Washington DC's new children's museum is aiming to light a spark for the future

The first thing you see when you enter the new National Children’s Museum in downtown DC, which opened on 24 February, 2020, is a three-story, cloud-inspired “dream machine” with climbers and slides that whisks you down to the exhibit space.

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The National Children's Museum is newly-open © Jason Dixson Photography

“We wanted to create a magical moment of entry,” said Elise Lemle, vice president of Exhibits and Education. But this next-generation, open-concept, hands-on museum also is serious about education, offering 20,000 square feet of innovative displays that balance low-tech and high-tech experiences with a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). “All exhibits started with education principles,” Lemle said. “But each one is grounded in fun.”

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Making an entrance © Jason Dixson Photography

“Data Science Alley,” for example, introduces data literacy to young minds who will grow up into a future informed by data. Entering, you answer a question (perhaps, “would you prefer to go to outer space or the deep ocean?”), walk through the appropriate color-coded door, and see how your action registers with those of other visitors.

There’s a Slime Pavilion, where kids can be slimed without a mess (and learn about probability); a batting cage (to learn the mechanics of a home run hit—it’s sponsored by the World-Series-winning Nationals); a green screen in which body movements create weather (and teach about climate); and much more.

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Seeing themselves on the big screen © Jason Dixson Photography

Truth be told, it’s not like the NCM is a totally brand-new entity. It builds on the Capital Children’s Museum established in 1974, which, after closing in 2004, became a museum without walls, and then a small museum at National Harbor between 2012 and 2015, when the downtown reopening was announced. Now that the NCM has (re)opened with a bang, when will we know if it’s a success? Lemle had a ready answer: “fifteen years from now, when a kid comes back and says he or she was inspired to be an engineer from exhibits they saw here. Our job is to create a spark when kids are young.”

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Scientists of the future? © Jason Dixson Photography

Clearly, the National Children’s Museum already is creating sparks.

More information is available at the National Children’s Museum website.

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