A kid-friendly goldmine, from pandas to paddleboats

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Best known for such historic national landmarks as the White House and the U.S. Capitol, Washington DC is a goldmine of kid-friendly charms. Families who visit the capital discover engaging exhibits at the 19, free Smithsonian facilities, the wide-open expanse of the National Mall; and outdoor activities from ice-skating to kayaking. To make the most of your family’s Washington, D.C. visit, take advantage of the attractions, exhibits, special experiences, and outdoor fun that’s geared to the ages and interests of your kids. Since there’s so much to choose from, involve your kids in deciding what to see.

Smithsonian Carousel

Smithsonian Carousel

So that you and your children won’t be disappointed, remember to obtain tickets to the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture months in advance.

D.C. with Grade School Children and Teens: Museums and Theater

Here are some highlights. Grade-schoolers and teens get awe struck by seeing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives Museum. When there, explore the Public Vaults, which stores such items as letters from presidents when they were kids, news stories about the first moon landings and other interesting documents.

Dinosaurs, bugs, big jewels and eerily life-like faces of our early human ancestors make the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History one of the most popular Smithsonian museums in the city.  Aviation lovers should take in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum and its sister facility near Dulles International Airport, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, home to the Space Shuttle Discovery.  At the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture,  learn about the struggles, strengths and triumphs of  African Americans. At the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, see the original Star Spangled Banner,  First Ladies’ gowns, Kermit the Frog and other pop culture  icons plus learn about politics and the presidency. At the  museum’s Draper Spark!Lab, budding inventors ages 6 to 12 are encouraged to tinker and to create.  With art-minded children, browse the buildings of the National Gallery of Art.

National Zoo Panda

Panda at the National Zoo

Morph into secret agents by signing-on for special programs at the International Spy Museum. At Operation Secret Slumber, you and your tween age 9-13, learn tricks of  the trade and search out the mole in your midst. Check the museum’s calendar and reserve ahead.

See the pandas, elephants, clouded leopards, tigers and much more at the National Zoo.

Plan ahead to obtain tickets for a play at  Ford’s Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre Company , or Arena Stage, a concert or sporting event at the Capital One Arena, or a musical at the Kennedy Center.

D.C. with Young Children: Museums and the Zoo

National Zoo Giraffe

Giraffe at the zoo

The Zoo, of course, is great fun for little ones too. The best  interactive Smithsonian facility for young children  is  Wegmans Wonderplace, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History where infants to ages six explore by getting hands-on.  A café serving ice cream is nearby.

Little ones enjoy a ride on the Smithsonian Carousel, a stroll through the Hirshhorn Museum’s sculpture garden, a walk through the indoor flower and plant displays at the U.S Botanic Gardens as well as listening to the Library of Congress’ Stories for Tots. The Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium is a find for families with young kids.  The main reason for visiting is the planetarium. The unpretentious space, much smaller than the mega-facility at the National Air and Space Museum, is just the right size for curious but hesitant youngsters. The high-backed, comfortable benches seat about 60 and encircle  “Miss See More,” Rock Creek’s projector. One show targets ages 4-6 and another aims at kids ages 7 and older.

Tip: Check the  daily listing  of Smithsonian family fun available at all of its museums.

D.C. Outdoors

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

With all ages, don’t forget to play outdoors.  Let  kids loose on the National Mall to play tag, fly a kite, kick a soccer ball and  picnic. In summer run through the spray park at the Georgetown Waterfront and in winter ice skate there or at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’s rink.

Tire the kids out by biking, boating, or skating around town: Pedal a paddleboat on the Tidal Basin. Bike ride through Rock Creek Park or out to Hains Point. Rent a kayak at Thompson’s Boat House and row the Potomac River past the memorials.

Visit the Wharf, the new waterfront development that adds the sparkle of restaurants, shops and music venues to the Southwest waterfront. During holidays there are family-friendly events.

Also, consider a baseball game at Nationals Park. If in downtown, walk past the White House, stunningly illuminated at night.