Explore! with the Portrait Gallery

Museums with little kids?  There are some things that make it easier and playrooms dedicated just to the youngest visitors are at the top of the list.

While the National Portrait Gallery has long had programing for children, on January 28, 2017 they will open their first-ever space completely dedicated to children ages 18 months to 8 years old.  The goal of the space, named “Explore! with the Portrait Gallery” is to expand the experiences of viewing the portraiture on display by allowing kids to do hands-on activities related to portraits. Activities are designed to prompt children to answer questions such as “What is a portrait?” “How do I see myself?” and “How do others see me?”

Explore! with the National Portrait Gallery

Photo courtesy of Jamie Davis Smith

The children’s space is full of fun activities for kids.  My two year old loved playing with the portrait blocks, with body parts that can be mixed and matched into interesting faces or typical ones.  He also loved sitting in the beautiful window seats filled with age-appropriate books about both artists and famous figures whose portraits hang in the museum.  A favorite for both of us was the video wall display.  For this activity, visitors record a short video which is then added to a collage that is projected onto a wall with other videos.  Another fun activity is one in which visitors can draw each other’s silhouettes thanks to a giant lightbox.

My two year old was a little too young to sit still long enough for me to trace his silhouettes but he still enjoyed drawing at this station and older children were really enjoying tracing each other! Once done, portraits can be hung in “frames” on a wall for other visitors to enjoy. 

Explore! with the National Portrait Gallery

Photo courtesy of Explore! Children’s Museum of Washington, D.C.

“Explore! with the Portrait Gallery” is a very welcome addition to the museum and is a great addition to the other children’s programing they offer.  What makes it unique is that the exhibit is bilingual and that also has multisensory elements and other features for children with disabilities.   Explore! is worth a visit on its own or a great place to take a play break with children if they need a break from viewing though-provoking art.

Also check out our review of other Portrait Gallery activities for kids here.

“Explore! with the Portrait Gallery” is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and best of all admission is free!

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OK Editorial Team

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