Imagine spending the night under a fifty foot whale or next to the Discovery Space Shuttle, well- it’s possible! The sleepovers offered by the Smithsonian Museum system here in Washington, D.C. are truly the only events that make me wish my daughter were older. From May through August The American History Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Udvar-Hazy Center open their doors for the night to children aged 8-12 and their lucky parents (see end of article for dates and locations). Since I have not been to the event myself I reached out to people who’d participated in years past, and the feedback only makes me all the more excited about attending some day.
I was able to connect with moms, an aunt, a volunteer and the Smithsonian program coordinator for the events and combined I was able to get a pretty clear idea of how the sleepovers work. The sleepovers start at 7pm and there are activities, crafts and a movie before bedtime, in the morning a buffet style breakfast is served and there’s time to poke around in the giftshop before the program ends at 8:45am.
“It’s a great time! I would recommend to any parents. The children get to explore a lot of the museum and are really proud of accomplishing their projects.” says Heather Benjamin of Alexandria, Virginia. Benjamin is going on her third year volunteering at the sleepovers and goes on to say “It’s so much fun to see how excited the kids get about each activity and completing the tasks involved. They are pretty creative and eager. I’ve seen some wildly innovative “satellites” made out of craft materials.” The satellites were made at the Udvar Hazy sleepover but she’s also volunteered at the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum as well. She says the Smithsonian staff and volunteer coordinators plan the activity stations that occur throughout the museum and “they really know their stuff”.
Carla Roque-Cruz of Rockville, Maryland echoed Benjamin’s praise of the event and said “The whole event was great! Very, very organized. There were activities for the kids for the whole time we were there before lights out! Each section of the museum had an activity related to that section and you had a booklet full activities that you had to use and stamped as you completed each activity.” She and her nine year old son, Dante attended the sleepover at the Natural History Museum which he picked because “he LOVES dinosaurs…the volunteers were wonderful! Dante, my son, was mesmerized by the whole idea. He couldn’t believe he actually spent a night at the museum.” She and Dante plan on attending again this year at the Udvar Hazy Center.
Attending a sleepover at a different location every year may be the way to go. Lori Walsh-Van Wey of Alexandria brought her nephews to the Museum of Natural History and said the program was similar both times she went. But, “They loved it! One was a bit scared by a portion where you walk through the skeletal animal display in partial darkness, but he loved being given a flashlight and felt very proud of himself afterward. They also enjoyed the crafts and games, and breakfast in the morning.” She and Gwen Haynes, owner of Eventworthy Meeting & Event Planning, both mentioned that they’d bring a blow up mattress in the future.
Gwen went with a group of mom friends in 2016 “I just searched my email and it looks like since 2014 I had been planning to attend. I see an email that I sent to a group of Moms that said: “Get on this mailing list so we can try to go, It books up fast!” LOL So I believe 2015 slipped by us and we finally got ourselves together for 2016.” They also spent the evening at the Natural History Museum and in addition to using flashlights to explore the fossil room they made totem poles, music and speared a woolly mammoth.
The sleepovers were launched in 2008, inspired by the movie “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”. Which means that 2018, next year, is the ten year anniversary. I asked Brigitte Blachere, program director for the sleepovers, if they have anything planned and she replied “Working on the 10th anniversary special. got to wait until then…. :)”
Additionally a sleepover program has been created for the National Portrait Gallery where you’re allowed to spend the night in the Kogod Courtyard and late nights may be coming to the National Postal Museum. If you think your child may be interested in these sleepovers I’d sign up soon Blachere told me that people have come from as far away as China and Russia to attend.
Bring something comfortable, like a blow up mattress with a battery powered pump (outlets are hard to find in the museum) to sleep on. (multiple moms mentioned this)
Mark your sleeping bag with your name or a distinct scarf, so you can find it amongst all the others at the end of the night.
Parents may consider a pick me up like tea or coffee before the night begins.
Sign up early!
$135/General Admission (parents and child need a ticket)
$120/ for Smithsonian Associates Members (I am personally a Smithsonian Associate member, if you live in the area and utilize the Smithsonian System I’d encourage you to join, you not only support them financially but stay in the know about neat programs, such as they one.)
When & Where
National Museum of Natural History Sleepovers
Sleepover guests will experience the museum through an interactive exploration of exhibit halls consisting of games, puzzles and challenges; exhibit-based craft projects; watching an IMAX film; and sleeping under the museum’s giant North American right whale, Phoenix. Sleepovers at the National Museum of Natural History will be held May 26, June 23, June 30, July 21, Aug. 4 and Aug. 18.
National Museum of American History Sleepovers
Participants will solve a mystery of historic proportions during an interactive exploration of exhibit halls. When the devious diva Miss Rose steals six valuable objects from the museum, kids must discover what is missing before the evening’s end. Using their detective skills, they will collect clues to guide them to the crime scene. Along the way, they will take part in games, experiments and craft projects—and even become a presidential candidate. Sleepovers at the National Museum of American History will be held June 2, June 17, July 7 and Aug. 25.
National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center Sleepovers
Kids and their chaperones will explore the whole world of flight, from its pioneering days through the era of commercial aviation to the excitement of today’s space program. After they grab a flight checklist, they will take off for a night that includes plenty of games, art activities and close-up looks at some of the most historic and fascinating craft ever to take to the skies. Udvar-Hazy Center staff will be on hand to offer information and insights about the aviation treasures on view. Sleepovers at the Udvar-Hazy Center will be held July 15, July 29 and Aug. 12.
This article would not have happened without the many ladies who agreed to be interviewed. So I just want to give a big thank you to Lauren Lyons, Brigitte Blachere, Carla Roque-Cruz, Heather Benjamin, Lori Walsh Van-Wey and Gwen Haynes. I was not expecting so many people to respond to my request for an interview- you’re all amazing!
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