Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gardens, Boats, and Mail (more Smithsonians and the National Botanical Garden with young kids)

Last week, we planned our day in the city around Brian's birthday, taking him out to eat in Alexandria for lunch.  Some of the food was pretty good, but a full-blown tantrum from Theo because the Greek restaurant did not have lemonade kind of ruined the meal for us.  It was so unexpected too.  There used to be a time when we were very leery to take the kids to restaurants, but they are both at great stages right now and I never dreamed he'd act the way he did.  I think he may have just been very dehydrated after spending all morning outside.  And once he got a huge lemonade from the bakery across the street, he was perfect the rest of the day.  On the bright side, I really liked that bakery, and hope to check out Bittersweet again soon.  Without a hysterical three year old.

But the rest of the day was great!

In the morning we finally got over to the United States Botanical Garden.  I have never really spent much time at gardens or conservatories, but have realized in the last year what a great place these are to take kids.  We spent the whole morning identifying colors, counting petals, and discussing the different ecosystems the plants (and animals) live in.  And got some fresh air and exercise at the same time-a great morning.

Some Logistics:  We parked at a 2 hour meter this time on 3rd street right when the gardens would open (10am).  Hats and sunscreen are a must when visiting here, as there is a lot to see outdoors as well as in.  The whole place was pretty stroller accessible (lots of automatic doors, one of my new favorite things), and though there weren't family bathrooms there were very clean, roomy ones.  There were several comfy chairs and couches throughout that would make great nursing stations.    The garden also offers tours and some experiences designed for kids (check the calendar on the website).  We visited for about 1.5-2 hours at a pretty quick pace.

 Theo decided this one was a dinosaur plant.

We originally went because I'd read there was a children's garden.  This section was pretty small, but there was a wooden house to play in, a tunnel (of trees) to go through, and tools to use.  So my three year old was happy.  It is a good stop between looking at all the other exhibits, or at the end of the visit to give the kids some play time.

I thought it might be fun to make some kind of scavenger hunt when Theo is older for finding all of the plants that provide food.  There were so many different kinds of food trees and plants, which were a real learning experience since Theo didn't realize many of those foods grew like that.

He also didn't realize mama and dada used to live in the desert where sites like these organ pipe cacti were common.

The last area we went through was the photo gallery at the end, which Theodore thought looked like a living room.  It was pretty cozy, and cool, and just a few steps away from the Capitol Building.  Such a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the area.
There really were so many amazing flowers that didn't even look real.
And we even found some Chrysanthemum on the way out.

Proof that I was here too (so hard to get any pictures with mama):
Since we had a little more than half an hour left on our meter, we went into the National Museum of the American Indian which is right next to the gardens.  I have only been to this one a couple times before, and was surprised and excited to see signs about an interactive area for kids and families when I walked in.  We hustled up to the third floor and found the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

In the entryway to the museum, Theo had been drawn immediately to the different boats on display, and I was happy to see that we could continue on this topic in the activity center.  I feel learning experiences do come most naturally for him when he is interested and can make connections to other things.  And we keep the topic narrow.  So we focused on the differences between kayaks and canoes.  In addition to seeing the real ones on display in the lobby, Theo then got to explore two play ones in the activity center.  And the interpretive cart topic was even focused on these boats.  There were also many other things to explore:  basket weaving, different types of American Indian homes, and boarding.  There was a make-and-take craft area and even a small reading room.  Basically, a great place for pre-k to school age kids.  This museum has a great family guide available on their website at

Finally, we ended the day by heading over near Union Station (Theo loved this grand train station) to the National Postal Museum.   This is a beautiful old building.

 I have dabbled in collecting some stamps in the past and have always loved getting and sending mail, so this museum holds  a lot of interest for me.  Though not the most little kid friendly of the museum, Theo was still very interested in the different modes of transportation that mail has used, from carriage to train to semi. 

We also got to review the ABCs in the Alphabetilately exhibit.

And the last exhibit was actually the best in terms of interaction for school age kids.  They can pretend to sort packages, use the zip code machine, scan with scanners, and hand cancel their own postcard.

We'll have to go back for a visit, since they have a new gallery opening in September!

And we ended the day by celebrating Brian's 31st birthday with some great cake!

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