I grew up in the DC area, so I consider myself to be very knowledgeable in all things DC. That being said, I’d never toured the Capitol. Sure, I’d been inside, I’d visited friends that were aides and delivered more than my share of documents to the Congressmen and women who inhabited those walls. But an official tour? No – or at least until now. On our most recent visit to the District of Columbia, I, a homeschool mom of 12, booked a tour through our Congressman’s office and had no idea what to expect. Here are my tips for a successful, fun and educational experience.
A tour of the Congressional Buildings might not rank as high as the White House or the amazing FREE museums in DC for first-time visitors, but it’s definitely something that shouldn’t be missed.
In fact, as my kids can attest, it’s possible to learn more about the history of the U.S., how bills become laws, art, architecture and even possibly run into one Congressman or woman in one day than in all 12 years of schooling combined!
Walking the halls, you can literally feel the power that is contained within its walls. This building is where most of the laws, acts and amendments in our history were made.
As a homeschooling family that believes very strongly in the concept of checks and balances, and being an educated voter … visiting the US Capitol was not to be missed!
Guided tours of the Capitol begin at one of the Capitol Visitor Center’s orientation theaters with a 13-minute film, “E Pluribus Unum,” which takes you on a journey through our country’s difficult struggle to establish the world’s first truly representative democracy.
Once inside the historic Capitol, visitors will see the Crypt, the Rotunda, the Old Supreme Court, House Gallery and National Statuary Hall.
Here are six tips to make your US Capitol tour, educational and enjoyable.
To visit areas of the Capitol beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must make a reservation in advance. Tour schedules do fill up, so it is advisable to book your tour well in advance of your visit.
U.S. residents can go directly through the offices of their representative or senators. Many congressional offices offer their own staff-led tours to constituent groups of up to 15 people, and most can assist you in booking a general tour. Not sure who your representatives are? Visit this website here.
Tours can also be arranged directly through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center using an online reservation system.
Be Prepared Educationally
We Googled George Washington, the Supreme Court, “How a Bill Becomes a Law” and a few snippets about the architecture of the building. I just thought if we went in with a little knowledge, the kids would pick up on extra details.
We didn’t get very technical or go too deep, but the little that we did discuss did help give some foundation for the additional things we learned.
Best for Children 8 & Up
Our younger children weren’t captivated and even our 10 year old said, “I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know.”
The problem is that for the most part all the rooms are crowded with several group tours, which makes it very hard for all but the older children to concentrate on listening. The information on the tour will be much more interesting to older kids and those with a penchant for history, politics, architecture, and/or art.
Eat Before Going
No food or drink is allowed in the Capitol, as the security is much akin to that in an airport, so be sure to eat before arriving to avoid getting hangry (an adjective that describes the angry feeling some get as a result of becoming hungry). I smuggled in some toddler sized snacks, like a baggie of grapes and some cheese (grass fed, non-pasteurized, of course), but actually smuggling them into my toddlers mouth proved difficult. Hence, I would eat a good sized meal before the close to two hour tour!
Thankfully, there are water fountains throughout, because, sadly, water bottles or other liquid containers are not permitted.
Believe it or not, parking was not an issue … at all. There was ample parking on D street and all the other streets surrounding the Cannon Building, which is where we picked up our tickets.
Another option would be to ride the Metro into the city. Our kids always love riding subways and metros! The Capitol South Metro station is the closest station to the Cannon House Office Building. It is approximately .2 miles away which makes for an easy and interesting walk.
We didn’t enter or leave where the “normal” visitors enter and leave, but we did get in and out and really that’s all that matters.
Upon exiting the building, our youngest’s favorite part, we walked around the buildings, took photos and let the kids run around in the grass, climb walls, throw pennies in fountains and just be kids.
Good To Know
Where: Cannon House Office Building 27 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003
When: 8:50 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
How much: Free
Amenities: Restrooms, small gift shop.
Where to Stay: The Jefferson
More: Looking for more kid friendly ideas in DC, check here