Published On: Sun, Feb 24th, 2013

Najwa “Playing, Working, Building” at the National Building Museum

Nduku and Najwa

Years ago I used to volunteer at the National Building Museum and marvel at perfect the place was to bring your kids. Lots of parents brought their kids and there were many activities designed specifically for little kids. But back then, I had no kids, but I always made a mental note to bring any future kids to the National Building Museum.

Things have changed since those days. Not only do I have a child, but the NBM’s play area for kids has become quite popular. It used to be free for all, stay as long as you want and let kids be kids. Now it costs a few dollars, there’s a time limit and if you don’t schedule a time to go into the Building Zone, you may have to wait hours for there to be room! Annoying, sure, but a testament to its popularity.

But, that’s not why we were there. The National Building Museum has an exhibit just for kids to explore, build and learn. And play. Called PLAY WORK BUILD, it’s a huge area with a bunch of parts an pieces and no instructions of how they fit together. Hence, the kids just let their imagination do the work and build whatever they see in the various shapes.

There are several areas for different age kids. Najwa played in all of them and built nothing [that we could tell], but she had a ball and that’s all that mattered. We’ll be back.

Research has shown how important play can be to a child’s development. But, play is not only for kids. Through this exhibition, visitors begin to see the connections between play, design, and the work of building professionals like architects and engineers.

Only at the National Building Museum can the concepts of PLAY, WORK, and BUILD be combined to create a new exhibition that will enthrall kids and adults alike. Conceived in partnership with the internationally renowned design firm the Rockwell Group, this exhibition combines a presentation of the Museum’s world-class Architectural Toy Collection, a hands-on block play area, and an original digital interactive that allows visitors to fill an entire wall of the exhibition with virtual blocks—and then knock them down.

After viewing a selection of construction toys from the Museum’s collection, from the familiar Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs to the lesser-known Bumpalow House and Ringa-Majigs, visitors have the opportunity to reconfigure their environment and design their own course of play with individually-sized blocks. In the subsequent gallery, visitors are invited to work individually to reimagine their small-scale structures created into oversized structures using supersized foam blocks or to work in groups to design and build something entirely new. Whether visitors choose the tactile experience with the small or large blocks, the virtual block-play experience, or all of the activities, children and adults alike are encouraged to participate in unstructured, imaginative play that exercises muscles and minds.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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