where the girls loved dressing up as pilots and sitting in a cockpit. And there continued to be visits to children's museums in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.
The greatest gift the museums have given us is expanding Meg and Clare's worldview so far beyond what I could give them myself. I know nothing about dinosaurs, fish, or bugs. My art knowledge is limited. Planes and space travel are a mystery to me. But these worlds have been opened up for my children. Even our food experience has expanded thanks to the amazing Mitsitam Cafe at the American Indian Museum. Future posts will feature each of these museums and many more.