Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Part Two - The Natural History Museum

"I prefer living things to mechanical things any day," said Anabel as we headed across The Mall to the Natural History Museum, our next stop of the 19 Smithsonian museums.  Seeing people walking with their smart phones in hand or hunched over a computer and not noticing the beautiful day around them made me agree with her completely.  With our iPhones on vibrate (because you never know who might call...), we headed inside and were greeted by the famously recognizable entrance rotunda elephant.  Hello, Natural History!

The kids' dream!
The National Natural History Museum currently hosts 28 permanent and traveling exhibits with millions of artifacts from around the world.  Again, a person could easily spend an entire week in this one museum and be unable to see it all; in our taste of America tour (as we have dubbed this trip), we gave ourselves 3 hours.  Unhappy with this time limit, Anabel and Emma started looking for good hiding places so they could get locked inside and spend the night a la Night at the Museum. (Wish I had thought of this earlier as it would probably be cheaper than a hotel.  Let's see... must hide far from the security of the Hope Diamond...) With ten minutes wasted on that dream, we headed for the mammals.

With stuffed lions and tigers and bears, (oh, my!) the mammals exhibit teaches lots of facts, IF you read all the fine print.  Our kids loved walking through all the animals, but rarely stopped to read.  A family field trip suggestion is to make a scavenger hunt of facts sheet before you arrive or stop by the museum's visitor's information center for age appropriate guides and activities.  If the kids were having to find a certain animal and identify where it's found in the world or when it became extinct, it would have slowed them down long enough to read and learn more about the artifacts.  I had planned activities for many stops on this east coast tour, but by the time we reached D.C.... Well, let's face it; I was tired.

Bones, Bones, Bones could sum up our next three exhibits.  Emma loved the dinosaurs looming high above her head, but thrilled at the 4 foot wide jaw bone of a great white shark.  Greg and I were captivated by the Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake which investigated the recently discovered bones at the Jamestown Settlement archeological dig (our first stop on this Taste of America tour.  How's that for symmetry!)  The exhibit shows step by step how forensic science identified several bones dating around 1607.  Bones can tell what person did for a living, how hard their work was, any diseases the person may have had and of course, how the person ultimately died.

Without a doubt, hands-on is the best way to learn!
As at the Air and Space Museum, the kids favorite spot was the hands-on Insect Zoo (sponsored by Orkin, of course!)  Here, they have cases and cases of rare and exotic bugs and common varieties in various stages of their life cycle.  We stared at each case examining the stick bugs, tarantulas, praying mantises and scorpions.  I about came out of my own skin as an entomologist's hand reached in from above one case and placed a giant insect on a branch.  You can't sit that close and stare at bugs without getting a little jumpy.
Is that a crack?

At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry and ready for room service after all the walking we had done in the museums. (Field trip tip: wear comfortable shoes!)  Have I told you that a family of five can take a taxi cheaper than the subway?  Taxi!  Take us home to rest up for Washington, D.C. - Day Two.

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