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Washington DC for Kids

2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Copyright Ellie Van Houtte.
2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Copyright Ellie Van Houtte.
DC is a great place for kids. So get out and explore the city and its museums, zoos, parks, festivals, and more. There are lots of opportunities for hands-on learning, and most stuff is free. See also: Map of Places to Go with Kids in Washington DC

Don't forget to make the D.C. Public Library a regular stop on your activities schedule!

Bookstores and Libraries

826DC Writing Workshops
Dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping parents and teachers teachers inspire their students to write. 826DC provides tutoring, field trips, after-school and summer workshops, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications.
Related summer themes: Families and Communities, Poetry
DC Public Library
The DC Public Library is the place for books in our city. The library offers booklists by grade, video story books, audio books, music, videos, ebooks, story times, and special events. And a friendly children's librarian is there to help kids discover books that they will love. Check the calendar for a schedule of special events at your library. The main branch — the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library — is located on G Street near the Metro Center and Gallery Place Metro stations. Find the library in your neighborhood (location and hours).
Fairy Godmother
Located near Eastern Market, this specialty store features books for children — from infants through teens — in English, Spanish, and French. It also sells puppets, toys, craft sets, and CDs.
Idle Time Books
Located in the heart of Adams Morgan, this bookstore has three floors of quality second-hand books for sale, as well as greeting cards, newspapers, records, and CDs. Children are welcome and comfortable chairs are provided to while away some time while browsing.
Kramerbooks & Afterwords
A cultural landmark and institution in DC since 1976, located in Dupont Circle. After browsing, you can grab a treat at the cafe. Small selection of quality children's books.
Library of Congress
Take a free walking tour of this magnificent building and learn about its history, art and architecture, and a typical day at the library — the largest library in the world. Pick up the "Passport to Knowledge" and use the interactive kiosks to "collect" items that interest you.
Library of Congress Young Readers Center
Young people are encouraged to explore the center’s library of current and classic books, which can be read onsite. Adults can also read aloud to their children from a selection of preschool-appropriate books by the nation’s best authors and illustrators. (Open Monday–Friday)
Related summer themes: Folktales, Fairy Tales and Myths, Poetry
Politics and Prose Bookstore
This independent bookstore and coffeehouse, located north of the Van Ness Metro, hosts events, book groups, and talks by famous authors. Great children's book section!

Farms and Markets

Eastern Market
DC's oldest continually operated fresh food public market, located in the heart of Capitol Hill, is a perfect destination for fresh food, community events — and on weekends, local farm-fresh produce and handmade arts and crafts.
Farmers Markets

Visiting and shopping at farmers markets help kids understand where their food comes from and learn a bit about healthy eating. You might get the chance to have a conversation with a local farmer and pick up a few recipes for the week's meals.

Related summer themes: Our Green World, What's Cooking?
Old Maryland Farm
Visit bunnies, chickens, peacocks, ducks, llamas, cows, ponies, and sheep. Hayrides cost one dollar.

Historic Sites and Government Buildings

Adams Morgan Heritage Trail
Eighteen markers along the Adams Morgan Heritage Trail highlight the unique history of DC's Adams Morgan neighborhood and it's transition from a posh retreat area during the 19th century to an urban center for Washington's Hispanic community in more modern times. (Self-guided walking tour)
Related summer themes: Families and Communities
African American Heritage Trail
Learn about the people and places who help make DC the place it is today. From Benjamin Banneker’s essential role in the survey of the District, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial and beyond, African Americans help shape the city. (Self-guided walking tour)
C&O Canal Boat Rides $
Take a trip back in time to the 1870's! Ride along the historic C&O Canal in a boat pulled by mules. Experience rising 8 feet in a lock. Hear park rangers in period clothing describe what life was like for the families that lived and worked on the canal. (April–October)
City Within a City: Greater U Street Heritage Trail
Learn more about Washington's Greater U Street neighborhood, which inspired and sustained the rich social, civic, and cultural life of Washington's African American community. During the years of segregation, U Street was Washington's "Black Broadway" and the heart of African American business and culture. (Self-guided walking tour)
Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trail
Walk in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Whitman, and other great Americans whose lives were intertwined with the history of the nation and its capital city. (Self-guided walking tour)
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site $

The Victorian house, furnished much as it was when the famed abolitionist and orator lived there, is filled with photographs, documents, and gifts from friends like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln. Check the website for information about the Junior Ranger program and to make tour reservations.

