Family Guide to Washington, D.C.

For my birthday, I asked for, and received, Family Guide to Washington, D.C.: Featuring More than 50 Fun and Educational Scavenger Hunts by Chris Sylvester. The book’s main section is a series of scavenger hunts to guide kids’ and adolescents’ exploration of museums, memorials, and other sites in DC and Northern Virginia. Brief information is also provided about many other museums, parks, performance venues, and family-friendly restaurants and stores in DC and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Laura and Duncan open Laura's birthday presents

Me, having just unwrapped the book. The golden thing in the front half the of the photo is Duncan, helping me open my presents. Photo by Carol DiSciullo

Now, I am not a kid, nor do I have kids. Still, I can use the book as a resource as an educator, and as a visitor always looking for more sites to see.

The book has scavenger hunts for 11 of the places I went during my two rounds of Weekly Museum Visits, named below as they are in the book:

  • Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial
  • Ford’s Theatre
  • Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  • International Spy Museum
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
  • Christ Church
  • Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
  • Carlyle House Historic Park
  • The Lyceum
  • Friendship Fire House Museum
World War II Memorial and Lincoln Memorial

You can see both the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial at once in this photo, but Family Guide to Washington, D.C. encourages closely looking at each one individually.

The first nine scavenger hunts are designed for memorials (and the cherry trees) around the National Mall and Tidal Basin, encouraging close looking at the monuments that are often seen all at once and therefore easy to rush through. Each scavenger hunt lists questions to answer and activities to participate in, with some designated for certain age groups.

As I thought about this month’s blog theme (Learning from Objects: Primary and Secondary Sources), I read through the scavenger hunt questions and noticed the different forms they take. Some are sensory or participatory activities (“Touch the moon rock” and “Test your reaction time by catching the ruler as fast as possible when it falls,” National Air and Space Museum – National Mall Building). Others ask the child to ponder his or her own opinion (“Which is your favorite ___?” for many sites; “Find the words ‘Freedom is not Free.’ What does this mean to you?” for the Korean War Veterans Memorial). Some scavenger hunt items ask the visitor to find certain objects or markers.

Many of the questions ask for specific facts, and as I read, I noted that most of these fact-finding questions would require reading exhibit labels or hearing information from a tour guide. The children using this book will not personally be measuring the Statue of Freedom, but their tour guide – or the text panels by the plaster model in the Capitol Visitor Center – can inform them that she is 19 and a half feet tall. Thus, many questions cannot be answered just by looking at the objects, but instead make use of written and spoken words that put the objects in context.

I found a very few questions that can be answered without reading or hearing any words. These questions include, “Count the steps leading up to the entrance” of the Supreme Court, which has a fixed answer, and “Find the cheetahs. How many can you count?” at the National Zoological Park, whose answer depends on how many cheetahs are on view at a given time.

My qualms about the book are the occasional typographical error, and the lack of any scavenger hunts in my home state of Maryland. However, Maryland is amply represented in the lists of suggested sites that are not accompanied by scavenger hunt activities.


June’s blog theme is Learning from Objects: Primary and Secondary Sources.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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