Jan 16

My Most Memorable Night Out In DC: National Archives Sleepover

Having lived near DC for the majority of my life, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many national landmarks as well as fine art and dining destinations. But something was lacking in my experience of the DC “night scene,” and it wasn’t until recently that I experienced DC in a whole new way. You see, I had one of my most memorable nights out in our nation’s capital… and it wasn’t a date night with my husband or girl’s night out. It involved spending the night in the same room as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights!

Let me assure you, my Archives Sleepover did not resemble the outlandish movie plots from “Night At The Museum” or “National Treasure” which deal with the topics of spending the night at a museum and breaking into the National Archives Museum after hours. My son and I had the opportunity to attend “History, Heroes & Treasures” Sleepover at the National Archives Museum! It is a legitimate and unique sleepover inside one of DC’s best museums. It is an amazing opportunity for you and your children to explore, marvel and learn in this intimate and unique setting.

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A little background on where the sleepover takes place: The National Archives Museum is located at 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW and stores some of our nation’s most precious artifacts and documents. Prior to 1935 when the National Archives building was completed, there were no effective means to safeguard our country’s historically valuable records. Neglect or fires destroyed many important documents, so the Archives was created to protect and preserve original records.

I have visited the National Archives various times during my life, but this visit was by far the best, and one that I’ll cherish for years to come. It was a fun and enriching experience for my son and I. We learned, we laughed, we explored; it was awesome to see my son get so captivated in learning about history!

On the Saturday evening of the Archives Sleepover, my son and I were welcomed warmly by staff through the main entrance, with sleeping bags and duffle bags in tow. We went through security and then picked up our welcome packet and had our photo taken by the National Archives backdrop. We checked in our bags and then the program kicked off with an orientation in the McGowan Theater at 7:15 pm.

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We were introduced to our historical heroes and explorers, including explorer and soldier Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809), the first African-American Arctic explorer Matthew Henson (1866-1955), and modern-day underwater archeologist Dave Gadsby. After orientation we had an hour and a half to choose from a variety of activities and stations scattered throughout the museum or simply browse the exhibits. My son and I first decided to fuel up on snacks in their designating snacking area, before beginning our exploration. We participated in the scavenger hunt — and won a small prize for completing it! My son also enjoyed trying on periodic costumes and gear, surveying maps of shipwrecks, creating various crafts, and learning about music from the Lewis & Clark era thanks to David & Ginger Hildebrand.

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At 9:20 pm we reconvened in the McGowan Theater and viewed a special “Archives Reports” presentation which included interviews of our explorers. Then there was an interactive portion in which the audience could ask questions. Many inquisitive kids were itching to know how these brave explorers achieved their goals and what aspect of their job they liked best. The kids also weren’t shy to bring up tough questions about their biggest failures and fears, and curiosity on how they go to the bathroom with all their gear on. It was great to see the kids having fun and developing an ever greater appreciation for explorers and the impact of their discoveries.

At 10:15 pm it was time to get ready for bed, and for the next 30 minutes we had the option to attend story time in the Boeing Learning Center or watch Pixar short films in the McGowan Theater. My son was pretty tired so we simply changed into our pajamas, brushed our teeth and got situated for bedtime. At 10:45 pm everyone was in their sleeping bags in the Rotunda, and many children flickered their flashlights or read. Promptly at 11:00 pm it was lights out and time to go to sleep.

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The next morning we enjoyed a delicious chocolate chip pancake breakfast made by none other than David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States. We also viewed a historic chocolate demonstration and “traditional” hot cocoa provided by American Heritage Chocolate. Then we had time for shopping in the gift shop and then we completed one last team challenge in the McGowan Theater. The sleepover came to an end at 8:30 am. Upon departure we received some amazing keepsakes in a tote bag, including a compass, quill, 2 books, poster, badge, copy of the Constitution, and more.

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The whole experience was amazing, and my son and I were so thrilled to attend! It is definitely an experience that has impacted our view of American history and museums. And if you’re reading this and are considering attending an Archives Sleepover in the future, I would definitely recommend you register and follow these tips.

Tips for those attending the Archives Sleepover:

1. Review the Sleepover FAQ and the Explorer’s Guide.

The explorer guide packet and other pertinent information will be e-mailed to you prior to your sleepover. It is very important to review the guide & FAQ’s thoroughly as it will have a checklist of items to bring and also items that are not allowed (Banned items include: tents, electronic games, cameras, outside food or drinks). For the October 2014 sleepover, our explorer guide was here, though please note that your checklist and schedule may differ for future sleepover events.

2. Take the Metro. 

My husband ended up driving us into DC and dropping my son and I off at the National Archives Museum. However, I probably should have saved him the commute and just taken the metro. I don’t recommend parking in an overnight garage because that will be much more expensive. Think ahead and plan out your trip and don’t forget to account for possible traffic or metro delays on a Saturday evening. Also, if you take the metro, think about how you will transport all your bags. If you have a small suitcase with rollers or some sort of luggage carrier on wheels, that is helpful!

3. Bring a Foam Pad or Small Camping Pad. 

I did not heed this tip from the Archives Sleepover guide, and I wish I had! Be sure to bring a foam pad, yoga mat or some sort of cushioning to go under your sleeping bag. The marble floor is hard, so don’t forget this (I did)! Please note, air mattresses are not allowed.

4. Bring Ear Plugs.

Another tip I didn’t follow was to bring ear plugs. I’ve never used them before, so I thought I’d be fine without them. However, sleeping in a domed room with a marble floor and tall ceilings, is well-suited for noise to travel and echo. There will inevitably be snoring and other stirring at any sleepover, as there was at mine, which can make it harder to fall asleep. So bring ear plugs even if you think you may not need them, and be warned that you likely won’t get a good night’s rest.

5. Review History with Your Child Before The Sleepover. 

I’ll be honest, the weeks leading up to the Archives Sleepover for our family were pretty busy, and although my son knew about the sleepover and was looking forward to it, I did not review much about the topics or historical figures we’d be discovering at the sleepover. I’d recommend browsing the National Archives website with your kids before the sleepover, as well as learning more about the historical relevance of those explorations, events and subjects.

My son and I loved our time at the Archives Sleepover, and my son has enthusiastically told me that we should sign up for another Archives Sleepover! After this experience, the National Archives has become his favorite museum in all of Washington, DC (and all the world). It really is thanks to the awesome, well-planned Archives Sleepover and all the hard work from the National Archives staff and interns.

If you’re interested in attending a future Archives Sleepover, be sure to check out Archivesfoundation.org/sleepover.
Enter for a chance to win 3 free tickets to the next Archives Sleepover in January here.

Upcoming Sleepover Dates: January 31, 2015 register here. An additional sleepover date is tentatively scheduled for July 2015.
Who can attend: Children 8 – 12 years old, with an accompanying adult who is 21 or older.
Current cost (as of Jan. 2015): $125 per person, or $100 per Archives Foundation member.
*It’s my opinion that the price is a great value for this memorable and unique experience. Your child will likely be talking about their Archives Sleepover experience even longer than your last summer vacation.

Some photos included in this post belong to the National Archives and have been included here with their permission.

Disclosure: My son and I were invited to attend the Archives Sleepover as members of the media. Our tickets were provided in exchange for this blog post and review. The opinions shared here are my own, and I love to share unique, family-friendly events and attractions for my readers! To read my formal disclosure policy, please click here

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