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Tips for Seeing the Capital with Your Kids

080604_Sean%20Hayford%20O%27Leary_flickr_washingtonmonument.jpgWith seven sons between them and four grandchildren, Sandra Burt and Linda Perlis know a thing or two about raising kids. Longtime residents of Washington, D.C., they have been helping families visit and tour the D.C. area via the guidebook, Fodor’s Washington, D.C. with Kids, 4th Edition for years. They also produce and host the award-winning radio program Parents’ Perspective and have written two other books, Raising a Successful Child and Parents as Mentors.

Fodor’s caught up with the D.C. parenting experts to find out about the thrills and possible pitfalls of summer travel to our nation’s capital.

Fodor’s: Do you have tips for avoiding museum burnout with kids? Sandra Burt & Linda Perlis: There are three big things you can do:
1. Time checks. Don’t push past your kids’ attention spans and be sure to choose what they want to see.
2. Come armed. For art galleries, bring sketch pads and for the rest try measuring tape, magnifying glasses, and other small gadgets that will enhance youngsters’ discoveries.
3. Games. Keep your kids occupied with the scavenger hunt in Washington, D.C. with Kids (click to view PDF). You could also have them count columns around the Lincoln Memorial or flags around the Washington Monument, and find out why the numbers are significant.

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Fodor’s: On a general level, how do you suggest planning a family trip that includes multiple age groups?
SB & LP: Pick one place apiece in advance for the whole family to enjoy. (It’s easier to wait your turn if you know it’s coming.) Better still: split up your tribe by age, if possible—remembering to have an adult with each group—and head to separate destinations. Decide on a family meeting place and time (optimally where there’ll be snacks available) for everyone to come together and regroup.

Fodor’s: Do you have favorite spots for each of the different ages?
SB & LP: In Washington, D.C. with Kids, we group kids into tikes (ages 1-6), tweens (7-12), and teens (13-19).

For tikes: Our favorite spots include the Sculpture Garden at the Hirshhorn Museum, including a huge koi-filled fish pond (extra bonus: family-friendly outdoor café), the Carousel on the Mall (the Mall itself is a wonderful space to run around, throw a ball or Frisbee and indulge hungry kids from the numerous food vendors), and the National Museum of African Art (with lots of colorful sculptures and masks).

080604_flickr_apium_downtown_mall_dc_carousel.jpgFor tweens: the Insect Zoo in the National Museum of Natural History, the pedal boats on the Tidal Basin, and nearly anywhere in the National Air and Space Museum.

For teens: the F.D.R. Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and historic Mount Vernon; its impressive new visitor center includes interactive exhibits and movies with Hollywood-level special effects, in addition to the invaluable snack bar on the grounds.

Fodor’s: Are there healthy family eating options on the Mall?
SB & LP: An all-time favorite is the cafeteria in the American Indian Museum. Not only does it have healthy options, but it has wonderful choices based on foods native to the locations of various tribes. The Atrium Café at the Museum of Natural History has a 600-seat food court. The Air and Space Museum has a world-class cafeteria loaded with choices and super views.

Fodor’s: It’s a typically hot and humid summer day. Your feet are sore and your kids are whiny. Where can you go to cool off and regroup?
SB & LP: Cool drinks or ice cream are always in order in the tropical D.C. summer. One of our favorite spots is the huge cafeteria underground between the East and West wings of the National Gallery. With long corridors to run in this space has a built-in kid-pleaser: a floor-to-ceiling wall of water that cascades over graduated bands of stone. There are colorful gift shops nearby and lots of marble steps to run up and down—particularly in the East Wing’s first floor lobby, with enormous eye-catching Calder mobiles hanging overhead. Across Independence Avenue, L’Enfant Plaza boasts underground movie theaters, shops and an entire food court—with the added bonus of free Wednesday lunchtime concerts from June through September.

Fodor’s: Do you have a favorite family-friendly hotel or two in D.C.?
SB & LP: The Doubletree hotels are usually a good bet. How can you top fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies every day? Also, in nearby Bethesda, Maryland, the Marriott Residence Inn has suites with reasonable rates, and is located in a popular shopping and dining area just across the street from a Metro stop.

Fodor’s: Is there a particular part of the city or nearby area that you recommend for families to get away from the Mall?
SB & LP: One spot we like is the Rock Creek Park Nature Center (at the North end on the D.C. map) located just off Military Road, NW. The park, with hiking trails, creeks and scenic views, has rangers on horseback, which delight kids. The Nature Center has a separate Discovery Room, with an array of items for youngsters to handle, a planetarium, and even stables nearby for horseback riders.

Photo credit: (1) Photo by Sean Hayford 0’Leary; Photo by apium

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