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Notes From The Capitol

My connection to Washington, DC was forged years ago when Mr. Zeppelin, a commanding assistant principal at P.S. 225 in Brooklyn, arranged and led a trip there for fifth and sixth graders. I wanted to do the same for my kids, who are now six and ten. So off we went on a three-day, cram-it-all-in fest during President’s Week. Here are my crib notes.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: As much as I was impressed by their collection of rocket ships, I was surprised at how interested I became in the Wright Brothers. There’s also a great kids zone with lots of flight-related gizmos.

National Museum of American History: The ultimate trove of Americana not only features artifacts of historical importance, like a massive, nearly 200-year old American flag, but cultural iconography like Dorothy’s shoes from the Wizard of Oz. The kids enjoyed an exhibit called “Invention At Play,” which offered fun ways to appreciate everyday inventions, like Post-It notes.

Ford’sTheatre: An unexpected treat. First, you visit the wonderful mini-museum they set up in the basement, which focuses on Lincoln and the Civil War. Then you sit in the theater and listen to a park ranger discuss the particulars of what happened when President Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth.

International Spy Museum: There’s new stuff on the use of satellites and digital technology; there’s old stuff on great spies in history. But the real crowdpleasers (at least for me) were all the gadgets they’ve managed to collect from the Cold War. It almost seems kind of kitchy—until you remember that people really were killed by using poison-tipped umbrellas and the like.

Newseum: Gorgeous, fun and thorough, with an especially good interactive area for kids (like the one making believe she’s a TV news reporter in the above photograph).

Where To Stay? The Madison Hotel: My family and I were guests of the hotel, a Loews property, and I can’t say enough good things about our experience. Spacious, elegant and comfortable rooms; a helpful staff who are very friendly to children; and located close enough to all the good stuff to walk. And great hot chocolate!

The White
House:
How can you not walk over there to see if you see anyone
familiar peeking out one of the windows? We didn’t; everyone was still
mightily impressed.

Washington
Monument:
Looking out from the top is the perfect way to take in all
the famous landmarks at once.

The Capitol Building: Try to get tickets to the tour
that visits the chambers. We weren’t so lucky, but even the basic tour
is a must. The rotunda’s historical mural may not be the work of
Michelangelo, but it still wows.

Night Touring: We paid for a private driver with a van
to show us the city at night. The Lincoln Memorial was as august as I
remember it. My wife was moved to try to explain the Gettysburg Address
to my daughter, line by line.


MORE EDUCATION VACATIONS

Boston, MA: Take your family for a walk along The
Freedom Trail, which tells the story of the American Revolution as you
take in various sites (thefreedomtrail.org). You can also tour the USS
Constitution, one of six warships commissioned by George Washington to
protect the country (oldironisides. com). And don’t miss the Boston
Children’s Museum, full of fun exhibits about science, health and art
(bostonchildrensmuseum.org). For more info: bostonusa.com.

Charleston, SC: Head back
to the first battle of the Civil War by visiting Fort Sumter
(nps.gov/fosu). There are also plenty of plantations to visit, but the
most noteworthy is Boone Hall Plantation with its famous oak-lined
avenue (boonehallplantation.com). Charles Towne Landing State Historic
Site offers educational programs, archeology and an animal forest
(southcarolinaparks. com). For more info: charlestoncvb.com.

Philadelphia, PA: Head to
Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was conceived
(nps.gov/inde). Also, have a look at the Liberty Bell and its curious
crack at The Liberty Bell Center (nps.gov/inde/liberty-bellcenter).
Families can learn about the Constitution at the National Constitution
Center (constitutioncenter.org). Or, go a little wild with the
inhabitants at the Philadelphia Zoo (philadelphiazoo.org). For more
info: visitphilly.com.

—Brittany McNamara