The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History today opens “Wegmans Wonderplace,” the first gallery on the National Mall designed for the learning needs of children from infancy to age six.
Opening festivities include a children’s parade through the building led by members of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and a paper chain ribbon-cutting with Smithsonian Secretary Skorton. Special activities Dec. 9 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. include a meet and greet with “Walkaround Elmo” from Sesame Street, music and dancing with Coach, Williebob, and Boogie Bennie of the ever popular band Rocknoceros, cooking demonstrations for kids and adults, face painting, balloon art, giveaways and more.
Made possible by a $1.5 million gift and in-kind donations from Wegmans Food Markets, this gallery will allow curious kids to “cook” in a kitchen inspired by Julia Child’s; plant and harvest pretend vegetables and run the farm stand; find the owls hiding in a miniature replica of the Smithsonian’s Castle building; and captain a tugboat based on a model in the museum’s collection.
“Wonderplace,” a 1,700-square-foot children’s center, will provide the youngest historians with age-appropriate activities and experiences over the next 20 years. The early learning gallery completes the museum’s 45,000-square-foot Innovation Wing, which features 12 exhibitions, learning spaces and program places all centered on the themes of invention, creativity and business.
“We know that play is an integral part of sparking invention and innovation, and ‘Wegmans Wonderplace’ will ignite that innate curiosity in children and help guide them on a path to lifetime learning at the Smithsonian,” said John Gray, director of the museum.
Wegmans is also supporting the museum’s new demonstration kitchen in the Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza. Part of the museum’s Food History Project, the kitchen hosts a diverse menu of programs and demonstrations that bring visitors together for relevant discussions that start with history and expand to the present and future of American food.
“Wegmans’ mission is to help our customers live healthier, better lives, and that begins with children,” said Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman. “Having fun through play is the best way to inspire children to learn.” According to the company, the opening of ‘Wegmans Wonderplace’ at the end of this year will also help to usher in Wegmans’ 100th Anniversary in 2016.
“Wegmans Wonderplace” will feature six sections each with hands-on, play-based interdisciplinary activities. The sections include: the Farm, the Kitchen, the Port, the Construction Site, the Gallery and the Smithsonian Castle. Each area combines artifact displays with fun hands-on activities to engage young children and their families. Activities such as the 12 different kinds of blocks in the Construction Site will help promote creativity and advance motor skills.
More than 100 objects will be displayed around “Wonderplace” to stimulate early learners’ interest in museums and American history. These artifacts from the museum’s collections will be presented in fun ways to get families excited about what they are seeing. In the Castle section, children will get to look at objects from all angles as they climb around—and even under—them. In the Farm section, kids will “find the animals” among the weathervanes, milk bottles, farm toys and lunch boxes.
So that every age group can get the most out of “Wonderplace,” signs will guide parents and caregivers on how to help their children engage in the activities. The center will also contain family-friendly amenities to create a more comfortable environment for visitors. These amenities include family bathrooms with diaper-changing stations, parking areas for strollers and a quiet nook in the rear of the space where parents can feed and take care of infants.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. We help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th Streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.