Mishmash museum

The new National Children’s Museum in Washington D.C. is a “lame” and “boring,”, according to the Washington Post reviewer’s sons, six and eight years old.

There was a giant crane, which they could crank to lift baskets of stuff. It commanded their attention for a couple of minutes. They liked the textured ramps that they could send cars racing, bumping or crawling down. And the exhibit designed to explain politics and campaigning offered them an opportunity to make campaign buttons. They drew goblins with butts (which some folks may agree is an accurate depiction of much of Congress).

I tried hard to get them excited about the play kitchen or the African marketplace.

Not even the fire engine held their attention.

A Yelp reviewer, Stacy A. from Arlington, wrote,  “This isn’t a children’s museum, it’s a mid-sized playzone.”

On Education Gadfly, another parent blames the blah on “the sad outworking of too many years of mushy social-studies standards.”

No structured content, just a mishmash of world culture with clothing and food prep, etc.,  focusing on their place in the world, neighborhoods, even a bunk bed to understand . . . not sure what.”

Few states have good social studies standards, though South Carolina and Ohio are exceptions, writes Checker Finn. “The effort now underway to develop some version of national standards for social studies is off to a dreadful start.”

I recently took the grandkids to the Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview, Illinois, which is designed for little kids. It’s a “playzone.” The girls enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s any more educational than playing at home.

About Joanne


  1. Crimson Wife says:

    Children’s museums are typically designed for toddlers and preschoolers, so it doesn’t surprise me that 6 and 8 y.o.’s find them boring. They aren’t the target audience.

    • Normally I would agree with you, but when you read the Washington Post review, one of the museums directors called 6-8 year olds their “sweet spot.”

      • Mark Roulo says:

        It is mostly right in the museum FAQ:

        Our exhibits and programs are thoughtfully designed to accommodate a wide range of ages, interests and developmental stages. Infants and toddlers can enjoy the 3 & Under gallery, where activities revolve around play, movement, art and discovery through the senses. Our World is most appropriate for children over 3 years old and under 8.


        But “under 8” ends at seven. So the target ages are 3-7. I can imagine that if you aim at average 3-7 year olds, you will have some 6 and 7 year olds who are bored.

  2. While that museum sounds more like a play place, plenty of kids also find great museums ‘boring’. We love taking our kids (6 and 3) to children’s museums wherever we go. Even at ones geared to younger kids, we can usually get my older child to learn something interesting. Some really informative exhibits, though, have a bit of a learning curve before you can use them. I’ve seen plenty of kids run up to an exhibit, move around the pieces a little bit, and then run off saying that it doesn’t work. They won’t stop long enough to read that the exhibit simulates a river lock system, a bridge, or the strength of an arch and see what they should be looking at. We’re a somewhat nerdy family, but we’ve never been to a museum where we didn’t all find some aspect to be interesting.

    • I would agree with you; most kids just run/wander around and profit little from the experience. The times my kids – or others I’ve observed – get the most from a museum (of any kind) visit is when there’s advance preparation and an adult to provide close guidance.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    One of the problems may be that there wasn’t much new for the article author’s kids.

    From the article:

    Compared with children’s museums across the country that we have visited — Baltimore, Boston, New York, Miami, Durham, N.C., San Francisco, and Santa Ana and Sausalito in California— this new national museum is not in the same league.

    I’ve seen this sort of “neat experience being underwhelming” with my own child. The Smithsonian Air and Space museum is, objectively, pretty cool. My child was underwhelmed. How?

    Mostly because there wasn’t a lot *new* there for him. He had been to a number(*) of air/space museums before we went to the Smithsonian, so the number of new things was pretty low.

    The problem may not be the museum, but that the kids have already experienced a lot of it in other places.

    (*) To list a few … he has been to Huntsville, where they have a few full-sized Saturn-V rockets (along with a bunch of other cool rockets). The Saturn-V engine exhibit at the Smithsonian is cool, but not as cool as the full sized thing in Huntsville. Castle air museum has a bunch of airplanes, so a bunch of the aircraft at the Smithsonian weren’t new (e.g. the Smithsonian has the Enola Gay B-29 … but Castle has a B-29 also … as well as a B-17, a B-24, a B-52 and a B-36 … along with about 50 other planes). He can The Smithsonian has a airline cockpit for the kids to look into (from the door), but the Hiller museum has a 747 cockpit that the kids can sit in and play. When the Collins Foundation comes to town (every year), he can go inside a B-17 and B-24 … and spend hours if he wants to. “Just” seeing one isn’t as impressive after this.

    So … maybe the problem isn’t the museum itself, but that the kids in question have already seen so much stuff that is similar.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    “Children’s Museum” is an oxymoron. It’s no wonder children don’t like it.

  5. The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is very good. The dinosaur exhibit will keep my kids busy for hours, and they have a good set of rotating exhibits as well..
    They work hard to have something for all ages.

    The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago doesn’t bill itself as a ‘Children’s Museum’, but my children prefer it (And the Field) to the actual Children’s museum in Chicago.

    The Louisvill Children’s museum had some interesting exhibits, but some of their ‘engineering’ themed ones were really just ‘play with these toys surrounded by educational posters.’

    Nowadays, many museums try to create ‘all ages’ exhibits or set aside certain areas for children (Like the Art Institute of Chicago), so dedicated ‘Children’s Museums’ often skew very young and very boring. We’re going to the Evansville Children’s museum in a few weeks….. I’m interested to see if it’s worth joining…

  6. It occurred to me several years back that children’s museums are partly an outcome of fear of lawsuits. When I was a kid, parents (and schools) could take kids to various types of workplaces that don’t allow visiting any more, even through guided tours. Industrial bakery, candy factory, working farm, even (gasp!) a gold mine.

    Another reality is that children 8 yrs and up can enjoy adult museums just fine if they are interested in the topic. You can see kids lingering for long spells of time looking at and reading the info on ancient artificats, skeletons, Japanese kimonos, and the above-mentioned Museum of Science and Industry’s exhibits on engines, flight, etc. Even when they’re the old fashioned “glass case with index card descriptions” types of exhibits.