The dinosaurs are leaving! The dinosaurs are leaving!
When we heard that, our family headed into Washington, DC to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs aren’t really leaving, but the Dinosaur Hall is closing at the end of April for a five-year makeover and we wanted to see the fossils before it was too late. We hope to make one more trip before they close since it is such a long renovation.
A few basics: Entrance is free since it is a Smithsonian museum. It is easy to get to, either on Metro or driving, if you go on the weekends. If you go during the week I suggest taking Metro, because parking in downtown Washington, DC can be tough to find. On Metro, get off at the Smithsonian Station on the orange line; the museum is about a two-minute walk from there. If you drive, the walk will likely be a bit longer. We drove this time and had a five- to ten-minute walk to get to the museum. The museum has a couple of dining options, and the food there is surprisingly good, albeit expensive. There are street vendors right outside the museum with much cheaper options, but there’s no good place to sit and eat.
The museum has an IMAX theater which offers a variety of videos to see. We did not explore what movies were offered on our visit, but the website outlines a nice selection of choices. There is a butterfly pavilion that charges a small fee if you wish to go through it. You can, however, look in the windows outside for free to see some of the butterflies if preferred. They also have other activities available listed on the calendar on their website.
The museum is large, with many exhibits to explore. We spent 3 1/2 hours and did not see all of them. Since we had come specifically for the dinosaur fossils, that’s where we started. We visited the dinosaurs, looked at the different fossils, and peeked into the FossiLab where archaeologists work on the fossils. No one was working when we were there, but the children enjoyed seeing the area where fossils are cleaned and molds of them are made. After the dinosaur fossils, we moved on to the Ocean exhibit where the children explored and learned some ocean facts.
From Oceans, we went into the Hall of Human Origins. My five- and seven-year-olds were interested in this area, but it was designed for older children and adults. They did look at various skeletons and exhibits showing how humans have evolved through history, and we got to see the skulls of various early humans. My five-year-old stopped to watch a video about human origins, and my seven-year-old watched a video on evolution. All three of my children enjoyed looking at the mockup of a cave wall showing examples of primitive drawings, which we had discussed earlier in the year during our history lessons. We then moved into the Mammals exhibit where my five-year-old enjoyed looking at the giraffe models.
After the Mammals exhibit, we moved upstairs to the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. We learned about earthquakes and volcanoes and then looked at different types of rocks and minerals, those that came from volcanic eruptions and others. The children had a good time playing with a large magnetic rock that is on exhibit. They watched paper clips stick to it and saw how the metal was attracted to the rock. We then continued through the exhibit to look at the various gems and finally made our way to the Hope Diamond. My five-year-old especially enjoyed that exhibit.
We then headed to the Insect exhibit where the kids saw various types of bugs. Unfortunately the bee hive in that area was closed, but the children still enjoyed looking around. On our way out of this area, we looked through the windows of the butterfly pavilion. They enjoyed seeing the bright butterflies flying around inside the pavilion.
At that point, the kids were tired so we headed down for a snack and then home. There was a lot to explore in the museum, and we did not see everything. We could have easily spent far longer even in the exhibits we did visit. There were many exhibits with a lot of information about the various topics. This museum would make a good full-day trip for those that have the stamina to explore the different exhibits – and even then you are unlikely to have seen everything. We really enjoyed our visit and hope to make it back at least once more before the dinosaur exhibit closes. Even without the dinosaurs, there is still much to explore at the museum. We all enjoyed learning about rocks, dinosaurs, human evolution, and insects.
Sarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully). She enjoys reading, board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.