A Family Visit to the Smithsonian
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Before the Visit to the Smithsonian
Tripper Family Photo

Sample Itinerary

Meet a real-life family from Kansas City, Missouri, who came to Washington, D.C., for a Smithsonian adventure. The parents are Debbi and Pete and their children are Sally (13), Clyde (11), and Gloria (5).

During the cold winter the family planned and dreamed about their spring vacation—five whole days in Washington, D.C. To make the trip memorable, Debbi and Pete had several goals:

  1. To spend time in several Smithsonian museums (there are 14 plus the National Zoo in the Washington, D.C. area)
  2. To see historic sites such as the White House and the Capitol
  3. To give each child choices about what to visit and do
  4. To have fun together but also to learn and be inspired

Debbi and Pete searched museum websites for information. They pre-selected several sites for their children to review. Clyde especially liked the aviation and invention websites; Sally focused on dancers and wildlife. Gloria liked art and animals. The children explored virtual exhibits and viewed lots of photographs on their specific interests. They also explored things that were new to them such as postage stamps, musical instruments, and patent models.

Clyde, Sally, and Gloria each made a list of the top three places they wanted to visit.

Debbi and Pete made an itinerary that reflected these choices.

They also visited the library and bookstore and for age-appropriate books on the topics the children selected. Reading is one of the best ways to get ready for a museum visit (see the books the children read before visiting Washington in the Practical Ideas section at the right).

Finally, the family went shopping. Each child chose a blank book that would become a personal journal of the trip. They especially liked books with pockets where ticket stubs and receipts could be stored as mementoes.

National Postal Museum Coloring Book

Gloria got ready for her trip to the Smithsonian by reading books and making art projects—two of her favorite things to do. At the library and bookstore, and with her parents’ help, she found books about animals, artists, and aviators.  The books helped her think about what she was going to see.

It was also fun to try out the activities on the children’s pages of the museum websites. (Gloria’s parents found these pages during their web research about the Smithsonian.) Puzzles, word scrambles, and quizzes are just a few of the possibilities. Gloria liked the online coloring book at the National Postal Museum best.

Creating postcards before the trip

Clyde could hardly wait to get to most-visited museum in the world: the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian. One way he prepared was by reading books about aviation.  Another was exploring the museum’s website (www.nasm.si.edu). There he discovered that he would see history-making things such as the Spirit of St. Louis; the Apollo 11 command module Columbia; and the space suits worn by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the Moon. 

He wrote down interesting facts on file cards.


Sally liked to sketch, paint, and make things and to learn about artists.  She explored the work of Roy Lichtenstein, best known as a “pop” artist. He imitated the comic book style in his large paintings by using benday dots and words enclosed in bubbles.

Sally tried painting her own dots and bubbles. What a fun way to prepare for seeing Lichtenstein’s work at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Practical Ideas for Your Family

Useful websites:

  • www.smithsonian.org  

    For parents, click on visitor information, where there’s a special section on visiting with kids.

  • Make the Most of It, from Smithsonian Education

    Look here for many additional suggestions for activities before, during and after the visit.

Reading lists:

Gloria (ages 4 to 8)
To Be an Artist
By Maya Ajmela and John D. Ivanko
Published by Charlesbridge Publishing
Ages 4–8

Visiting the Art Museum
By Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Tolon Brown
Published by Puffin Books (1990)
Ages 4–8

First Ladies: Women Who Called the White House Home
By Beatrice Gormley
Published by Scholastic
Ages 5–10

Into the Air: An Illustrated Timeline of Flight
By Pamela Greenwood, Ryan Ann Hunter, and Elizabeth Macalester
Published by National Geographic (2003)
Ages 4–8

Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be
By Charlotte Foltz Jones and John O’Brien
Published by Doubleday (1994)
Ages 4–8

Clyde (ages 6 to 12)
The Nine-Ton Cat: Behind the Scenes at an Art Museum
By Peggy Thomson, Barbara Moore, and Carol Eron
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company (1997)
Ages 9–12

The Book of Flight: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
By Judith Rinard
Published by Firefly Books (2001)
Ages 6–12

The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins
By Bea Uusma Schyffert
Published by Chronicle Books (2003)
Ages 9–12

Science Smart: Cool Projects for Exploring the Marvels of the Planet Earth
By Terry Krautwurst, Gwen Diehn, Bobbe Needham
Published by Main Street (2004)
Ages 9–12

Sally (ages 9 to 12)
Art Fraud Detective: Spot the Difference, Solve the Crime!
By Anna Nilsen
Published by Kingfisher (2000)
Ages 9–12

Looking at Pictures
By Joy Richardson
Published by Harry N. Abrams (1997)
Ages 9–12

What’s Happening? A Book of Explanations
By Patricia Relf and Francis H. Schwartz
Published by Mondo Publishing (2001)
Ages 9–12

Fandex Family Field Guide: First Ladies
By Carolyn Vaughan
Published by Workman Publishing (2003)
Ages 9–12


  • web search
  • itinerary
  • reading
  • purchase journals
  • purchase glue sticks, special colorful pens and pencils, safety scissors

More ideas:

  • Give each child things to find by making cards you can carry in your pocket and hand to them in the museum.  Use words (“find 5 red or round or metal things”) or illustrate with downloaded images from the museum’s website. Some of the things will be objects on display (from bugs and rocks to tools and airplanes); others might be details in an artwork.
  • Purchase a disposable camera for each child and let them practice using it at home, trying both outdoor and indoor locations. 
  • Write for maps or download them from museum websites. Have children figure out where you will be and the routes you’ll take.
  • Start journal writing by listing the things you want to see and any questions you want to answer.
  • Make a special activity bag to carry all of the art supplies.
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