Make it a STEM-Filled Summer at These D.C. Attractions
Summer vacation will end soon, and kids will return to the classroom for another year of instruction. But will they be ready to meet the challenges of the coming school year? Or will the “summer slide” impede your child’s academic start in the fall? Recent studies have suggested that children can lose up to 20% of their school year gains in reading comprehension and 27% of their math skills during the summer break, with younger children (K-3) at risk of losing the most gains.
Thankfully, parents and families can help curb summer slide by transforming the rest of your child’s school break into a STEM-filled summer. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is a broad educational approach that leverages real-world applications to spark your child’s interest in learning. More importantly, there are tons of STEM-filled experiences to choose from within the Washington region, waiting to inspire your child and stimulate their imagination. Read on to discover some great picks for a STEM-filled summer vacation.
The National Building Museum
Since its creation in 1980, the National Building Museum has educated visitors of all ages on the importance of architecture, engineering, construction, planning and design existing all around us. The historic Pension Building, where the museum currently resides, is a standing testament to those principles with its soaring ceilings and colossal Corinthian columns. This summer’s slate of new exhibits and experiences includes performances of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library; an augmented-reality installation exploring the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral; and their ongoing PLAY WORK BUILD lab that includes hands-on play with blocks and an interactive virtual experience.
- nbm.org | 401 F Street, NW | Washington, D.C. 20001
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Did you know that right around the corner from D.C. is home to the nation’s largest organization of scientists and engineers responsible for building the spacecraft, instruments and new technology we use to study our universe? NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center hosts out-of-this-world STEM-filled exhibits like the immersive digital art experience Solarium and an interactive 3D tour detailing the construction and launch of the newly-minted James Webb Space Telescope. Any child remotely interested in space is guaranteed to have a blast.
- nasa.gov/goddard | 8800 Greenbelt Road | Greenbelt, Maryland 20771
The National Air and Space Museum – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
D.C.’s most popular museum would be an easy choice for a STEM-filled summer experience. Unfortunately, the museum’s main building on the National Mall is closed for major renovations. However, you can still explore thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. We recommend touring their online exhibit on Women in Aviation and Space History prior to your visit.
- airandspace.si.edu | 14390 Air And Space Museum Parkway | Chantilly, Virginia 20151
The National Zoo
Children get to explore the natural world first-hand when visiting the National Zoo. There are over 400 species to learn about, including turtles, snakes and crocodiles at the Reptile Discovery Center, Sumatran tigers and African lions at the Great Cats exhibit and gorillas and orangutans at the Great Ape House. Kids will love Amazonia, the 15,000-square-foot rainforest exhibit with a 55,000-gallon aquarium!
- nationalzoo.si.edu | 3001 Connecticut Avenue, NW | Washington, D.C. 20008
The National American History Museum
American history is the history of science and technological advancement. From the celebrated inventors of our past like Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, to the engineers and manufacturers who pioneered America’s exploration of the automobile, the American History Museum hosts nearly 2 million objects through which to appreciate our nation’s STEM-filled legacy. Notably, the museum’s Draper Spark!Lab space was specifically designed to engage kids 6-12 in STEM-filled activities that will encourage them to “create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment and invent.”
- americanhistory.si.edu | 1300 Constitution Avenue, NW | Washington, D.C. 20560
The National Museum of Natural History
The most extensive collection in D.C. belongs to the Museum of Natural History, with over 147 million specimens and artifacts. That’s millions of opportunities to engage in STEM-filled content this summer with stimulating exhibits and spaces like “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals and “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas.” Kids will also love engaging with the hundreds of live butterflies and moths at the Butterfly Pavilion.
- naturalhistory.si.edu | 10th Street & Constitution Avenue, NW | Washington, D.C. 20560
College Park Aviation Museum
The College Park Aviation Museum opened in 1998 on the grounds of the world’s oldest continuously operating airport. It was here in 1909 that Wilbur Wright gave flight instructions to the first military aviators. Today, the museum boasts an impressive collection of 10 full-size aircraft that help teach visitors about the many aviation “firsts” that happened here and featured exhibits such as “African American Aviators of Prince George’s County.”
- mncppc.org/1593/College-Park-Aviation-Museum | 1985 Corporal Frank Scott Drive | College Park, Maryland 20740
National Children’s Museum
Designed to bring children across the DMV a fun, STEM-filled experience disguised as a museum, we can’t recommend the National Children’s Museum enough in sparking your child’s imagination this summer. There are fascinating exhibits for children and teens, like the three-story “Dream Machine” climber and slide; or the immersive “Weather Worlds” experience that allows kids to experiment with controlling the weather; and the visiting “Design Zone” exhibit showcasing how video game developers, music producers and roller coaster designers solve design issues.
- nationalchildrensmuseum.org | 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW | Washington, D.C. 20004
Children’s Science Center
Located in Northern Virginia, the Children’s Science Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that hosts field trips, birthday parties and camps using fun, engaging hands-on exhibits, activities and programs. However, weekends are open for families to come visit and explore all the STEM-filled fun the Science Center has to offer.
- childsci.org | 11948 Fair Oaks Mall | Fairfax, Virginia 22033
International Spy Museum
Go undercover and discover how much STEM has influenced the world of espionage at the International Spy Museum. Children and parents can learn about the gadget makers, scientists and engineers who supported the spies and designed the tech that enabled them to carry out their missions. Another exhibit, “Making Sense of Secrets,” gives you the opportunity to think like a real-life analyst and try your hand at code cracking!
- spymuseum.org | 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW | Washington D.C. 20024
Visit KID Museum at the Bethesda Metro Center on Sundays to explore their state-of-the-art makerspace and learn about coding, robotics, engineering design and more. The museum’s goal is to foster the “Mind of a Maker” in kids and youth, with a focus on providing STEM-filled opportunities for communities that have been underrepresented. Some of the other exciting activities your child can engage with are a Robot Tech Arena, an innovative 3D Printing Fabrication Lab and a Woodworking Studio.
- Kid-museum.org | 3 Bethesda Metro Center, Suite 140 | Bethesda, Maryland 20814