Sunday, December 27, 2009

Washington DC -- The Mall

So we are here in Washington DC where I had some vague idea that the kids might learn some more about the US that could get them up to speed at school. If that has happened it will be via a grudging osmosis. No overt grand wonder at the knowledge being spread before them.

The first event on this learning by doing exploration of the US was a road trip from Boston to DC on Christmas Day. My idea was to cover several states so that they at least could get a sense that there were more states than in Australia. That lead to complaining about that fact and how much harder it was going to be to learn what those states were. During the road trip I purchased a game where the children had to look out of the car and identify license plates from different states. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland came easily and we picked up Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and California as well. North Carolina proved more difficult as it was the "First in Flight" and obscured by a dealer plate but we got there in the end. The same for Florida and Oklahoma. New Jersey was of interest in proclaiming that it was "The Garden State." However, my 11 year old daughter did remark during our visit to that state that it appeared devoid of gardens. This led to a suggestion that there was, in fact, one garden in the state -- "The Garden" -- and we just hadn't seen it. Nonetheless, the search for more states proved fruitless; including the highly prized Montana. I have no idea how we are going to get Hawaii but I guess we have a year of this to do so.

In DC, our first stop was the other Air & Space museum out near Dulles airport. This museum holds The Enterprise which, to disappoint our children, was in fact the space shuttle rather than the 23rd Century version and also had, in reality, clocked as much space hours as those later versions. It didn't even have real engines but I guess we got a sense of size. Nonetheless, aside from the disappointment at the level of human progress, that museum did have an impressive array of planes including a B1 Stealth Bomber and the Concorde. Definitely worth the trip.

We then moved on to the Lincoln monument leading to the discussion of what a "score" was. This lead to an evening walk amongst other memorials with varying significance represented by various pieces of art and sculpture. Growing weary, my 9 year old son happened upon a tree -- of which there were many -- and asked "what does this represent?"

The next day saw us start at the usual Air and Space museum and another set of disappointment at just how uncomfortable space travel is when we could stand up close with the original Apollo 11 capsule and walk through a Sky Lab prototype. The children came to the opinion that flying in the Wright brother's original plane looked more fun. We were all impressed, however, at the efficiency of the huge McDonalds there that appeared to fund the whole operation.

We then trudged over to the American History museum to learn some history. That turned out to be impossible as there were various artifacts but not much in the way of facts. That said, we did happen upon an exhibit with some pictures of bacteria. My 11 year old daughter has become quite obsessed with stomach bacteria of late -- a story for another time -- so much so that for her birthday I discovered, and I am not making this up, plush toys of various bacteria which now share a bed with her. I could not imagine that the demand for such toys -- which I discovered in the University of Melbourne bookshop -- was more than a single child in the world. Yet there they were.

Anyhow, my daughter was staring at an E Coli picture when another kid came up and said (and I am really not making this up), "E Coli. I have a stuffed toy of that." To say I was shocked is an underestimated. I immediately encouraged my daughter to quickly go and make friends with this kid. But she refused. I am pretty sure they will regret it for the rest of their lives.

We didn't spend much time at American History before moving on to the White House. Again this led to another round of disappointment for the children who thought they might be able to go in but instead were some distance away but quite close to Michelle Obama's vegetable garden. You can't imagine the excitement that generated.

Tomorrow, we will try the Museum of Natural History that has the virtue of being the subject of Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. I sold it to my kids as such and my son remarked, "you mean we are visiting the set." I said, sure. I gotta go with the Hollywood path on this one.