Related summer themes: Heroes and Superheroes, Our Government
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House
Located in the Logan Circle Historic District, this historic house museum honors the achievements of African American women. It features original furniture from the National Council of Negro Women, photographs, and facsimiles of historic documents.
Related summer themes: Heroes and Superheroes, Our Government
Supreme Court of the United States
Take a self-guided tour of the building and learn about the symbolism of the architectural features, watch a film about the Court, and view special exhibitions.
Related summer themes: Builders and Buildings, Our Government
The White House
The White House — where the President lives and works — offers tours to the public, but visitors must make reservations through their members of Congress. See the website for details. Here are a few of the areas you'll see on the tour: the East Garden Room, Vermeil Room, Library, China Room, Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room, State Dining Room, and the main entrance hall.
Related summer themes: Builders and Buildings, Our Government
U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
Take a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol to learn about the symbolism and history of the art and architecture. Exhibition Hall features original documents and artifacts, videos, touchable models, computer interactives and two small theaters, providing visitors with an in-depth look at how Congress works, the history of the Capitol and Congress, as well as information on Representatives and Senators. (Open Monday–Saturday. Free, but passes are required)
Related summer themes: Builders and Buildings, Our Government
Washington National Cathedral
Take a self-guided tour of the Cathedral with help from the “Explore the Cathedral with Children” brochure. A scavenger hunt helps families find images in stained glass windows, wrought iron animals, tiny carvings and gargoyles.

Monuments and Memorials

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The memorial, located in a beautiful spot near the Tidal Basin surrounded by cherry trees, honors Dr. King’s national and international contributions and vision for all to enjoy a life of freedom, opportunity, and justice.
Related summer themes: Our Government, Heroes and Superheroes

Museums and Galleries

American Art Museum
Paintings, sculpture, photographs, folk art, and decorative arts from the colonial period to today. Check out the conservation center to old paintings being restored. Kids will enjoy the courtyard with its unique water feature.
Related summer themes: Art and Artists
Anacostia Community Museum
Learn more about urban life and how it is shaped by the community and the wider world. Kid-friendly programs include family history, Kwanzaa activties, storytelling, and the annual Mardi Gras arts festival.
Bureau of Printing and Engraving
Learn all about U.S. paper currency, and watch millions of dollars being printed as you walk along the gallery overlooking the production floor! (Open Monday–Friday)
Related summer themes: Money, Our Government
Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History $
Take a stroll among live butterflies and exotic plants! This tropical oasis gives kids a chance to get close to a variety of living butterflies from all over the world.
Einstein Planetarium $
Feel the sensation of zooming through the cosmos, enveloped in color saturated moving images and spine-tingling sound. Located at the National Air and Space Museum. Check the website for special free show times.
Related summer themes: Flight, Stars, Planets and the Night Sky
Freer/Sackler Gallery of Art
Explore paintings, prints, sculpture, jade, bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, and more from Asia, the Middle East, Egypt, India, the Himalayas, and other Asian countries. Kids might especially enjoy the Peacock Room, jade and bronze daggers from China, animal amulets from Egypt, and gold-leaved illuminated manuscripts.
IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Natural History $
Have an exciting, immersive 3D experience with the latest in IMAX film technology. Feature films have included Coral Reef Adventure, Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of Patagonia, and Tornado Alley 3D (check the website for schedule).
Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History
Kids can observe and hold live insects and their many-legged relatives. Volunteers demonstrate how to feed a tarantula (check the website for the schedule).
Related summer themes: Bugs, Birds and Animals
National Air and Space Museum
Explore hundreds of planes, spaceships, missiles, and rockets. Here's where you can see the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 11 command module, and the Hubble Space Telescope test vehicle. Don't miss the How Things Fly exhibit!
National Archives
The nation's founding documents are on display here: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Take time to explore the Public Vaults — chock-full of documents, photographs, maps, drawing, video, and audio from our country's history.
National Building Museum $
Learn about the history of the built environment through exhibits about architecture, engineering, and design. Explore the Building Zone, a hands-on introduction to the building arts designed especially for kids ages two to six. Check out the LEGO exhibit, through September 3, 2012.
National Gallery of Art
A world-class museum with collections and exhibits in two buildings and a sculpture garden. The West Building features more traditional art (daVinci, Degas, and Renoir, for example), while the East Building focuses on more modern and contemporary art — including Matisse, Calder, and Picasso. Don't miss the amazing moving "light sculpture" in the Concourse walkway between the East and West buildings.
National Geographic Museum
Discover wonderful exhibits and photography on archaeology, inventions, expeditions, explorers, cultures from around the world, wildlife, and more.
National Museum of African Art
Traditional and contemporary art from the entire continent of Africa. Check out the summer workshops and performing arts programs featuring local and African artists, writers, dancers, musicians, and spoken word poets.
National Museum of American History
The Museum has more than 3 million objects in its collection! Learn about the science, culture, technology, history, and government of our country. Some of the most-loved exhibits include the Star-Spangled Banner, steam locomotives, a 5-story dollhouse, the First Ladies' gowns, George Washington’s uniform, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
National Museum of Natural History
Inspire curiosity, discovery, and learning about the natural world. There's so much for kids to explore here: dinosaurs and fossils of course, but also mammals, the ocean, Egyptian mummies, an insect zoo, live butterflies and plants, gems and minerals, and the Earth, Moon, and meteorites.
National Museum of the American Indian
Explore events, films, and demonstrations designed for families, including the interactive, family-friendly imagiNATIONS Activity Center. Check out the unique Mitsitam Cafe where you can sample delicious Native foods.
National Portrait Gallery
Learn the stories of America through the individuals who have shaped our nation, including poets, presidents, visionaries, villains, sports heroes, actors, and activists. Kids will enjoy the complete collection of presidential portraits and the unique water feature in the courtyard. Also check out Open Studio Fridays, Portrait Story Kits, and Portrait Story Days (June 2012)
National Postal Museum
Discover the history of America’s mail service and the hobby of stamp collecting. You can see a vintage mail plane, an Alaskan dogsled mail carrier, rare stamps, and an exhibit on the Pony Express.
Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art
Explore the eclectic collection of sculpture, including the Pop Art house (Lichtenstein), the giant spider (Bougeois), and the Red Horse (Calder). Toss pennies into the fountain and make a wish. Free jazz concerts June through August.
Related summer themes: Art and Artists

