Is there anything more romantic than a date night at the Kennedy Center? Years ago we celebrated our first anniversary at an Opera concert. The beautiful architecture and the river views were perfect for the occasion, followed by a dinner at the restaurant where we went on our first date. It was magical. Fast forward nine years and the Kennedy Center has become a special place for family outings.
Bringing kids to the theater provides a great learning opportunity, but for years I was intimidated by the experience and honestly the price. I occasionally took the boys to concerts at the Millennium Stage. A low risk activity with quick escape routes and it’s free. Now that the kids are older, we have come to discover and enjoy the family programming provided by the Center.
Live Performances: Baby Steps
Our first show was a nerve wracking experience. We went to the family theater to catch a beautiful production geared towards very young audiences. As the show was about to begin, we were all moved to the stage and invited to sit inside a tent. The following 45 minutes were filled with beautiful music and storytelling. Surprisingly, both boys sat quietly and enjoyed the presentation. Not all parents were as lucky, but I think there were only one or two families that had to leave in the middle of the show. We had successfully finished our very first theater show with no drama.
Theater shows for the younger audiences are only offered a couple of times during the year. As we look at the programming we realized that the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) has a series of concerts specifically gear for children. We took a look at the schedule and got tickets for the Halloween Spooktacular.
Picture the beautiful theater filled with kids of all ages wearing their halloween costumes. It was amazing. The NSO organizes a pre-show petting zoo where kids get a chance to get close to the different instruments and play them. My boys had a blast and they were eager to see the show. We have since been to one other show and are specially excited about the upcoming programing including the shows by The Kennedy Center’s first Education Artist-in-Residence, Mo Willems.
Are you ready for your first show?
If you have young children, the thought of a live theater performance may not seem suitable. Some kids are better than others and likely to improve with repeated exposure to these types of events. Given the nature of the performances and the likelihood that you will not be the only one with the potential meltdown in hand I would like to encourage you to get to one of their shows. If you need extra help, here are my tips to make this experience possible.
5 Tips to Enjoy the Kennedy Center with Kids
This one is hard, especially with children that nap. I recommend earlier shows because 4 pm might be too close to the end of nap. Plus, adding driving time could cut the show a little short.
Talk to your kids about the show and experience. Explain to them what you are about to watch. The Kennedy Center is great at providing a pre-show run down so you can prep your kids. You can also show them previews of the show or for the NSO you can watch a previous performance. This will get them excited and hopefully get them in the right mood. For more tips you can read our previous post on taking kids to concerts and what to expect.
I used to think that a Kennedy Center show was a big luxury, but thankfully the family shows are sponsored. The prices range from $15-25 per ticket. If grandparents are asking for gift ideas, this is a great option! Parking is available for an additional $20 but there is a very convenient shuttle to and from the Foggy Bottom metro station. Or if you are lucky you could venture out for street parking in the neighborhood.
4. A sweet little secret you probably didn’t know
Still hesitant about attending a show because your kids will not sit still, they are afraid of loud noises or have special needs? Please do not worry! The Kennedy Center offers sensory-friendly performances. Sensory-friendly performances are designed to fit those with special needs. The shows are set in a more inclusive and relax environment to help make everyone comfortable. Lights stay on, volume is lower, there are designated spaces for those who need a break and the audience is free to talk and move as much as needed. You wont feel bad if your kids loudly asks a question or cries because he gets tired. The show is geared towards making you and your family feel comfortable. Sensory-friendly shows are now available at different theaters around the country. A great option for families with special needs and younger children.
5. A little extra
If you are lucky and you go on a sunny day, run around on the rooftop terrace. The views are a treat and the kids will love to see the planes go by. Bring a snack and enjoy the rest of the day in one of DC’s most iconic buildings.