Taking the Kids: Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture
Depending on the age of the children, entry points in the conversation will vary, but all children can understand fairness, inclusion and the opportunity every individual has to make the world a better place.
You can't expect to cover this entire museum in one go with kids. Make sure everyone is well rested and wearing comfortable shoes. Eat before you go -- there are lots of food trucks outside.
Also make sure to take a digital tour before you visit -- download the NMAAHC Mobile APP to help you navigate the museum, discover stories from the exhibitions and decide where to focus your attention. Do the kids want to head to the History Galleries, which cover 600 years of history in three exhibits, "Slavery and Freedom," "the Era of Segregation" and "A Changing America"?
(Be forewarned, these exhibits can be tough going with younger kids and even with older ones. They will require parental interaction.) Museum educators suggest you ask questions along the way and help the kids to make a personal connection. Objects, they say, can provide powerful entry points to begin conversations about what otherwise would be abstract concepts about history. The museum's education department is in the process of developing resources for families that should be available next year.
If the kids are interested in sports, head to the "Leveling the Playing Field" exhibit where you will learn how sports became one of the earliest public arenas to accept African Americans on terms of relative equality.
If they like music, go to the Musical Crossroads exhibit and see how African-American musical creativity has transformed music forms from blues to rock and roll. The kids will love Chuck Berry's red Eldorado!
The fashionistas will enjoy seeing how African Americans used clothing and hairstyles to re-define fashion. Junior foodies will love learning about the important role African Americans have played in our evolving food culture. (Check out the museum's Sweet Home Cafe where traditional Southern foods like fried chicken, slow-cooked collards, shrimp and grits, skillet cornbread and sweet potato pie are served. You'll also find kid favorites like burgers, chicken tenders and fries.)
"Double Victory: The African-American Military Experience" is a good bet to help kids understand not only the contributions African Americans have made throughout American history (check out all the Medal of Honor winners), but their desire to prove their patriotism, despite a segregated military.
"The kids have a different level of understanding," said one Maryland mom visiting with two young grade-schoolers. "But they each are learning something new here."
And that's the point, of course.