Parks, Nature Centers, and Gardens

Butterfly Habitat Garden (Smithsonian Institution)
Learn more about the close relationship between plants and butterflies. Free tours throughout the summer. You might even get to see all the stages in the life of a butterfly — from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly! Located on the east side of the Museum of Natural History.
Discover the Forest: Find Forests and Parks Near You

Find forests, parks, and outdoor activities close to home with this searchable site and interactive map.

East Potomac Park
This airy peninsula just south of the Jefferson Memorial drives a grassy wedge between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. You’ll find one 18-hole and two 9-hole public golf courses, miniature golfing, and a seasonal public pool. You can watch planes takeoff and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, while children frolic on the sandy playground.
Related summer themes: Flight, Sports and the Olympics
Enid A. Haupt Garden (Smithsonian Institution)
This beautiful garden is actually a set of three rooftop gardens, each reflecting the culture of the museums that sit below — African art, Asian art, and the International gallery.
Related summer themes: Art and Artists, Our Green World
Gravelly Point
Enjoy a great view of the Washington skyline and a close-up look at planes landing and taking off from National Airport. The runway is just 400 feet away, so the park is loud! Best for kids who are fascinated by airplanes.
Related summer themes: Flight
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Varieties of exotic water lilies bloom from late May through early September. Morning is the best time to see them; the flowers close when the temperature rises above 89 degrees. Explore this beautiful wetland habitat where you can see birds, dragonflies, beavers, and muskrats.

National Arboretum
450 acres of plants, trees, and flowers. Wander through gazebos and over footbridges, explore the Grove of State Trees, feed the fish in the koi pond, or spread out a blanket for a picnic lunch.
Related summer themes: Homes and Habitats, Our Green World
Nature Find: Find Parks, Trails, and Other Nature Sites Near You

Explore the outdoors! Discover parks, trails, and other nature sites near you with this searchable site and interactive map.

Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium
A Discovery Room encourages hands-on activities including an observation hive where kids can watch bees at work. Daily guided nature walks. Check the website to find the schedule for the kid-friendly planetarium shows.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Gentle nature trails and a boardwalk allow families to view wildlife — turtles, hummingbirds, and great blue herons — in the forest and swamp. And, learn about the environmental legacy of Theodore Roosevelt at the Memorial Plaza located in the middle of the island.
U.S. Botanic Garden
Here's the perfect oasis for families looking for a quieter experience on the Mall. Wander through the outdoor butterfly garden, water garden, and rose garden. In the Conservatory you'll discover the cool and relaxing Garden Court with pools and fountains; jungle, desert, and tropical plants; a children's garden; and special exhibits on orchids and medicinal plants. Kids will find the current exhibit on carnivorous plants fascinating and enjoy the multi-sebnsory exhibit in the West Gallery!
Related summer themes: Homes and Habitats, Our Green World
Watkins Regional Park
Live animal displays include insects, amphibians, reptiles, and birds of prey. The nature center also features indoor and outdoor ponds, a songbird feeding area, a butterfly/hummingbird garden, composting area, an outdoor nest box exhibit, and a squirrel gym! Nature hikes, campfires, animal shows, puppet shows, crafts, summer day camps, and other programs.

Zoos and Aquariums

Kids' Farm at the National Zoo
The National Zoo's petting zoo: a bright red barn with cows, goats, donkeys, chickens and ducks. Visit the pizza garden and the giant pizza playground.
Related summer themes: Bugs, Birds and Animals, What's Cooking?
National Aquarium DC $
The National Aquarium is the nation's oldest aquarium in the country (established in 1873). Discover more than 1,500 animals including alligators, sharks, and turtles. Check the event calendar for alligator, piranha and shark feedings!
National Zoo
About 2,000 animals from 400 different species live at the National Zoo. The best known residents are the giant pandas, but the Zoo is also home to great apes, big cats, Asian elephants, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, aquatic animals, small mammals, and many more!

More great literacy resources for parents from Reading Rockets

Read Aloud Tips

Read Aloud Tips

Read aloud every day with your child and talk about what you're reading. These two simple activities help build your child's vocabulary and comprehension skills.

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