Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Through our travels we have been to a lot of museums, space, science, history, etc. When in conversation about museums people tend to ask, "Have you been to the Smithsonian?" and I would reply, "No." Finally at the age of, 42, I can say, "Yes."
I always thought of the Smithsonian as one museum, it is not. The Smithsonian, as I am sure you know, is a collection of 17 museums, galleries and a zoo. So we didn't get to all of it, but we did get to two of them, National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History(NMNH).
Our walk in the rain stopped briefly at the Air and Space Museum. I don't think our hearts were into it. We wandered through the museum and found some cool things to look at but I think we just were having an off day and not in the mood. We really didn't take many pictures. And we continue on...
Our next day we spent at the National Museum of Natural History and absolute loved it. Gigi had to work so it was just the kids and I. We drove in around 10am and paid for parking through the ParkWiz app, very useful. We had about a ten min. walk and I got to stop for coffee.
Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History is the only natural history museum we had been to up to this point both the kids and I. I always felt that the Field was bad. The exhibits were not interesting and I lost interest quickly. The way the museum is laid out is poor. Many of the exhibits have an extra charge and even on free days it wasn't worth going. I now have something to compare it to and I was right.
The NMNH is fantastic and way better! So an argument could be made that they have better stuff than the Field. They do but that wasn't it. It could be argued that the NMNH is free; we went to the Field on free days. The bottom line is, it was better because the information is displayed in an engaging way and we felt like we learned something when we left. It has a simple, well thought out progression of information. The kids still make connections while we travel with animals and the environment from what we learned at NMNH.
The first section we started at was the ocean and deep ocean. This was an amazing collection of specimens and exhibits showing how much we have explored as humans and how little we really know about the sea.
They had a large exhibit on Narwhals it was fascinating. They know very little about these mysterious creatures.
Of course they had a great collection of dinosaur bones. We didn't spend a long time in this section, we ran through it to get to another section but dino pictures are fun. They also had a paleontologist behind glass working on plant fossils and it could be watched on a tv monitor.
So at this point the two kids split, Nina spent a long time reading through all the Egyptian artifacts and Aurora went next-door and did a touch and feel exhibit. I would bounce back and forth between the two of them. It was perfect, Nina was not going to touch any of the bugs and Aurora got board quick in the Egyptian area.
Next we found the Kids Lab. This area is for young adults and teens. The collection of entomology samples was incredible. They had bugs, butterflies, rocks, shells, spiders, lizards, feathers and on and on. While in the lab we could check out one sample and examine it under an electric magnifier. They had lab computers with a reference page to each specimen. Scan the specimen and read about it. We spent a solid hour and a half and it felt like ten minutes. We saw a handful of what they had to offer.
So stopping to see the Hope Diamond was something the girls wanted to do as soon as we walked into the place, it ended up being one of the last things we did. It also was quite funny when it wasn't all that exciting. They have a huge exhibit of earth stones and gems. This one was small and not as colorful as some of the other ones we saw, in comparison it was quite underwhelming. The kids not understanding value as a monetary object thought many of the other stones were better.
So this is one of the Smithsonian Museums we would highly recommend. Yes it is free, but so are the other Smithsonian Museums. I would spend time here because the exhibits are extensive and engage children and adults alike. It is well organized information about the world we live in.