The Air and Space Museum is the world’s most popular museum—at least that’s the claim I heard on the loudspeakers the last time I was there. And it is a busy museum. But being more of a history, art and book lover, and not really a science person, the Air and Space Museum has never had the draw for me that it does for so many people. With that said, I have tried to bring my kids there regularly. And once I get into the museum, I actually really enjoy it.
As with pretty much any museum, walking into the Air and Space Museum can be overwhelming. Figuring out which way to go first can be hard. So, just take a deep breath, and remember, you’re not there to see everything. It’s quality over quantity. And if you’re with kids, that quality will hopefully take no more than a couple of hours.
There are a couple of ways to tackle this museum. First you could head to the visitor information desk and pick up a map and visitor guide. The guide is a great resource with a list of museum highlights for both floors. Because there are so many things to see, you may need to pick and choose which ones you’ll visit if you have limited time. Or you could check out our family’s favorite exhibits (below), which includes many of the highlights, but not all. Please note that my family is more into planes than space, which has an impact on our favorite exhibits. (Walking in from the Mall entrance, the left side of the museum more or less covers space, the right side and a little bit of the left, covers planes.)
How Things Fly is a great interactive exhibit for kids of all ages. There are lots of different hand-on experiments for you to do to help you understand flying better. There are also red-shirted staff members around to help answer any questions, and they give live demonstrations and have activities throughout the day. Our favorite activity is making paper airplanes and seeing how far our incredible ☺ design will fly. After How Things Fly, some of our highlights are: Skylab Orbital Workshop—walk through America’s first space station (well, at least a backup of the first space station). You will see the living and working quarters of the astronauts who lived on board. Apollo Lunar Module—look at the test module of the first spacecraft that carried man to the Moon’s surface. Wright Brothers—see the first plane to fly and learn more about the two brothers who accomplished this amazing feat. Pioneers of Flight—our favorite in this group of planes is Amelia Earhart’s plane—the red one. America by Air—look for the Spirit of St. Louis, the first airplane to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean with a single pilot. Some other interesting things to look at: Moon Rock Apollo 11 Command Module Douglas DC-3—the first profitable passenger airplane.
I recently heard a great suggestion for looking at things in a museum with kids. As you are looking at an exhibit, play a little game called, “Betcha didn’t see”, and start pointing out details of the exhibit. Take turns pointing something out. It will help you notice a lot more things in the exhibit and get more out of it. This could be a lot of fun as you are looking at planes and spaceships.
Besides these exhibits, there are lots more. You could spend a lot of time in this museum, so if you’re not able to see everything you want to see—plan a return trip. We also really like to watch an IMAX movie while we’re here, but once again I would suggest, as I did for the Natural History Museum, seeing the movie at the end of your visit instead of at the beginning, so you don’t start out sluggish and tired. An IMAX movie is always a great way to relax towards the end of a visit to an incredible museum. Print out my museum quest for fun for the whole family.