Smithsonian Sleepovers let kids get lost in history

WASHINGTON — If your kids love the “Night at the Museum” movies, they can go on a nighttime museum adventure of their own with Smithsonian Sleepovers.

They’re offered for kids ages 8 to 12 on Friday nights during the summer at the Natural History Museum and American History Museum.

Parents come along as chaperones. There has to be one adult for every three children who attend. Adults are not allowed to come without a child, but they made an exception for me at the Natural History Museum.

After the museum closed to the public, our group of about 150 was given almost three hours to explore the exhibits and try some fun activities along the way.

The fun included acting like astronauts and collecting rock specimens, making amulets like the ones worn by Egyptian mummies, creating models of fossils out of clay, and using musical instruments to record unique family songs like cicadas make.

Later, we all met in the IMAX theater and put on special glasses to watch “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar 3D.” After the movie, we changed into pajamas, snuggled into sleeping bags or onto air mattresses, and lights-out came around midnight.

Most members of the sleepover party slept under or close to the nearly 45-foot model of a right whale named Phoenix. I slept in a sleeping bag on a yoga mat positioned under the whale’s tail.

During breakfast the next morning in the museum’s Atrium Cafe, I collected reviews from kids and their parents.

“I think sleeping there on the floor was cool,” says 11-year-old Isabel Khaliq.

“It’s kind of exciting because in the middle of the night I woke up and did not know where I was,” says Meredith McCray, who is 9.

“It was pretty cool, and I also kind of got sleepy during the movie though,” says 8-year-old Abigail Crumley.

Nine-year-old Lauren McCluskey says it was the best sleepover she’s ever been on.

“We got to do a bunch of activities and wander around the museum, and then I got to sleep with all my friends,” she said.

Steven McCarthy enjoyed his second Smithsonian Sleepover with his wife and son.

“It’s a really neat experience. It’s a great way to see the museum,” McCarthy said.

Program manager Brigitte Blachere says she’s never seen anything come alive at the museum during her many overnight stays, like the exhibits in the “Night at the Museum” movies do. But she thinks that might happen on other nights, when fewer people are watching. (Yes, just like in the movies, the museum has security guards who work at night.)

She says if the exhibits could talk, the one she would most like to talk to would be Henry, the elephant who stands in the museum’s Rotunda.

“He sees everything. He sees everybody coming; he sees everybody going. He could tell all the stories. He’s been here for a very, very long time.”

Tickets are still available for several of this summer’s sleepovers. The cost is $135 per person for the general public, $120 for Smithsonian Associate members.

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