Fostering a Love for Modern Art at the Hirshhorn Museum

My 10 year old is starting to develop a maturity towards art.  She’s always been a crafter, kid artist, coloring book fan, and all things from AC Moore or Michaels.  However, as she’s gotten older, she is showing that she is starting to appreciate more sophisticated works.  When we went to Washington, DC a few weeks ago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was a must on our itinerary.  Even if you aren’t a fan of modern or contemporary art, it would be surprising to not marvel at least once at the art displays here.

A side note before you dive further into this post, just wanted to share that all of these pictures (with the exception of the ones where she was in the picture) were taken by my 10 year old daughter using my DSLR.  So proud of her!


The sculpture garden surrounding the museum building can invoke some interesting conversation.  Here we were questioning, “What do you think they are discussing?” and “What is the significance of the individual in the back?”


I think we need to do something different when we take pics besides do the “jazz hands” pose!



Don’t overlook the fountain in the “center” of the museum.  The fountain itself seems to have an element of performance art!



Again…we love jazz hands!


Yup…those are Virgin Mary statues…


This art installation took up an entire room.



My daughter loved this face carved into the stone.


If you are looking for an incredible reason to go to the Hirshhorn, let the Shirin Neshat:  Facing History collection be it.  It is powerfully moving with both images and film throughout the exhibit in showing the duality of power and identify in the Islamic world.  The themes are very culturally rooted and may be above children’s ability to understand, but my daughter clearly got the message of the different roles and expectations between men and women.

Ways to Extend the Learning:

Found Art:  Encourage your child to hunt for household materials (old egg cartons, boxes, cotton…anything lying around!) in the house and to create a work of art from it!

Repetition in Art:  Go to your local dollar store and find art that your child can use in repetition to make an art piece.  This can be as simple as paper clips, popsicle sticks, even food!  Encourage them to use layering and repetition to create something dynamic!

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Washington DC’s Newseum-A Journey Through Marks in History

The front exterior of the museum sets the tone with a grand reminder of our freedom of speech.
The front exterior of the museum sets the tone with a grand reminder of our First Amendment rights.

A few weeks ago we visited the Newseum in Washington, DC for the first time and found it a compelling and emotional walk through many of our world’s most significant events.  With the tag line “There’s More to Every Story”, the Newseum proves that the art of investigating events can unravel revelations of humanity.


A common thread illustrated throughout the Newseum is how a free press reveals truth and is an obligation to society.  The front of the museum is adorned with the covers of the current issues of the day (can you believe that?) of a major newspaper from every state.  You can also find these covers on the top floor as well as peruse them digitally in a kiosk.  It’s a great visual example of efforts of journalists in delivering stories that matter to the people.


The Newseum includes numerous exhibits, theaters with a variety of films, artifacts, galleries, and interactive stations.  One of my favorites was the News Corporation News History Gallery.  The walls included additional artifacts and media signage and covers of significant moments in history.  This gallery includes front pages of newspapers from as far back as the 1400s.  Each issue is encased in protective glass, but can be pulled out to be read more carefully by guests.   I loved going through to read the issues of significant years in my family’s life including our birth years.  I even had my 10 year old read bits and compare the development of language throughout time.  She was really surprised at how difficult it was to understand the English written newspapers from the early 1900s.


The Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery is a very haunting and emotional walk through more recent history.  We were warned at the front desk that some of the images in this gallery may be too graphic for our young children.  Many images are the widely known capturing of major news stories including the civil rights era, the Oympics, 9/11, and wars.  The capturing of emotions running from elation to tragedy left me tearful after the short walk.


The Berlin Wall Gallery included a segment from the original wall that separated East and West Germany for so long.  I was in middle school when the Berlin Wall was torn down and remember how momentous it was to see this symbol and physical barrier of oppression be removed.  However, it was even more eye-opening to see the journalism journey behind the destruction of the wall.


The 9/11 Gallery features a segment of debris from the horrendous attacks and delicately tells the story of one of America’s most tragic historical events.  The huge wall behind shows front pages of newspapers from around the world in covering the terrorist attack.


The Bloomberg Internet, TV, and Radio Gallery shows the development of news and media channels throughout history.  Not only are images conveying significant stories in radio, TV, and internet displayed, but artifacts are present to help tell the story (such as damaged and weathered items from Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans).


The New Media Gallery is a fun interactive exhibit that takes the guest in a tutorial on how new media today not only allows anyone to interact, select, and engage with content, but allows anyone to be creators of media content.  There is even a fun interactive motion-detection game where you “dunk” the news anchor that my 10 year old loved!

We also watched a 4-D movie, “I-Witness:  A 4-D Time Travel Adventure” that is geared towards family friendly entertainment.  A few points I thought were a bit scary and think it may be too much for sensitive young ones.  However, it does teach viewers significant achievements in journalism through history in a fun way.

There is so much to see at the Newseum, we didn’t even get the chance to view every exhibit as we had wanted!  I highly suggest the Newseum to be added to your Washington DC travel itinerary for your family, particularly if you have children in upper elementary school and above.  The news coverage displayed in the exhibits help support many history curriculums.  I suggest you aim to spend the entire day at the museum to be able to immerse yourself in all that it has to offer!

