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Many Marvelous Museums

One of our family's favorite year-round activities is a day trip to our area's amazing museums. In the Fredericksburg vicinity we have access to the wonderful array of museums in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, as well as more specialized venues close to home. Here are our family's tips for making your visit successful:

  1. Visit the museum's Web site for ideas about special exhibits and programs. Also check on the museum's guidelines about bringing in outside food, stroller use, and other related issues.

2. Discuss the visit with your kids if you want to generate pre-visit enthusiasm. Sometimes this backfires for us if we cannot deliver due to illness or a change of plans. Also, I like to load the family in the car occasionally and just surprise them with our destination.

3. Travel as light as your situation allows. Most museums hand-check purses, diaper bags, etc., so keep in mind as you are packing.

4. When you get there, pick up a map of the museum at the information desk - if you can, get one for each child. My kids love looking at the possible places to visit and marking off where they have been.

5. Remember to take frequent breaks. Visit an exhibit, and then stop by the bathroom. Go somewhere else and then have a muffin at the snack bar. Breaking up your visit into bite-size pieces is best, especially for preschoolers and younger.

6. If your party includes small children, don't expect to browse the length of the whole exhibit, leisurely reading each informational card. I opt to catch the highlights of the exhibit, hoping to pique my children's interest. In the future, we can return and engage more fully in the text as their maturity increases.

The Smithsonian Web site also suggests this approach for keeping things lively for the youngest visitors: "Another way to keep children interested is to talk about the exhibition being visited. Encourage their imagination. Ask them to pretend to be that object, animal, or person. Or pick a theme-like animals-and have the children find animals in the museum."

And our favorite area museums:

1. Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
Washington, D.C.
This is always my children's first choice of a museum to visit. Our favorites: the dinosaurs, American Indians, Bug Room (being renovated until summer of 2007). We have visited this museum at least a dozen times, and it never gets old. Click here for the Kids & Families' Events.

2. Children's Museum of Richmond
Richmond, VA
This is a fabulous museum, designed with kids in mind from top to bottom. It was amazing to see my son's eyes light up when he realized that there was no "hands-off" part of this museum. This has the added bonus of being next door to the fabulous Science Museum of Virginia, if you have the stamina to go to two museums in one day (we don't). Especially good for ages 3-8, although kids of all ages will enjoy it.

3. Science Museum of Virginia
Richmond, VA
Our first visit to this great museum was during a field trip this year, and we fell in love with it immediately. There is so many great, interactive things to do here that you couldn't possibly do this museum justice with one or even two trips. This museum may appeal to older kids more than the Children's Museum next door.

4. Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum & Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Washington, D.C.
OK, I have to admit that this is not my favorite museum. But it is my husband's and will certainly be one of my children's. The Smithsonian Web site states that there are 22 exhibits, a Planetarium, and an IMAX theater. Also, "a favorite gallery for children is How Things Fly - the place for hands-on action including fascinating science demonstrations; paper airplane contests; and 50 exciting interactive devices."

The Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Dulles, VA. For a child interested in airplanes or flying things, this would be a wonderland. It has such prizes as the Space Shuttle Enterprise and the Enola Gay.

5. National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, D.C.
There was so much going on at this museum on the Saturday that we visited (storytellers, performances, etc.) that we only got to see a few exhibits. Well, we also spent a lot of time eating an array of native foods in the Mitsitam Native Foods Café as well (the salmon is good). Download the 18-page family guide (PDF) before you go for some fun activities and things to look out for.

Other museums to explore:

Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (, Washington, D.C.
Discovery Creek Children's Museum, (, Washington D.C.
Virginia Discovery Museum, (, Charlottesville, VA
National Postal Museum, (, Washington, D.C.
Frontier Culture Museum, ( Staunton, VA
Bureau of Engraving and Printing, (, Washington, DC
Smithsonian's American History Museum, (, Washington, DC - closed for renovations until summer of 2008.

And, finally, don't forget the rich resources in our own backyard! The Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center (FAMCC) in downtown Fredericksburg City is currently renovating the former BB & T building and planning a large expansion. This will certainly be a historical gem worth frequent visits when it is complete. Moreover, both FAMCC and Ferry Farm, George Washington's childhood home, will be offering workshops for children in the summer - check their Web sites for the complete schedules.

From the CRRL Collection

Prepare your family for a trip to a museum by reading one of these books from the library's collection. And don't forget - the library always has books to complement what you are seeing in the museum.

Auks, Rocks,and the Odd Dinosaur: Inside Stories from the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History
By Peggy Thomson.
Reveals the inner workings of the Museum of Natural History through historical anecdotes and descriptions of how exhibits are researched, prepared, and maintained.

Experiencing America's Past: A Travel Guide to Museum Villages
By Gerald & Patricia Gutek.
"This unique guide focuses on villages that are restored, re-created, or reconstructed, and which depict a complete historical environment in relationship to the natural setting. The museum villages described are organized into geographic regions: New England; the Middle Atlantic, South, and Southeast; and the Midwest." (Library Journal Review)

Museums: What They Are and How They Work
By Cass R. Sandak.
Discusses types of museums, museum management and employees, and ways to get the most out of a visit to a museum.

Out and About at the Science Center
by Kitty Shea
Museum guide Maria gives a tour of the science museum explaining the various collections and exhibits that are found there and the ways in which science museums differ from other museums. Includes instructions for creating a museum exhibit and other resources.

Visiting the Art Museum
By Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
As a family wanders through an art museum, they see examples of various art styles from primitive through twentieth-century pop art.