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Guide to Washington, DC: Activities for the Kids

Educational though they may be, many Washington monuments and museums can be intimidating for smaller visitors because of sheer scale. These six spots are kid-friendly but great for parents, too, combining learning with a healthy dose of fun.

Children can explore engineering at the National Building Museum. Photograph by Kevin Allen.

The Smithsonian’s Discovery­ Theater (1100 Jefferson Dr., SW; 202-633-8700; discoverytheater.org) puts on a variety of plays for young audiences, such as Tot Rock: Jammin’ at the Smithsonian and Just a Dream: The Green Play, along with workshops and family-oriented events. Admission and venue vary by show, but nothing costs more than $12.

The National Aquarium (1401 Constitution Ave., NW; 202-482-2828; nationalaquarium.org) houses more than 250 species of aquatic animals and reptiles, and was completely renovated in 2008. Exhibits change throughout the year, but you can count on a 2 PM daily feeding of the sharks, piranhas, or alligators to entertain and teach. It’s open daily from 9 to 5; admission is $9.95 (free for children under 3, $4.95 for 3- to 11-year-olds).

The National Building ­Museum (14th St. and Constitution Ave., NW; 202-272-2825; nbm.org) boasts kid-friendly exhibits and a Building Zone specifically for two- to six-year-olds. Summer exhibits include “Lego Architecture: ­Towering Ambition” (think Lego replicas of famous structures from around the world). Admission to the Great Hall is free, and tickets to exhibits are $8 for adults and $5 for youth and students.

The National Theatre (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-6161; national­theatre.org) puts on kid-oriented performances in the Helen Hayes Gallery Saturday mornings throughout the year, with recent stagings including “Banjos and Juggling and Art—Oh, My!” and “Bop Goes the Weasel—Jazz for Kids.” Free tickets are distributed 30 minutes before showtime.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-633-4888; nationalzoo.si.edu) is free, and about 2,000 animals live inside. Lions, tigers, and bears are just the beginning—animals from all over the world (including giant pandas), an Amazonia habitat, and a kids’ farm are among the many options.

The planetarium in Rock Creek Park (5200 Glover Rd., NW; 202-895-6070; nps.gov/rocr) runs sessions for kids every Wednesday at 4 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 4. Admission to both the park and the ­planetarium is free, and tickets to planetarium shows can be picked up from the Rock Creek Nature Center’s information desk.

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