The College Park Aviation Museum in College Park, Maryland, is a fantastic place to visit for anyone interested in airplanes, toddler to adult. The aviation museum is on the site of College Park Airport, one of the world’s longest-operating airports, and kids will be delighted by the small aircraft taking off and landing nearby. There’s plenty of history here, since the airport was founded in 1909 for the Wright Brothers to use to teach military aviators. The first U.S. military aviation school was opened here, and the first postal airmail service was started from here as well. The exhibits are labeled well and there are always several docents available to answer any questions that you or the kids have.
But the real fun? The airplanes! There are ten or so real airplanes in the exhibit hall that can be seen up close or just overhead. The biplane is one of Widget’s favorites, and has been since he was just over a year old. Every time we walk into the exhibit hall, we hear a little “wow!” and then we know he’s going to run right over to check it out.
Another kid favorite is the powder blue trainer at the far end of the museum. Kids (and adults!) are encouraged to hop in and pretend to be pilots themselves, no assistance required, and the wing flaps move when the wheel is pulled or turned, just like in a real airplane.
Kids will go running from the biplane to the trainer to the cutaway plane that shows the insides, and then be captivated by the kids’ area that covers an entire long side of the museum. (The other long side of the museum is all windows, so there is lovely natural light whether you go on a very hot afternoon or a cold winter morning.) The kids’ area has a propeller to spin, two air tubes to bounce balls on, small aviator jackets and hats to try on and model, a small wind tunnel, a computer game, several hands-on games that show how hard it is to navigate in headwinds, and an exhibit that has a number of telephone receivers that actually broadcast reports from the aviation towers in the area. There’s lots to be learned here, and it’s all presented in a very low-key manner so the kids will see that it’s fun.
There are also crafts galore! Kids can make their own airplane nametags, stamp (and mail) postcards, color, do airplane puzzles, play with soft transportation toys, and much more. The museum will even give each kid a little gift bag to take home at the end of the visit.
The highlight of every trip for us, since Widget is just 2, is riding the toddler-size pedal airplanes in the courtyard. There are over a DOZEN of these little guys, handcrafted by volunteers, and they are soooo much fun. Bring your camera, too, cause they make for a very cute photo op! There are also airplane rockers for the littlest ones. Low to the ground and pretty stable, they’re good for 1 year olds, but I’ll bet that most 1 year olds will head for the ones with the wheels.
College Park Aviation Museum is a low-key, lots-of-fun, kid-friendly museum where you don’t have to be quiet and you’re sure to find other kids there. For extra fun, bring a lunch to eat at a park bench over by the airport and watch the planes take off and land. This is one of our favorite places. Whether you live in or near DC or you’re just coming out for a visit, it’s a nice way to spend a morning or afternoon.