Best American Landmarks to Visit with Kids: Washington, D.C.
America’s historic and natural landmarks may not be as ancient as those found in other parts of the world, but their more recent origins add a tangible quality that may inspire a child’s learning. Whether seeing firsthand the documents our nation was built on, or gazing in awe at the beauty found in our national parks, visits to these places are an opportunity for memorable family bonding and can bring history to life for a powerful learning experience. This series includes tips and educational resources for visiting some of the most amazing landmarks our country has to offer with your kids. Some may be in your back yard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.
Named in honor of George Washington, Washington, D.C. didn’t serve as the capital of the United States until 1801. It was James Madison who, in 1788, first argued that the national, or federal, government be given exclusive authority over the capital. Formed from land donated by Maryland and Virginia, Washington, D.C. was initially a 100 square mile grid, framing the Potomac River. Today, the city has a total area of 68 square miles. Construction of government buildings, memorials, and museums that commenced in the 1930s, as well as urban renewal projects in the early 1990s, make it one of the most beautiful and well maintained cities in the United States.
Our nation’s capital houses all three branches of the federal government, including Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court. It features national monuments and museums, the National Mall, foreign embassies, and professional athletic stadiums. Washington, D.C. provides numerous interesting and educational places to explore while enjoying an urban adventure with the whole family, so take notes.
Activities to Include on Your Visit to Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. offers opportunities to get hands on with history, cultivate an interest in politics, appreciate architecture and art, and enjoy delectable dishes. Not only is D.C. the perfect city for some educational escapades, a lot of these fun activities are free.
- Smithsonian Museums—The Smithsonian Institution features 15 museums and galleries from the Freer Gallery of Art and the Natural History Museum to the Air and Space Museum (my favorite). Admission is free, and there are topics and exhibits for everyone.
- National Zoo—See giant pandas, meet small mammals, and watch demonstrations, all for free!
- Watch millions of dollars being printed as you enjoy a free, 40 minute tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
- National Archives Museum—Check out the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights, and more.
- Monuments and Memorials—Be sure to check out the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
- Become a Junior Ranger—Complete some D.C.-themed educational activities and earn your Junior Ranger badge.
- Visit the Capitol building—enjoy artwork, exhibits, and plenty of history.
Related Educational Resources and Activities
- Research some fun facts before heading into the city.
- Use the interactive tool below to learn about our branches of government:
- Learn about the Articles of Confederation which were eventually replaced by the U.S. Constitution:
- Before strolling by the president’s abode, talk to you child about the presidency.
- Take a crash course in U.S. History courtesy of John Green:
- Whether it’s to prepare for your trip or if you can’t visit our nation’s capital, consider taking a virtual field trip of Washington, D.C.
Related Children’s Books
- The Kid’s Guide to Washington, D.C.—Engage your kids before, during, and after you trip with this book that will involve them in the planning process.
- Hello Washington, D.C.!—New readers will love this story that will prepare them for some of the fun things they will see and experience in D.C.
- Smart About the Presidents allows kids to view the floor plan of the White House, awe over a list of presidential perks, and learn lots of interesting facts about each of the presidents.
- If the Walls Could Talk: Family Life at the White House—The whole family will enjoy learning fun facts about the White House and its inhabitants.
Questions for Discussion
Before your visit, ask your children:
- What are you most excited to see and do? Why?
- How do you think Washington, D.C. will be different from where we live?
- What states border Washington, D.C.?
After your visit, ask these questions for further discussion:
- What did you learn about history while in D.C.? Art? Politics?
- What was your favorite Smithsonian Museum and why?
- How is the city similar to where we live?
- How is Washington D.C. different from other big cities?
Educational Places to Visit Nearby
- Arlington National Cemetery—The grounds of Arlington National Cemetery honor those who have served our nation and hosts around 35 funeral services each week. Please be respectful when visiting and ensure that your children are able to appreciate the location.
- National Children’s Museum—Primarily intended for children eight years old and younger, the National Children’s Museum is located at National Harbor and inspires children to care about and improve the world.
- Mount Vernon—Mount Vernon was the home of the first president of the United States, George Washington. Today, you can visit the estate which hosts educational events and features the Washington Library.
Sarah Mills is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. She mentored and instructed kindergarten through high school-aged students throughout her college years and eventually went on to live and work in Yosemite National Park for a stint. Reading, writing, adventuring, and anything Harry Potter are some of Sarah’s favorite go-to activities.