Kids' Guide to Washington, D.C.

Explore civil rights issues with your children in the nation's capitol.

ByEileen Ogintz, <a Href="" Target="_blank">taking The Kids</a>
January 12, 2015, 12:39 PM
PHOTO: People visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Jan. 20, 2014 in Washington, DC.
People visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Jan. 20, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

&#151; -- What would he think of us now?

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Black History Month in February and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the march to Selma in March - commemorated in the new much-lauded film - that led to the passage later that same year of the Voting Rights Act, we might ask: What would King and all of those who fought for Civil Rights think?

We’ve accomplished a lot, they’d probably agree, but given recent events, we certainly have a long way to go.

There’s no better place than Washington, D.C., to explore such questions and issues with your children. Indeed, tourism officials in the nation’s capital have created an entire Civil War to Civil Rights itinerary.

“My favorite place that I visited in Washington, D.C., was the Lincoln Memorial,” said Haley, 13, of Fort Worth, Texas, one of the many kids who offered their take for my Kids’ Guide to Washington, D.C., one in my City Guide series. “I enjoyed reading the quotes on the walls.”

Of course, the Lincoln Memorial is where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” (you can find the plaque that marks the spot where he stood Aug. 28, 1963). You’ll also want to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. There is a National Mall app you can download to help you navigate. The Junior Rangers program at the National Park Service sites will help engage younger visitors, offering fun facts and activities.

But there are other sites you may not have considered that might enhance what the kids are learning in school about the Civil Rights Movement.

Visit Cedar Hill, home to abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass and a National Historic Site. Tour Ford’s Theater Museum that tells the story behind the Lincoln assassination. See the top hat Lincoln was wearing that night at the National Museum of American History, where you can also see the Greensboro lunch counter where the famous sit-ins occurred. (The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open next year.)

At Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home just outside Washington, D.C., learn about the slave community and how Washington decreed his slaves be freed on his wife’s death. Peak inside a Civil War spy’s life at the International Spy Museum.

A plus for visiting families: So many of the city’s attractions and museums are free. D.C. by Foot even offers free walking tours, including to the National Mall. Savvy traveling parents know the more input kids have in vacation planning, the more fun everyone will have. Here’s the Kids’ Take on WASHINGTON, DC:

MUST SEE THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS AND NATIONAL ZOO, the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums and the zoo. “My favorite was the Natural History Museum because I got to see lots of animals,” Holden, 13, of New Bern, North Carolina, said.

THE U.S.CAPITOL, where “taking the underground train from the House to the Senate” is a high point, Jimmy, 10, of Bedford, Massachusetts said. Added Brendon, 12, of Laurel, Maryland: You have a good chance to “spot celebrities.”

THE NEWSEUM, “where you get to act like a newscaster,” Will, 12, of Chicago said.

THE NATIONAL MALL AT NIGHT. “My favorite memory of Washington, D.C., Greta, 11, of Boise, Idaho, said. “The monuments were lit up so beautifully.”

MUST EAT at Eastern Market, D.C.’s original food and arts market in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. “Great food and sweet treats,” Jennie, 11, of Bethesda, Maryland, said.

MUST TAKE HOME. “A mini Washington Monument,” William, 12, of Potomac, Maryland, said.

Who says history can’t be fun?

Eileen Ogintz writes the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids and is the author of the nine Kids’ Guide books. Follow @TakingtheKids on Twitter and Facebook. This is the fifth in a series looking at major U.S. cities from kids’ perspectives.

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