Collecting is Child’s Play

Collecting is Child PlayWent for a rainy, fall wander with my three year old and quickly realized…anyone who says that museums aren’t for kids has never been on a walk with a young child.

“Oh Collecting is Child Play2Mama, look at that one! Oh Mama! I need that one for my collection.” Each soggy leaf was inspected, and lovingly tucked into the pail. Once we got home they were spread out to be admired, rearranged and discussed.

At their core, museums are buildings full of stuff that someone thought was important. What is more natural to a young child?

They gravitate toward collecting and see connections and importance in objects that others miss.  They love to sort, classify and learn by doing. They want to know WHAT, WHY and HOW and see it for themselves.


Museum folks and young children have more in common then either might realize.

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Nursing and Changing and Strollers…Oh My

Hannahs1stMuseum 019Taking advantage of the tables at the National Museum of American History

When my son was little and I started taking him to museums, I quickly realized that I was spending most of my mental energy on logistics.  What door could I get the stroller in? Where could I change him? Where could I nurse comfortably? Each new museum meant that half my time was spent hunting around for these amenities, just so we could both enjoy the trip.

So, I started writing down where I found the accessible entrance and the comfortable places to nurse in the DC area museums I visited. Now that my daughter has joined the family, I am continuing to add to the list, with the added bonus of trying to find places where my now 3 year old can’t get into too much trouble!

This list is not meant to tell you where you HAVE to nurse.  49 states now have laws that allow women to breastfeed in any public or private place (sorry Idaho, maybe you’ll join soon?- source).  This is just meant to give you a guide to finding a comfortable spot or some privacy if you are looking for it. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the front line staff at the museum. They can tell you if there is a dedicated baby care area or even a gallery with less traffic so you can get a little quiet.

I don’t have as good a read on how museums feel about bottles. Most people I’ve talked to haven’t had a problem giving their child a bottle in the museum, but I can’t guarantee it. I can tell you to please keep snacks/drinks for older children out of the museum, it is for the protection of the objects!

This list was originally on Your Family Adventures in Washington, D.C., which is another site that I run. I am woefully behind on updates but I haven’t given up on it yet! Let me know if there is something you want me to review.

National Gallery of Art- West Building:

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: Constitution Avenue. Throughout the building there are lots of elevators to bypass small stairwells. Prepare yourself for a roundabout trip!
  • Changing Table: After entering at Constitution Avenue, take the elevator directly to your right up one floor. To the left is a sign for the women’s restroom. There is a…lobby of sorts…outside of the women’s room with a changing table. Since it is really separate room it would be possible for men to use this table as well.
  • Nursing: In the same room as the changing table there is a bench along one wall. It isn’t the most private (since it is leads to the bathroom) or the most comfortable (a chair rail hits just across your back) but it will do. There are also benches throughout the museum that you could use.

National Gallery of Art- East Building:


  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: If you are coming from the East building you will need to take the elevator in the large auditorium (follow the signs). From outside the main entrance is accessible.
  • Changing Table: When you come through the walkway from the East building the bathrooms are just to your right. There is a counter through the door to the women’s room that you can use.
  • Nursing: There is no dedicated spot but there are benches throughout the building. The gentlemen at the information desk was very friendly and told me to go wherever I wanted and make myself comfortable.

National Gallery of Art- Sculpture Garden

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: All entrances are accessible
  • Changing Table: None available…this one is alfresco!
  • Nursing: No dedicated spot. There are benches throughout the space and also in the cafe, but like changing you will most likely be outside.

Natural History

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: Constitution Avenue side of the building. There are elevators throughout, but the biggest one is the glass elevator near the IMAX and Cafeteria.
  • Changing Table: The bathrooms just after the accessible entrance have a counter for changing
  • Nursing: The same bathroom that has the changing table also has a bench that could be used for nursing. Not real comfortable or too private but it is there!

