In what's been a long time in coming, the National Children's Museum (NCM) finally opened its doors Friday, Dec. 14 at the National Harbor in Prince George's County, Md.
The $6.7 million, 18,000-square-feet of public space features exhibits and programming designed to encourage children to learn through play.
"We're happy for the opportunity to be the cultural anchor here at the National Harbor," said National Children's Museum President J. Willard Whitson at a preview day on Thursday, Dec. 13. "I want them to have the opportunity to learn from play, a necessary part of childhood."
At the preview, children ran from exhibit to exhibit. They excitedly tried on clothes, played with cars, discussed the world map on the floor, and enjoyed other hands-on learning experiences.
"I like the sirens," said five-year-old RJ Bernard, standing at the fire truck exhibit with his mother, Delise Bernard, 36, and two younger sisters, Rielle, 2, and Rae, 4 months.
"I used to come to the storefront so I'm really excited it's opening," said Bernard of Upper Marlboro, Md. "There are all these amazing educational experiences for them – all these diverse activities from around the world."
Founded as the Capital Children's Museum in 1974, the museum closed its Northeast location in 2004 and functioned as a museum without walls, serving the area through community and school outreach programs, traveling exhibits and partnerships. There was a small storefront location at the harbor, which will be closed. As the only congressionally designated museum focused on children, NCM's mission is to inspire children to care about, and improve the world.
"The National Children's Museum takes our young visitors from their homes to the world, sharing the importance of global citizenship and personal responsibility in an open-ended, playful environment," said Whitson, chief executive for six months. "We're proud to support our mission in the Washington, D.C. area, while serving children and their families from beyond the region."
The Sesame Street-themed 3 & Under gallery, created in partnership with Sesame Workshop, facilitates exploration for visitors under three-feet-tall or younger than 3. Our World familiarizes children with community citizenship through three areas: Map Zone offers a contextual and physical global perspective; My Town demonstrates that citizenship starts at home, offering participatory exhibits that promote social engagement within one's community; and World Cultures transports visitors to various global regions and highlights diverse cultures and traditions. Tanzania will be the first country profiled in the marketplace in World Cultures. NCM is targeted at children 0 to 12.
"We want kids to understand and appreciate that people's climates dictate what they'll do for natural resources," said an NCM employee not authorized to speak to the media. "Tanzania is so rich as a culture, especially the culture of the Maasai."
Exhibits are complemented by staff-led programming, including hands-on activities such as paper bead making and design; literature-based arts and crafts; interaction with roaming Sesame Street characters and professional actors portraying a chef, mayoral candidates engaged in debates and even a reporter who's dedicated to staying on top of My Town events. A theatre accommodating 130 people adds to the experience, with interactive productions from both museum's theatre ensemble and guest performers.
NCM is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., between Labor Day and Memorial Day, and will be open until 7 p.m. during the summer. Admission is $10, with no cost for infants 12 months and under. Various membership packages are available, offering free year-round admissions, exclusive benefits and access to special museum events.
To make the museum affordable for all, January will bring the GEICO Free Family Night, which would occur Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, from 5 to 8 p.m. Future free nights will be the third Friday of the month. A full events calendar and holiday hours are available at www.ncm.museum.
NCM welcomes 2013 with "Noon Year's Eve" on Dec. 31, an all-day celebration with a noontime parade, theatre performances and New Year's-themed programs. The museum is located 151 St. George Blvd. in National Harbor, Md.