National African American Museum Tips with Kids

Who can visit the National African American Museum of History and Culture? Everyone! I’ve visited twice with my kids and encourage everyone who can to visit in Washington, D.C. Below are my top National African American Museum tips with kids including tickets, hours, must-see exhibits, notes on some of the sensitive exhibits and parking.

National African American Museum Tips with Kids

Tickets & Hours for the NAAMHC

Free tickets are available online for a timed-entry reservation. Go to the museum’s website here to reserve as soon as possible. You can also call 1-800-514-3849 to reserve. Everyone needs a ticket regardless of age. Tickets are released up to 30 days in advance and there are some same-day timed entry tickets released at 8:15 AM each day.

Currently the museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 AM to 4 PM. It may open other days soon so check their website for up to date info.

National African American Museum Tips with Kids
Beautiful Lobby in the National African American Museum of History and Culture

Parking for NMAAHC:

The Visitor Entrance is now at Madison Drive NW and the exit is on Constitution Ave, NW.

Parking is little tricky to predict based on the day of the week and how many tourists/commuters are in town. 2 spots to check and 1 parking garage recommendations:

  1. Usually, I do a loop to check for metered street parking along Constitution Ave, 12th St. and then Madison Dr. I have great luck here at around 9:45 AM because it is before the museums open but things are in flux right now with timed-entry.
  2. This time, I did a second loop when we recently visited and found lots of parking spots on Jefferson Dr. SW in front of the Dept. of Agriculture around 1:30 PM.
  3. Closest Parking Garage is at the Ronald Regan Building just 1 block away at 14th St. between Constitution and Pennsylvania Ave. It is DC’s largest parking garage and you will need to have a security check of your car and trunk.

National African American Museum Tips with Kids

1) Review the Museum Map Ahead of Time

The NMAAHC is the newest Smithsonian and in my opinion, the most innovative in terms of architecture communicating meaning. The museum’s history exhibits start 3 levels underground beginning in the 1400s and then as you move through history you rise up through the levels. The ground level has the Contemplative Court (don’t miss) and then the 3 above ground levels focus on the cultural and historical achievements.

Map by National Museum of African American History and Culture website here.

2) Before you visit, share the ‘Why’ behind your visit, Preview and Ask for questions:

We visited a few years ago when my daughter was 5 and my son was 2. Back then, I read a picture book of Ruby Bridges’ story as an entry point to talk about segregation and inequality. We did not go to the History Galleries then.

For this visit, my kids are 8 and 5 and we talked more specifically about why we are visiting this time. We talked about the evils of slavery in broad terms and the history of inequality. I showed them the museum’s website ahead of time.

3) When you are at the museum, talk to the helpful staff

When we first entered the lobby, there was a museum staff member with a microphone who went over the layout of the museum and shared where the sensitive exhibits are (see next tip) and answered any questions. My 8 year old asked if they have an exhibit on Kamala Harris and the nice staff member said, “not yet! She’s making history right now!”

4) If sensitive kids, 2 options for the History Galleries:

There are 2 great options if you have sensitive kiddos for going through the galleries. The first option, which we did when the kids were younger, was to skip the 3 below ground History Galleries. This covers the years 1400-present day. The 3 above ground Culture Galleries are great for kids (see next tip!)

The other option, which we took this time, is to move quickly through the History Galleries. The museum has a red box over particularly difficult/sensitive material which you can see from afar and not go up close and read.

When you first exit the elevator the first exhibit is entitled “15th – 19th centuries: The Making of the Atlantic World.” It has a beautiful picture of Queen Nzingha Mbande of present day northern Angola. This reminds you of the history and culture prior to the transatlantic slave trade. The next spot we stopped at was the Paradox of Liberty which talks about the Declaration of Independence and the 12 of the first 18 presidents who owned slaves. There is a shackles artifact right next to the statue of Thomas Jefferson. He owned 609 slaves in his lifetime which are represented by bricks surrounding his statute.

5) Must-See Spots – #1 National African American Museum Tips with Kids

  1. Contemplative Court – Even if you don’t visit the History Galleries, make sure to go to the Contemplative Court to read the powerful words and be in the beautiful space where a “fountain rains down calming waters.”
  2. Explore More! Interactive Gallery – Check out the L2 Galleries with a Green Book exhibit and Step Afrika! Interactive Dance. My kids loved these the best!
  3. The Community Galleries have a great Sports Leveling the Playing Field and the best view from the museum at the African American Medal of Honor Recipients window.
  4. The Culture Galleries have some very cool areas including the Mothership used by Parliment-Funkadelic at their concerts, Musical Crossroads and Visual Arts.

6) Consider checking out the Museum Gift Shop

The last tip is to consider visiting the Museum Gift Shop. We usually skip museum gift shops to save money but this shop has a great selection of kids books and other great items! It might be a good way to continue some of the learning at home!

National African American Museum Tips with Kids

And if you want more Things to Do in DC with Kids, check out my full Washington DC Kids page with the best DC playgrounds, Things to do with Babies and Kid-Friendly Restaurants in DC.

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