imagiNATIONS at the National Museum of the American Indian

Approximately seven months ago, the National Museum of the American Indian decided that it needed to make a child-friendly area for its younger visitors. The museum created the imagiNATIONS activity center which is housed on the third floor. Currently 70% complete, museum staff hope that the project will be final in March. My child couldn’t wait to check out this new, free, interactive area.

The center is geared toward 5 to 12 year olds although we did see some younger children. What I liked most about imagiNATIONS is that it is unique. There aren’t many museums that offer a designated area specifically for children. Having been open nearly a year, albeit some igloo pieces that took a hit, the space is impeccable. The area is wide and flat making it perfect for strollers and wheelchairs. Everything is spaced out so there’s no concern of overstimulation. The low-key atmosphere and limited electronic activities allow children to learn the old fashioned way – by reading.

The majority of children present were drawn to the interactive quiz show game which asked questions like “What is a cradleboard used for and do all Indians live in tipis?” There is a giant basket that children can help weave which coincides with how baskets are made. Listen to the sound of a red-tailed hawk or other waterfowl at the Explore the Wetlands station. Watch a video to learn how Eskimos build an igloo and replicate your own ice cave and discover why snowshoes don’t sink. Popular among Native youth is the interactive skateboarding video game.

I couldn’t get my youngster to step into the mini library complete with pint sized tables and chairs because she kept wanting to run in and out of the large tipi and ‘cook’ in the Amazonian stilt house. There really is something for all ages to enjoy at imagiNATIONS. Plus, there is a great view of the U.S. Capital.

There is also a small, semi-private room with kid sized tables and chairs used for programs. Activities include pottery classes, painting and Native American storytellers; best of all, this is also free! Be sure to check the schedule of events on the website. I wouldn’t mind returning to try my hand at the pottery wheel. Well, I’m not a child, so I’ll bring mine with me to share in the fun!

Water fountains and bathrooms with comfort stations are located on the same level. If you have time, check out the temporary exhibit, A Song for the Horse Nation. Located near the imagiNATIONS center, it is not intended for children, although, older children may warm up to it. Defining the close connection between Native Americans and horses, there is a huge, hand-painted Sioux tipi along with elaborate costumes and Geronimo’s rifle. The exhibition is on view until January 7, 2013.

There was a line to enter the Mitsitam Café, so I can’t comment, but I have heard positive reviews about their dining options. In fact, you can read an Our Kids Review in our Cheap Eats & Family-Friendly Dining guide.

Things to know:

  • The museum is open daily except December 25th from 10am to 5:30pm.
  • Admission is free.
  • No food or drink is permitted in imagiNATIONS.
  • There is no parking garage. Metered street parking is limited to two hours. The nearest metro station is L’Enfant Plaza, which is two blocks away.
  • You can also read a blog post about imagiNATIONS from Kevin Gover, director of the NMAI.

Combining imagiNATIONS with the rest of the museum is a great way to connect with our Native American ancestors. My child spent nearly an hour in the activity center and cried when it was time to leave. The walk around the back of the building has beautiful cascading waterfalls which gives a sense of calm in a bustling city.

Photos by Kathleen Molloy.

Photo of author

OK Editorial Team

Our Kids has been bringing you more family fun, experiences & adventure since 1999.