The Building Zone

May 24, 2013

Kids in Museums, USA

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our “Kids in Museums” tour of Washington, D.C.  One museum space we were particularly impressed with, which I though deserved a post of its own, was the “Building Zone” at the National Building Museum.

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The Building Zone is a hands-on gallery which introduces children aged 2-6 to the building arts. The exploratory activities cover different areas related to the topic. Naturally, one big focus is on building things, and kids can use different materials, from hand sized wooden blocks to uber-sied Lego bricks to build towers or cityscapes.

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Related to that, there are toy construction trucks and other related vehicles to play with. The piece de resistance is a large sand pit, where you can sit on a miniature digger and learn about the mechanics of it.

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Actual buildings themselves also get a focus, and the centre piece of the gallery is a large custom-built playhouse for kids to explore. On a smaller scale, there is also a doll’s house, and for further imaginative play kids can dress up in various costumes and uniforms to transform themselves e.g. in to a builder complete with hard hat and tool belt.

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It’s a gallery full of excitement and boundless energy, but those who like things a bit quieter can retreat in to the book nook to read one of the many titles related to buildings and architecture, or do one of the puzzles based around colours, shapes, tools and vehicles.

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Admission to the Building Zone is on the hour, every hour, and lasts for 45 mins with a break in between sessions for staff to reset things. Last admission is an hour before the museum closes. If you purchase general admission to the museum ($8 for adults, $5 for kids age 3 and above) you get one Building Zone slot included, but you can also purchase a ticket just for the Building Zone, which is then only $3 per person aged 3 and up. Kids aged 2-3 go free. Maximum capacity is 40 and it can get booked up pretty quickly during peak times, but to ensure it stays a space for families and doesn’t get taken over by groups, they don’t allow groups of 10 or more people per slot. However, the museum offers many other sessions that organised groups can book.

We visited twice, once as part of the whole museum and once just for the Building Zone followed by a visit to the cafe, which you can access without having to pay admission to the rest of the museum. Although you can get quite used to museums being free in Washington, D.C., we felt it was money well spent and were happy to support such an excellent museum which so obviously has children and families at heart. The museum also has one of the best gift shops I’ve ever been to, so be enter with caution. I think our only saving grace was that we couldn’t fit anything else in to our luggage for the flight back.

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