by Micaela Williamson
Did you ever have a time when you looked at your child and thought, "I want him/her to remember this moment for the rest of their lives?" That's how I felt when my son, a rising third grader, and I got to spend the night at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. as part of their "History, Heroes & Treasures" sleepover program. The evening was filled with bonding, fun, and some unforgettable experiences.
Upon arrival, we entered through a special security, dropped off our sleeping bags and were brought to the theater for an orientation. While we were waiting for the program to begin, we met costumed historians dressed up as Sally Ride and Meriwether Lewis as well as a present day underwater archaeologist. The were incredibly entertaining and made everyone feel at ease. My son asked "Sally Ride" how many astronauts were on the shuttles, and she told us five on her first mission and seven on her second mission. She quickly added that "Seven was way too many, and since astronauts are only in the capsule of each shuttle, everyone was bumping into each other the whole time. When I came back to earth, I told my supervisors, 'never more than five again!"
We also had the opportunity to chat with other participants and were surprised to find that many states were represented. The sleepover attracts a national audience, not just the local crowd from the DMV.
Next, from 7:45-9:15, we were free to explore the museum, visit different activity stations (self-paced) and have a snack (of course we did!) First, we headed to the galleries for a scavenger hunt. I am a bit mortified to admit that even after living in D.C. metro for 13 years, I thought the National Archives was just a massive library of records and documents. I didn't realize that it actually contains a fun and interactive museum. Even after we completed our scavenger hunt, my son and I toured the exhibits.
Other activities we participated in were making crafts, planning and assembling rockets, dressing up like explorers, listening to 19th century music and playing some different instruments, visiting with present day underwater archeologists and hearing about their fascinating missions, and a matching game where we matched different food items (provisions) to each explorer.
After the activity stations, everyone gathered in the theater again for the "Archives Report." Here the children lined up in the aisles (press conference style) and got to interview the explorers. It was a lot of fun! The explorers were animated, funny, and kept the audience entertained while learning.
Finally, it was time to wind things down. The kids had a choice of a storytime or a short movie, and then we got ready for bed. Lights out were at 11:00 PM. My son was so excited to sleep in the Rotunda and loves the bragging rights that he got to spend the night in the same room as our nation's founding documents: the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. (I like those bragging rights too!)
In the morning, we started things off with a delicious breakfast of pancakes flipped by Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero. (Seriously, the chocolate chip pancakes were amazing. I want the recipe!) We then had some more activities such as time to shop in the Archives gift shop, a trivia game, and a very fun Historic Chocolate Demonstration and Tasting led by Mars Chocolate History Ambassadors. Finally, it was time to depart the museum, and all the participants and chaperones received an incredibly generous gift bag filled with keepsakes and books.
The National Archives Sleepover was an incredible experience, and I feel fortunate that we had the opportunity to attend. The evening was well paced with just the right amount of free choice and whole group activities. The staff and volunteers were talented, knowledgeable and able to teach the children through experiences, not through boring lectures. I treasured every moment of the National Archives Sleepover and highly recommend this event to anyone with children ages 8-12. It is worth every penny, and the memories created are invaluable.
Top Tips For Those Attending the National Archives Sleepovers:
Many thanks to the team at the National Archives Museum for allowing us to attend the sleepover for a written review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own. I only hope the words I used can do the smallest amount of justice to this unforgettable experience. We can't wait to come back and visit the museum again soon.
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