Our recent trip to Washington D.C. was just a two-night jaunt a mere 4 hours away, but it turned out to be a very important one for our family.
We strongly believe that great family travel means finding that sweet spot…the places where both adults and children can have amazing and memorable experiences at the same time. So over the past four years we have focused on activities that we could enjoy with our very young children: hiking, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and campground activities such as tie dyeing and hayrides.
We always loved educationally-themed trips, but had put them on hold for the last four years. Sure, we could have strapped the boys into a stroller and brought them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but who would have enjoyed that? Surely not the kids, who are adverse to cooperating in any environment which demands quiet and concentration. Certainly not the parents, who would have been frustrated and distracted. And definitely not the other visitors who would have been looking at us like we got lost on our way to the Central Park Zoo.
But as we talked about in our last post, things have started to change around here. The boys are growing up, and apparently the Presidents are the new superheroes of Kindergarten. We decided to take advantage of this new fascination and plan our first historically-themed family trip. Washington D.C. was the perfect place to start. The Capitol KOA was the perfect place to stay.
If you are looking to give your kids a crash course in American History for Beginners, here are some tips to help you make the grade.
Arrive early enough (our boys woke up amped and ready to explore at 5:30 am) and you will easily find free parking along the National Mall. There is a three hour limit during the week, but you can park all day on the weekends. We began our adventure near the reflecting pool so that we could explore the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument before the tour buses arrived.
We took some time to prep Max and Theo about being quiet and respectful in the Lincoln Memorial. Thankfully, they were. They were also impressed by its grandness, and we were impressed with their curiosity and good behavior. Apparently Wes was also impressed. He decided that he wanted to climb over the ropes and up onto Lincoln’s lap, but Mom grabbed him with lightening speed. Not a single Craisin was spilled in the Memorial. We promise.
The boys had a lot of questions about the writing on the walls, and we did our best to explain the Second Inaugural Address in terms that our five year olds could understand. “It’s about forgiving someone after you have had a fight with them.” They seemed to get it.
The walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the Smithsonian Museums will take you past the Korean War Memorial, which is an engaging and impressive experience for younger children since they can get so close to the statues. The length of the walk was fine for Max and Theo, but we would recommend a stroller for younger kids.
Since there are so many Smithsonian Museums, it can be overwhelming to choose which ones you will visit on a short trip. First of all, they are all free. So don’t worry about doing a quick drop in and then jetting out. Or just visit the kid-friendly portion–instead of going inside the Smithsonian Castle, we took a walk in the gardens around back.
We decided to visit the Air and Space Museum first, because seriously, what five year old boy doesn’t love planes and rockets? There were plenty of hands-on exhibits, but the star of the show was the flight simulator. An additional fee is required for this, but we felt it was worth every penny.
Our next Smithsonian choice was the Museum of Natural History, where the huge whales and dinosaurs loom large enough to capture the imagination of any child. The boys particularly enjoyed the coral reef exhibit and the insect museum, where the termite tunnel (of course) was the star of the show.
The butterfly exhibit, which also required a small additional fee, was a must-see stop on the Smithsonian tour. The boys were initially a bit freaked out by the butterflies landing on their clothing. Then they ended up talking about how cool it was for the rest of the day.
Even though we were thinking about squeezing in another museum, the boys were ready to call it quits and head back to the bounce pillow at the campground. We couldn’t complain. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Korean War Memorial, Museum of Air and Space, and the Museum of Natural History form a perfectly acceptable syllabus for American History for Beginners. School was out of session. At least for the day.
So clearly the boys are ready for their next course–and so are we. Gettysburg KOA here we come?
To hear more about our Washington D.C. adventures, listen to Episode 9 of RV Family Travel Atlas and read this blog post.
We are frequent KOA customers, but this was a sponsored trip.