Washington, DC is filled with museums of all shapes and sizes that feature educational exhibits and activities for kids. Developing learning opportunities for different ages at a museum requires a lot of planning. Staff must identify an audience for each program, know how to best engage that audience (combining the latest scholarship about informal learning with an understanding of various learning theories and recognition that people learn in many different ways), define a learning objective (what do we want the audience to learn?) and figure out how to make it fun. Underlying it all is research on the many reasons that people visit museums.
This planning applies to online activities as well. We understand that not everyone can visit us in Washington and Virginia. For those who can’t, check out our latest interactive website, How Things Fly, where children can learn the principles of flight in a fun and engaging way.
Our staff works hard to make the Museum interesting and educational for all ages, including the youngest of visitors. So when the National Air and Space Museum recently won two reader polls, the staff was excited. It is a great honor, and even more so because it was the readers who made the decision.
The two polls I am referring to are by The Washington Post Express newspaper, where the National Air and Space Museum was voted the Number One Kid’s Museum in Washington, D.C., and The Maryland Family magazine whose readers voted us the Best Museum for Families.
Why do people like us so much? Perhaps it’s the abundance of engaging activities for all ages, from story times and puppet shows for our very young visitors; a planetarium show designed especially for kids; a series of fascinating family programs where visitors can meet astronauts, Tuskegee Airmen, or costumed interpreters such as Amelia Earhart; exhibitions like the Pioneers of Flight Gallery with dynamic elements for even the youngest ages; hands-on science demonstrations; and digital interactive activities for every age.
Here’s a list of a few more of the popular activities that bring families to the National Air and Space museum again and again.
- Make a paper airplane and compete in a flight challenge
- Watch indoor kite flying*
- Design a component of a space station
- Compete with friends in a quiz contest about human spaceflight
- Look through a giant telescope
- Walk through Skylab and part of a DC-7 airplane
- Test you skills as an airmail pilot
- Dance to salsa, mamba or big band music*
- Find out how they go to the bathroom in space
*special event, not offered on a regular basis
Have you and your family had a good time at the National Air and Space Museum? Tell us about it.
Tim Grove is Chief of Museum Learning at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.