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By Eileen Ogintz
Cooking School for Kids
I make a pretty ugly Neanderthal.
We're at Hall of Human Origins, the newest exhibit at the
Where else can you hold a hissing cockroach, hang on to a "shooting star" (actually a 4.5 billion year old meteorite), use real bones to solve a mystery CSI-style or, as I did, see what you'd look like as an early human (http://humanorigins.si.edu/) and then email the picture to yourself? There's even a new phone app for this aspect of the exhibit called MEanderthal.
Kids and their parents, totally engaged, giggled at their Neanderthal photos and marveled at the gigantic T-Rex (he could swallow the equivalent of 1,000 Quarter-Pounders whole in one gulp!) and the Giant Squid -- nearly the length of a school bus. They stared from below at Phoenix -- the life-sized model of a living North-Atlantic right whale, one of the largest animals that ever lived, last seen off the coast of New Hampshire.
Kids fingered the "evidence" in the
Starting Memorial Day weekend, in honor of the museum's centennial, there will be photos throughout the museum to give you an idea of what it would have been like to visit "then," as opposed to now, and even let you put yourselves in those old pictures. There will be a special festival June 5 in honor of World Ocean Day, too.
Summer, of course, is the time when many families brave the heat and flock to Washington, D.C. Consider taking the train -- we opted for
And opt for a hotel that has a pool! There are plenty of deals with rates starting at $99/night. We chose the centrally located Fairmont Washington, D.C., which touts a new Family Adventure Package that includes the room, breakfast for two adults and two children and a copy of "City Walks with Kids, Washington, D.C.," to help visitors navigate the city. Rates start at $229 per night. Kids will love the indoor pool and the pool toys.
Washington, D.C., tourism officials report that more travelers are heading to the nation's capital this spring so you can expect to have a lot of company this summer, including at the Smithsonian where visitor numbers were up in March and April. A visit to a Smithsonian museum, including the
As many as 25,000 people visit just the
But where do you start when there is so much to see and do! Where are the bathrooms? (The most convenient one is on the main floor near the Ocean Hall.) A little prep goes a long way suggests Bill Watson, chief of On Site Learning at the
Ask the kids questions as you go along. What does it mean to be human? (For one thing, I learned, we have longer childhoods!) Stop and watch a movie of the field sites where scientists tell you about their findings and research.
Decide if you want to focus on a particular area -- the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, for example, where you can look into a crystal or the Sant Ocean Hall with its living coral reef, the "Written in Bone" exhibit where you learn what bones tell us about how people in the past lived and died. Stop at the activity carts manned by museum volunteers or at the museum touch screens. Take a free tour -- there are special ones of Human Origins and the Ocean Hall. And leave when the kids have had enough. Like Disney World, it's impossible to see it all in one visit.
"Every family does it differently," says Bill Watson. "One of the things that is so great. Is there is something for everyone, and experiences you couldn't have anywhere else."
© Eileen Ogintz
Travel | Taking the Kids To the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History