On Nov. 1, the National Children’s Museum will reopen at a new location, bringing a cornerstone the region’s kids a STEM-focused museum for the first time since the original site, Capital Children’s Museum, closed 16 years ago. Before the doors open, we spoke with museum CEO and President Crystal Bowyer about creating the kid-focused concept in an era driven by technology.
The museum is being billed as celebrating “modern childhood.” What does that mean?
I think that for today’s child, what they expect from a children’s museum is very different from what you and I expected at a children’s museum. They want to see things that they cannot see at home. So, if you take them into a traditional children’s museum and they are seeing the same grocery store with plastic food and items that they might actually play with at home, it’s not as engaging of an experience. We have this rule of thumb that anything that’s in the museum would not be something that you would expect to have at home. We are trying to spark imagination, spark curiosity and really inspire the children through the experience.
What can families expect when they visit?
Everything that we’re doing is STEAM focused. We’re trying to teach STEM through the integration of the arts throughout the experience. We will be the first children’s museum that’s also a science center and a children’s museum in one. We’re really creating a full, family engagement experience. We’re trying to reach children up to the age of 12 with our learning objectives, so that this is an experience that an entire family can come and enjoy together.
Why is it important to have a children’s museum here?
Washington, right now, is the only major city in America without a children’s museum, so while we have this amazing cultural landscape of federal institutions under the Smithsonian umbrella, many of those institutions are collection space. For young learners, they’re not able to have those hands-on learning experiences that really resonate with a younger child. We also right now are the only major city without a science and technology center, so this is so incredibly important for Washington’s kids. You need a place where you’re engaging them in hands-on STEM content before they reach an age where they start to lose interest. There’s tons of research around children losing interest in STEM at the age of 12, so if you don’t hook them earlier, you miss that opportunity to inspire these young innovators. It’s vitally important that we have this space here in Washington, and we’re very excited about the opportunity of really merging the worlds of a science center and a children’s museum in one for our nation’s capital.
What is the mission of National Children’s Museum?
Our mission hasn’t changed [from when it was Capital Children’s Museum]. Our mission is to inspire children to care about and change the world. We can’t really think of a better mission than that. Since our mission is to inspire these children, that’s why we believe we need to do things that are different than what they would find at home or at school or in their community center. When they go into this museum it can spark something in them that really inspires them to do something special, and makes them believe they can be innovative and do innovative things. We’re very, very excited to get our doors open for this new generation. // 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC