Housed in what is perhaps one of the most beautiful buildings in DC, the National Portrait Gallery hosts several free programs that make the museum accessible to children.
Geared towards children five and under and their grown-ups, this small guided program is extremely well executed. A museum education specialist begins by taking children to a portrait, telling the story of the person in the portrait, and reading a story or two about the person. This is followed by an age-appropriate activity in the museum’s Education Room related to the portrait examined. Programs are diverse and have included studies of Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe, and Abraham Lincoln among others. Art projects are done in a variety of mediums so come prepared to get messy as it’s not uncommon to use paint and glue. Other projects have used clay and making dress-up hats and beards.
This monthly program is normally held on the second Monday of each month. Although it is free, class size is limited to 25 participants including children and adults. Advance registration is required and *strictly* enforced. No one who has not pre-registered will be admitted.
Open Studio Fridays
The National Portrait Gallery’s Education Room is open for drop-in activities from 1 to 4pm on Fridays. Projects are appropriate for all ages from toddlers through teens and always have a connection to a portrait in the museum. Open Studio Fridays are designed to introduce children to mediums they may not have at home, such as pastels and calligraphy ink. Simpler versions of projects are usually available for younger children. .
During Open Studio Fridays children are invited to freely explore the medium presented or to receive instruction from one of the museum’s staff. I’ve seen children ranging from two through teens enjoying completing versions of the same project during open studio time.
One of the loveliest parts of the National Portrait Gallery is the large, open courtyard with a glass canopy. The atrium itself is a great place for children to explore and even has three water features built into the floor that children are invited to explore.
The Courtyard has several tables available for visitors eating snacks or lunch brought in or purchased at the museum. There is a small cafe in the Courtyard that has a small children’s menu. Lockers, a coat room, and a place to leave strollers are available in the museum lobby.
The National Portrait Gallery is open from 11:30am to 7pm daily, but be aware that some programs occur before the museum opens. There is metered parking around The National Portrait Gallery, but demand from spots is high during the week and when a game or event is being held at the Verizon Center across the street. The National Portrait Gallery is located directly about the Gallery Place-Chinatown metro on the Green, Yellow, and Red lines.
Portrait Story Days
Nearly every Saturday from 1 to 4pm and Sunday from 2 to 5pm, the education room of the National Portrait Gallery is open to allow children to learn more about a select artist and create an art project. A Gallery employee reads a story about the featured artists every hour on the hour. Children’s books about the featured artist are also available for children to look at and read. Art projects are designed for children of all ages to enjoy.
On a recent visit Georgia O’Keefe was the featured artist. About five books relating to O’Keefe’s work and life were available to read. Additionally, since O’Keefe is famous for her detailed paintings of flowers, several artificial flowers with magnifying glasses were available for children to examine before deciding on what to draw with the provided pastels. Children ranging from 2 through around 12 were taking part in the program on our most recent visit.
If you go, be sure to check out Portrait Discovery Kits designed for children 4 to 12. Kits contain multiple activities for families to complete in the museum, including searching for the portrait of a famous-person doll contained in the kit; seek-and-find cards where you look for a portrait a based upon a small portion of the painting depicted on the card; Portrait Detective booklets where you search for portraits based upon clues; and three notepads with guided activities that allow children to select their own portraits to examine. The Education Center is occasionally closed while other events are ongoing so be sure to check the calendar before you go.