Suggestions to Extend the Learning

  • Check out the digital classroom resources from Newseum for your child to learn more through primary sources, videos, etc. that support standards of learning.
  • Do you homeschool?  Newseum also offers lesson plans for those visiting the museum and those who can’t!
  • Journalist for a Day:  Encourage your child to pick a significant news story of the day and research current updates on it.  Have him/her present their coverage to the family like a “news anchor” at the end of the day.
  • Photojournalism Field Trek:  Have your child practice capturing “the story” in your day with a photojournalistic approach.  Communications specialist Cassie Dull has a great powerpoint presentation on teaching photojournalism to kids here.  Encourage kids to find a story in what they see happening in real life and practice capturing the essence of the moment with a camera.

The Newseum was such a great walk through history and memories of things both triumphant and tragic.  It is truly a great example of what museums should be like today.  It is an educational and emotional experience wrapped into one.  What news story in history resonantes with you the most?


Disclosure:  I am not affiliated with the Newseum.  I received complimentary admission to the Newseum to help write this post.  The thoughts and opinions here are completely my own.



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National Building Museum’s New “The BEACH” Exhibit

I haven’t been in a ball crawl since I was 10.

…and yes, you are never too old to enjoy playing in a ball crawl!

I’m 40 and I had the best time with my family visiting the National Building Museum in Washington, DC last week.  We were able to check out their newest exhibit, “The BEACH” created in partnership with New York’s Snarkitecture, this interactive exhibit is the intersection of art, architecture, and play.  What on the immediate outset appears to just be a ball crawl, in actuality is a transforming experience that takes you to a day at the beach!


I had been hearing about this exhibit through my social media feeds and immediately thought it would be a one-of-a kind experience for my family.  I didn’t fully know what to expect, but I knew it was going to involve a lot of family fun.  How often do you and your family get to come together and frolick through something as a simulated beach made of various building materials?


The BEACH spans 10,000 square feet through the Great Hall of the museum.  Tickets to The BEACH exhibit have no timed entry.  So when we got there we saw a red roped line.  It did move quickly however and we were there on a busy Thursday around lunch time.  I’d say we waited for 20-25 minutes.


There was plenty to keep little ones occupied while we waited in line.  There were various building block toys and such for kids to explore the architect or engineer within!


You don’t even understand the anticipation to enter The Beach.  Seeing the white walkway and wondering what is beyond it gets everyone excited.  While we waited, the museum attended reviewed the rules of The Beach which informed us that shoes were optional, no throwing of the balls was permitted, etc.


Once we entered, it almost felt like a monochromatic, stark white beach resort of the future.  The flooring was a white astro turf-like material that simulated the feeling of sand.  There was plenty of room in the back to park strollers, so that it didn’t get in the way of the “beach” experience.


There is also a snack bar to sit and take in a refreshment!


The “beach” was in actuality a ball pit, filled with white plastic balls that had a slope similar to a beach.  There was a shallow end where littles could safely play and it gradually got deeper.  It never got too deep that an adult could not stand waist-high.  The pit was divided by a center platform which made it easy for spectators to watch and the full-length of the beach to be enjoyed by all.

DSC_0847b The shallow end was a bit easier for my 2-year old, but he still preferred to get buried in the deeper end!


The photo-ops are endless!


The deeper end was quite comical!  The room was so full of laughter and giggles!  With the density of the balls, it didn’t seem easy for everyone to bumb into each other and get hurt while standing. I wonder if that grown man realized I was climbing over him trying to get out!


Here’s a warning…do NOT get in a “sitting” position or you will get stuck!  I think my feet and rear were planted on the floor in this shot.  The pressure from the balls and pure physics made it feel impossible to get out!  And yes…you will get buried…quiet easily!

I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time!


The BEACH is running now until September 7, 2015.  Admission tickets are required, but it also provides entrace to other exhibits at the museum as well.  We were able to also enjoy the Designing for Disaster, Scaling Washington, and Cool & Collected:  Recent Acquisitions.  Photography was not allowed, so I don’t have any images to share.  However, my older kids enjoyed seeing the variety of forms, sculpture and materials as told through different themes. The Building Zone, which is geared towards children to explore was full to capacity the time we were there, so we didn’t get a chance to check it out.  We also unfortunately didn’t get to enjoy the other children’s area “Play Work Build” because we were needing to leave and hit the road back home! Will have to explore that next time!

A visit to the National Building Museum can lead to many teachable opportunities for your children/students.  They currently have postcards at the exit of the exhibit encouraging visitors to brainstorm ideas of how they would create an interactive exhibit in the Great Hall.  In addition to drafting ideas on that, other STEM-based and building type activities you can do with your children after a visit include:

  • Upcycle To A New Toy:  Find basic items around the house (or from the dollar or home improvement store) that are typically used for another function.  Put them together in a unique way to create something recreational and fun!
  • Ball Crawl Estimation:  Estimate the number of balls needed to fill a 10,000 square foot space using knowledge of volume of a sphere
  • Physics of a Ball Crawl:  Research and answer the following questions: What forces were acting on you when you were in the ball crawl?  Why was it so difficult to maneuver or stand up sometimes?



Disclosure:  I am not affiliated with the National Building Museum.  I received complimentary admission to the National Building Museum and The BEACH exhibit.  The thoughts and opinions here are my own.

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