American History

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: Both sides of the building are accessible.
  • Changing Table: Each level has a family restroom that has a changing area in it
  • Nursing: There are benches in the family restroom that you could use for nursing. There are also benches throughout the museum, but they are in the main path. Another good spot would be the “Object Project” exhibit. There are a number of tables and chairs, it is a little out of the way and if you have older kids there is stuff for them to explore

Air and Space: Udvar-Hazy Center

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The entrance is accessible and there are ramps to get down to the main floor.  Elevators are also available if you aren’t comfortable with the ramp or if you want to go up to the second level “catwalk.”
  • Changing Table: At every set of restrooms (of which there are many!) there is a “baby care” room.  It is large enough to pull a stroller into, has a door that locks, includes a large counter, sink, soap and even paper towels!  All the ones I peeked into (or used) were very clean.
  • Nursing: In the “baby care” rooms there is a small padded bench.  It isn’t hugely comfortable, but it worked quite well and it was nice to be able to be alone and behind a locked door.  There are also benches all over the museum that you could use, although there aren’t very many spaces that are not overrun by crowds.

Ripley Center

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The main entrance is accessible and you take an elevator down to the bottom level.  There is only one elevator, and it is not huge, so if there are lots of school groups there for Discovery Theater it might take a while.
  • Changing Table: So, in the hallway that leads to the African Art museum there are a number of tables that are the perfect height for changing on!  I didn’t see an “official” changing table in the one bathroom I went into, but there are plenty of benches to use.
  • Nursing: There are lots of benches, not incredibly comfortable but they work fine.  Unless there is Discovery Theater going on the area is pretty quiet, a particularly good spot is the hallway leading down towards the  African Art Museum

American Indian

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: All entrances are accessible and there are ramps and large elevators to get you where you need to go.
  • Changing Table: There are “Companion Care” restrooms that have a changing table and are big enough to pull a stroller into.
  • Nursing: The curvy design of the building means there are lots of great nooks and cut-outs on the different levels.  They have helpfully filled these with comfy chairs that have nice wide arms and are perfect for nursing!  Of course, it is only sort of private but you can find an out-of-the-way bench somewhere if that works better for you.

Mt. Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: If you have a hearty stroller that can do a little off-roading, you will be able to take it almost anywhere on the property.  The museums, shops and food court are all stroller friendly.  The paths and gardens are dirt but well graded so you can get around fairly easily.  The only time you can’t have it with you is to tour the house itself.  However, they have a “stroller parking” area where you can stash it until you are done.
  • Changing Table: The bathrooms in the museum/orientation/shop and food area have changing tables in the women’s bathrooms.  The one near the entrance to the museum and education center is right by the door so it is a little tight and there isn’t really room for a stroller.  Out in the grounds there are plenty of benches that you can use in a pinch.
  • Nursing: If you are comfortable nursing “al fresco” then there are plenty of benches throughout the property that you can use.  Inside there are a few benches, but nothing really private that I could find.  Near the museum and education center there was one bench just outside the bathroom and at the base of the stairs…not the best set-up.  Honestly, when it gets really crowded your best bet would be somewhere outside.

National Building Museum

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The entrance on G Street and the side entrance on 5th street are both accessible.  The Great Hall is wide open with plenty of spaces for strollers and most of the exhibits can be comfortably navigated with even a double-wide.  For the “hands on” exhibits there is plenty of space to stash your stroller off to the side while the kids investigate.
  • Changing Table: I wasn’t able to check the men’s rooms but changing tables are available.  There is also plenty of “out of the way” floor space if you prefer to use that.
  • Nursing: Private space is a little hard to find in the museum.  There are plenty of tables and benches, both in and out of the exhibits, that you could use.  On the 2nd floor there is the “Pension Commissioner’s Suite,” which generally is empty, out of the way and has a few chairs stashed in it.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

  • Stroller Accessible Entrance: The entrance on G street has a ramp.   There is plenty of space to navigate inside and elevators sprinkled throughout the building. There are also lockers you can use near the entrances.
  • Changing Table/Nursing: There are family restrooms throughout the museum. The one I used near the Luce Center had a chair in it for easy nursing, which was nice.  There are a lot of quiet galleries with chairs/benches if you need a place to nurse.
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Milestones Should Be Celebrated

Occasionally the things I write on here wander away from strictly museums-and-young children. Today is one of those days. This is something that has been on my mind for a few days now and I’m a little nervous about sharing it…but here goes.


It seemed like from the moment I found out I was pregnant, every media outlet was reminding me to CHERISH EVERY MOMENT and that THEY GROW UP SO FAST and IF YOU HAVE ANY NEGATIVE FEELINGS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD AT ALL YOU AREN’T WORTHY OF THOSE PRECIOUS GIFTS (ok, so maybe the last one wasn’t so much explicitly stated as implied…)

I always chafed slightly against the digital cross-stitch pillows, but I wasn’t sure why. Recently though, a new one has popped up on my Facebook feeds. The message on this one is “you never know when it will be the last time…” and goes on to list things like holding hands and bedtime stories.

That one made me mad. Not only does it (perhaps not on purpose) prey on the fear every parent has of losing their child, but it also makes you feel guilty for any negative feeling you have about parenthood. Oh be careful, don’t resent having to do X because it might be the LAST TIME. I love my children to pieces…but that doesn’t mean I always like what they are doing very much. All of those quotes, with the accompanying pictures of parents and children walking hand and hand across a beach, completely invalidate the very real feelings you may have the parenting is hard, that you might dislike some parts of it or just be plain tired.

That feeling is not new, I’ve seen other people write about the need to remember that you DON’T have to adore every moment of parenting (and ps, sometimes the dishes CAN’T wait…thank you anyway lady at the grocery store). However, the picture reminding me it might be “the last time” also brought up something else.

Why is it that all of those pictures and quotes treat those milestones as a loss? Each time a child STOPS doing something it is because they have STARTED doing something else. I feel like that is something to be celebrated, not mourned. When my son started preschool it seemed like I was supposed to be sad for the loss of my baby, but I was so excited for the adventures he was going to have. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that he no longer does that I miss so much, and I furtively look at the videos I took, but mostly I’m so excited by the person he is becoming.

Yes, when my children no longer hold my hand to cross the street, I will miss the feeling of their hand tucked in mine. When he pushes me away to “do it myself” it hurts a little. But, think what it means. It means that they have reached a level of independence that is exciting and new and they are ready for it.

So, whether you want to completely ignore those sweet images and flowery phrases, or use them to help you remember the positives when everything is going haywire, is totally up to you. Just try to also remember that you don’t have to mourn the next milestone as a loss, it is just the start of a brand new adventure.



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Looking for Books? A few suggestions for the preschooler in your life

I spent all of this summer either being (super) pregnant and running after a 3 year old, or trying to take care of a newborn and running after a 3 year old. Neither situation left me with a lot of mobility and I was so grateful when my son wanted to sit and read books. We went through a lot of books and raided the library for new and different titles. I know my friends-with-preschoolers are always looking for new things to read and I wanted to share some of our favorites.

These are in no particular order, I’m not a paid spokesperson for anyone (although if you’re offering….) and they aren’t specifically “new releases”, it is just things we liked! I’m adding to this list as I clean-up the book area and will try to get authors on there as well. Sorry it is mostly titles at the moment!

If you are on Twitter I highly recommend you follow @MrSchuReads and @colbysharp. They have a LOT of great book suggestions and insights from authors. I wish I could give them proper credit for how many of these books they introduced us to, but I’ve lost track!

Salina Yoons

  • We have read ALL of her books about Penguin and also love “Lost and Found.”

Oliver Jeffers

  • The Great Paper Chase, Up and Down, The Way Back Home

Drew Daywalt

  • The Day the Crayons Quit..need I say more? Still waiting on our turn at the library for The Day the Crayons Came Home

Kate DiCamillo

  • The Mercy Watson series

Mo Willems

  • Elephant and Piggie (any of them!), Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, Pigeon books (any of them!)

Herve Tullet

  • Mix it Up and Press here

David Weisner

  • Tuesday, Sector 7, Art and Max

Dragons Love Tacos

Louise Loves Art

Not a Box (also Not a Stick)

Rude Cakes

What Do You Do With an Idea?


Nana in the City

The Dot

Pete the Cat Series (we like “I Love My White Shoes” “Four Groovy Buttons” and “Wheels on the Bus”)

Perfect Square

Beautiful Oops

One Fine Day (this is a very sweet book about becoming a big brother)




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Museums and Kids…what is the point?

What is the point of using museums in your lessons or visiting them with young children?

Museums can add an element you can’t get anywhere else. Whether that is because of a unique object, physical location or something else. You don’t have to change your intent or the ultimate goal of what you are trying to share…but you can add a layer of something special.

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The Right Way to Use a Museum

The Right Way to Use MuseumsIt is easy to pigeonhole “how” you are “supposed” to use a museum. After all, a lot of care and thought goes into most exhibits and it seems right that you are supposed to take the entire museum, work your way through the individual exhibits and come out with the story.

I would like to challenge that.

Yes, it is a very valid and great way to use a museum and every exhibit designer I know puts a lot of time and attention into everything from the color of the walls to the particular object on display. However, that is not the ONLY way to view a museum and sometimes, especially with young children, another way may work better.

Speaking very broadly, there are at least three ways you can do the museum YOUR way

Building: Museum buildings are often amazing, interesting or unique spaces. Look at the architecture, explore the patterns and colors, imagine what it was used for before it was a museum. I’m not saying ignore everything that is inside it, but you can make the main focus be the physical space itself.

Exhibits: As I mentioned, the exhibits are carefully crafted to help you understand a story. There is great value in taking the exhibit as a whole and working your way through it. That being said, don’t feel you have to do EVERY exhibit in its entirety. That would be exhausting and overwhelming for almost anyone. You’d much rather see one and really enjoy it then have your only memory of the day be cranky and over whelmed kids…right?

Objects: It is totally and completely ok to go to a museum to see one object. No, I don’t mean one exhibit, I really mean one object. Enjoy it, explore it, learn about it. Or maybe you skip following the exhibit narrative and move from object to object that captures your attention. The objects are a main purpose behind museums right? So, why not enjoy them?

No matter what your style of visiting is, it is the right way to see a museum….I promise

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Conferences and Trainings…What Next?

ProfessionalWorkshopsAs I’ve moved jobs from the museum to the classroom to the in-between contractor existence one thing has remained constant, workshops and conferences have been a big part of keeping me professionally “healthy.” It is often the one time in the work cycle when you can actually sit and think about new methods and ideas. It connects you with people, keep you up to date on the field and remind you why you got into the field in the first place!

So yes, I think that going to trainings and conferences and workshops and any kind of professional development is incredibly important…but so is figuring out how to use it when you get back. It doesn’t do you any good if the drive and inspiration fade as soon as you are back to your daily routine.

So, what do you do? Well, the first thing is to make sure that post-professional development you have some time to reflect and sort out the pieces that were useful. As you look at those “nuggets” you have to ask yourself “What role are they going to play?” There may be some that were just interesting conversations to have, others that will be used at specific moments and then some that you want to adopt immediately and completely.

Once you’ve decided what role you WANT it to play, you have to hash out what steps you need to take to get it there. Do you need more training? Will it require some materials or re-organizing a task you already do? Do you need to get your co-workers involved and pool resources? This ‘to do’ list will look very different for different tasks (which is why these guidelines seem VERY vague…sorry).

You also may have to approach your administrator for support, especially if it means you need time to explore and adopt a new technique. Going in with a clear understanding of what you want to do and how to get there will make it MUCH more palatable for a supervisor.

***Administrators….if someone comes to you with a clear eyed idea and can explain what they want to do and why…please listen. I know, you are incredibly busy and there are a lot of moving parts, but it is worth a shot!***

The last critical step is one that comes AFTER you’ve implemented the change and tried it out for a while. Make sure you go back and “check in” with yourself and see if this is working like you had hoped. There is no shame in ditching a plan that doesn’t fit. After all, you learned about it from someone who was doing it a specific way in their specific location…which may not translate perfectly to you.

Hopefully most of these steps seem logical, maybe to the point of obvious. However, you have to make the time to do it. I think that is really the part that needs to be put in bold. When you come back from professional development that inspired you…make the time to think through how you want to use it.

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