10 tips from actual teens on how to survive (and enjoy) a trip to the history museum

In an effort to include teen voices in the museum's programs and directly address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of youth visitors to the museum, the National Museum of American History recruited and selected 20 diverse local youth to participate in our first History Explorer's Youth Advisory Council (HEYAC). Over two weeks in July, the group participated in museum programs, met with staff, and reviewed, analyzed, and made recommendations about youth programming at The National Museum of American History. We asked the museum-savvy teens, who spent 60 hours in the museum this summer, to share tips for peers plan to visit. This is what they said.

1. Don't stress out. The museum is open to everyone and has some engaging activities that teens will like. Look for what daily programs are occurring, such as interactive carts and museum theater programs.

Teens fold a flag

2. Be open minded. There is something to interest everyone. Docents and volunteers are everywhere to help you better understand what you are looking at. Don't be afraid to learn more. If you have any questions about the information in the exhibits, how to get around the museum, or what you should see, just ask! Ignore the social conditioning that says not to, and express your own interest in everything.

Young man working on a black-and-white comic book

3. Going to the museum is pointless if you think you aren't going to have fun. Change your attitude. Instead of thinking that you'll be bored, think that you'll enjoy the time and learn something that you aren't being forced to remember. There are a lot of awesome things here that you could never see otherwise. Remember, we all are part of the Smithsonian and our museums are free, fun, and fantastic for learning about the past!

Young woman looks at museum mannequin

4. Put down your phone! If you waste your visit looking down and reading texts, you will definitely miss out on seeing all the cool artifacts the Smithsonian has. Where else can you find Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves or Julia Child's kitchen?

Teen looking at museum panel text and images

5. Plan your visit. Pick a few exhibits you really want to see and work it out from there. Coming in with a plan can limit the wasted time you spend standing around bored, figuring out what to do next. You'll have a much more positive experience if you use your time efficiently, focused on things you actually care about.

Be sure to take your time, though. Although you may see more if you skim, slowing down and actually taking valuable time to read signs and try out interactives will add to your experience. In addition to learning more, slowing down will create a more relaxing and fulfilling experience than hurriedly darting about.

Teens with cart and screen

6. Hungry? We got good food!! Go down to the 

LeRoy Neiman Jazz Cafe on the first floor near the Constitution Avenue entrance and the Stars and Stripes cafe where you can buy and eat a meal with your significant other.

7. Bring a friend (or a date). The museum provides many interactive learning experiences and combining a social aspect to it makes learning more enjoyable. The museum is a great place to get to know one another and at the same time review for the history exam. The interactive exhibits, like American Enterprise, are teen-friendly so you crazy kids could hang out as well as learn a lot about the past from the rise of ice cubes to the age of ancient computers.

Teens how exhibitions are made

8. Look for the interactive features in exhibits. Most exhibits have some. They offer another way for you to absorb the material being taught. If you were to jump from interactive activity to activity, you would cover a lot of information while experiencing the whole museum in a different way than your parents. Who knows? You might actually have some fun!

9. Although the National Museum of American History is well known for its objects it should be better known as the coolest museum ever. We recommend that teens bring a jacket or maybe even a wool coat to weather through this igloo of a building.

Teens working on comics

10. Use the force…uh, I mean maps. Maps and signs are your friends. Because the objects are delicate and easily harmed by light, the lights are dim in places and you can get easily lost. The signs and maps (found at the Information Desk) are great ways to be efficient when you're looking for The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden or the Ruby Slippers in American Stories.

Denim jacket, back shown, with graffiti-style imagery

By the History Explorer's Youth Advisory Council: Ben, Leah, Kevin, Kenneth, Promyce, Sage, Mia, Lizzy, Fatemma, Joelle, Olivia, Sven, Dev, Caroline, Jylian, Antonio, Joey, Mark, Catie and Justin. Learn more about the museum's upcoming youth programming.