When the days turn frigid and it’s too cold to send the kids outdoors to play, don’t despair. The Washington, D.C., region has plenty of fun indoor activities to keep the family occupied—and toasty warm. Be sure to confirm current COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place at the venues below before visiting with your family.
Have Fun With Digital Illuminations
Bright, multihued illuminations flash on the massive walls of Artechouse DC, displaying an ever-changing display of dancing skies, animated cherry blossoms and life-size neurons, depending on the theme. Sophisticated art meets the latest technology involved in powering these cool animated projections, but all the kids care about is jumping up and down, having their shadows frozen in the scene and racing all around to see how the art looks from different angles.
Different themes rotate through, although upcoming programming has not been announced as of press date. You can bet the programs will be as captivating as all the rest have been. Past exhibitions have included “Aurora: The Spirit of Northern Lights,” “In Peak Bloom” and “Imaginary World of the Nutcracker.” Throughout the visit, families of all ages can dive further into the themes with hands-on exhibits and other activities in a series of rooms. Visitation capacity is limited; timed-admission tickets are required.
Open daily except Christmas and New Year’s Day
Celebrate the First President’s Birthday
The nation’s first president has much going on at his Mount Vernon home during the winter. George Washington’s birthday is in February, after all, with plenty of family-fun events planned for Feb. 21—and they’re free. But families can find many kid-friendly activities to do even without the birthday.
Pick up an adventure map when you arrive at the orientation center and go on a scavenger hunt. Nine stops make up the hunt, and if you solve a word puzzle about George Washington, you win a prize. You can take a mansion tour—or admire the dollhouse version of the mansion in the lobby—and play in the hands-on history center, including dressing up in colonial costumes. Discover interactive exhibits that make learning about colonial history and our forefathers—and mothers—fun for the family.
Open 365 days a year
Discover Family Fun at the Big Museums
The Smithsonian museums have all types of cool attractions for kids to see. The Moon Rock, early airplanes, and space rockets, for example, are appealing features at the National Air and Space Museum. Look for hands-on activity carts throughout the National Museum of American History. And the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is always fun to explore, with touch screens, touchable objects and videos that traverse billions of years of human history.
Did you know the Smithsonian Institute offers free downloadable booklets that make exploring the museum exhibits more interesting? A discovery booklet accompanies the National Museum of American History’s “Innovation Across the Nation” exhibit, for example, with prompts to help kids explore the world of innovation—including creating their own hypotheses.
Tutorials allow kids to make their own envelopes, mailbox, and time capsule at the National Postal Museum. And a “Color Our Collection” coloring book highlights famous portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. You’ll find these projects and more to download and take with you on the online Learning Lab (http://learninglab.si.edu).
Museums open daily except Christmas Day
Go on an Adventure
It may be winter, but that doesn’t mean your family has to forego outdoor-type activities—just do them indoors. The climbing walls at Laurel’s ClimbZone, for example, were made with kids in mind, with fun themes like Aztec temples and the Lincoln Memorial. ZavaZone in Sterling has climbing walls and more, including a glow-in-the-dark climbing cave, a trampoline park and a ninja course.
How about an indoor water park? Cub Run RECenter in Chantilly, for example, has a huge pool with two large slides, a lazy river and a shallow pool for the younger ones.
Explore a Museum Just for Kids
If you haven’t yet brought the family to the newest iteration of the hands-on National Children’s Museum—it opened only days before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in 2020—now is the time.
You may enter the 20,000 square feet of space via a three-story “dream machine,” with slides that whisk you to the exhibit space. The museum is all about sparking creativity and curiosity, with a virtual slime machine, a race car track that experiments with height and weight, a Nickelodeon-sponsored Art + Tech space, a green-screen experience where children gain superpowers to control the weather, a batting cage that teaches the mechanics of a home run hit (courtesy of the Nationals) and more.
A small space for babies and another one for toddlers introduces a cloud and flight theme. The museum frequently offers drop-in “making” programs within the Tinkerers Studio, weekly “STEAM Storytime” on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. and “Baby Jam,” a musical programming adventure, on Fridays at 10:30 a.m.
Open Thursday through Sunday with two timed admission sessions
Go to the Theater
Several live theaters in the Washington, D.C., region offer productions at exactly the right kid-length. At the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, children can enjoy fairy tales, puppet theater and other live educational performances. More shows will be added based on COVID-19 protocols; check the “What’s Playing” page for details.
Encore Stage & Studio in Arlington—“theater by kids, for kids!”—offers productions as well as classes and workshops for budding thespians. At Bethesda’s Imagination Stage, kids of all ages can enjoy modern productions. Two new works for children are commissioned every year, along with a series of theater programming that helps foster theater appreciation.
discoverytheater.org, encorestageva.org, kennedy-center.org
When the kids simply need to expend excess energy—preferably not in the house—head for one of the region’s play-oriented destinations. BusyBees’ indoor playground is made expressly for little ones shorter than 48 inches. Scramble in Alexandria and Falls Church has something for every family member: tummy time for babies, soccer for the older ones and lots of running and jumping in between.
The Wonder in Arlington and Chevy Chase provides an imaginative, low-key indoor play space for the 5-and-younger set. At the Arlington location, for example, youngsters can play with a pile of snow (aka balls), build an igloo and warm up with hot chocolate in an imaginary winter scene.