Strollers, security, and snacks: A parent's guide to visiting the museum with kids
As a mom, I know the National Museum of American History is a great place to visit with kids. There is so much to see and do... which sometimes can be part of the problem. When you are visiting with young children on a busy day, it can be hard for all of you to handle. Here is my quick list of the places and resources around the museum that might make your visit a bit easier.
Nursing/bottle feeding: You are welcome to nurse and feed your baby anywhere in the museum that you are comfortable. Most of the hallways, and some of the exhibitions, have benches for you to use. If you would like a little more privacy, the family restrooms also have a bench available. In our food exhibition, there are benches where you can also watch clips of Julia Child's cooking shows, though the space can get a little busy. Update for summer 2018: The museum now offers a Lactation Room within the Welcome Center on the second floor.
Two students enjoy our "America on the Move" exhibition
Changing tables: There are changing tables in all the women's restrooms in the museum. Family restrooms with changing tables are available on the 1st Floor East, across from the John Bull Locomotive, and on 2nd Floor East outside of American Stories.
Bathrooms without long lines: The bathrooms just off the Constitution Ave. entrance can get pretty crowded... but you don't have to wait in line! Right around the corner near the escalators is ANOTHER women's bathroom that is a lot less crowded. Bathrooms on the 3rd floor also have "lower visitation" and might be a good option.
Dining options: Food can ONLY be eaten in the cafes. Why? This is for the protection of the historic objects in the museum! Water bottles are permitted inside and you can bring in food, as long as it is in a sealed container. If you need to take a snack break, there are some benches outside of the museum that you are welcome to use. Inside, food can be purchased at the LeRoy Neiman Jazz Cafe (open at 10 a.m.) or the Stars and Stripes Cafe (open at 11 a.m.).
Our pastry chef, German Villoreal, was a civil engineer in Boliva before moving to Washington, D.C. Today, he makes amazing pastries that the staff and visitors frequently fail to resist.
Strollers: Both entrances to the museum are stroller accessible and there are elevators to every floor. The hallways and exhibitions are fairly wide and should allow for easy access, even for double strollers!
Lockers: There are lockers available near the 1st floor bathrooms, just past security on the right. You no longer need a quarter to operate them. These are "first come first serve" and tend to be more available earlier in the day than later.
Hand-pumped fire engine, built by Betts, Harlan & Hollingsworth (Wilmington, Delaware), c.1842
Security: All visitors entering the museum will pass through security. If you don't have any bags (probably impossible since kids and baggage go together) you can go right through the metal detectors. All bags will have to be screened on entry. To make this as seamless as possible, try to consolidate your bags before you get to the front door and have them out from under the stroller.
Exhibitions: If you are thinking about what exhibits to visit, or how to plan a day at the museum with your kids. Take a look at my past blog posts for inspiration! I've blogged about topics from what babies get out of museum visits to how to handle tough topics in exhibitions with inquisitive kids. Two quick tips I can offer: Wednesdays in fall tend to have lower visitation and might provide your little ones with a calmer exhibition-visiting experience.
The museum in fall
Burning off some energy: If you need to take a break from being inside... may we suggest you explore outside. The Victory Garden is on the side of the museum near 12th Street and has lots of interesting plants and pathways you can wander through. The terrace that runs around the museum is also open for visitors, some sections may be closed for construction and it does get slippery in the rain! Of course, the Mall is also a great place to run and play if you need just a little more room!
Finally, never hesitate to ask staff or volunteers for help or suggestions! The information desk is always staffed with friendly volunteers who can give you tips on what to see... or just the quickest route to a bathroom.
Sarah Erdman is the Goldman Sachs Fellow for Early Learning at the museum and the founder of Cabinet of Curiosities. She has also blogged about the best things to pack for a museum trip with kids and shared five tips for hands-off exploration of museum objects.