How Kid-Friendly is the Smithsonian’s African American Museum?

If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, bring the children because kid-friendly experiences make this museum a must-see on a capital vacation.

Visitors learn the complex story of perseverance and achievement of African Americans in the architecturally symbolic building: from the intricate three-tiered, bronze-colored, cast-aluminum panels on the outside, to the exhibit spaces - 70 percent of which are below ground. 

We guarantee, kids won’t be bored, especially with these museum features: 

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Time Machine. The museum’s large elevator at the entrance to the History Galleries lets you travel back in time to the 1400s. Each ascending floor brings you closer to present day with artifacts and exhibits. You can record your own thoughts on the history or your personal story in a private booth on your way up.

Lunch Counter Experience. Sit in stools from the lunch counter at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., the site of many sit-in protests against racial segregation. 

Segregation Credit Eric Long
Lunch Counter Experience, photo by Eric Long

Interactive digital displays on the counter let you answer: If you were present during various chapters in the history of the Civil Rights movement, what you would do? 

Woolworth stools, photo courtesy of Smithsonian
Contemplative Court Credit Alan Karchmer

Waterfalls. Exploring injustices and the uglier parts of the past in the History Galleries takes you on an important emotional journey, and waterfalls in the Contemplative Court will put peace back into your soul. The indoor water feature provides a welcome space for thoughtful reflection. 

Sweet Home Cafe Credit Eric Long

Sweet Home Café. Find favorites for the whole family in the cafeteria-style restaurant that showcases the rich culture and history of the African American people. No traditional cafeteria food here: America’s delicious regional splendor is on display. Plan on about $20 per person and prepare for a line. 

Musical Crossroads 08 Credit Eric Long

Musical Crossroads Gallery. Find out how the older set used to flip through album covers at the Neighborhood Record Store while you interact with other visitors selecting tunes to hear from a digital touch table. You can even sit in the producer’s seat to create a track. See Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership, Chuck Berry’s 1973 Cadillac Eldorado and his guitar “Maybellene” while you learn more about one of America’s greatest exports.  

Credit Alan Karchmer 242

Mall Panorama. Windows on the museum’s upper floors offer amazing, inspiring vistas. Looking north you can see the White House. To the east beyond the National Mall and other Smithsonian museums is the U.S. Capitol. Looking south, just beyond monuments and memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington, you can see the tall buildings of the Arlington skyline! 

Kids can’t vote yet but they can make their voices heard by leaving a note about the change they want. An exhibit, “A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond,” encourages visitors to think about ways they can help make America a more just and equitable place, then deposit a written note about it.

Kids will enjoy shopping for T-shirts, caps, jewelry, bags and books. There are African American dolls, fun toys, collectibles, puzzles and more.

waterfalls
Photo courtesy of @tokahsemia

The National African American History and Culture Museum is the hottest museum ticket in town, and visitors spend two to six hours there. Timed entry passes are necessary to enter the museum (unless you have a military ID), and the timed passes are made available five long months in advance. Plan ahead! 

Exhibit photos courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, by Alan Karchmer & Eric Long.

Author: Kathleen Murphy