The word-nerd in me lit up when I discovered that there was a museum that celebrates the development and innovation of languages. Planet Word Museum in Washington, D.C. immediately found a spot on our itinerary when my husband and I recently traveled to the U.S. capital.
But then, the anxious questioning: “Will it be worth it?”
Also, the doubting: “How can you make a museum about language interesting?”
And ultimately, the skepticism: “Maybe if something more exciting comes up, then we’ll skip this one.”
I’m here to say that I didn’t give in to the last one, and I think the review of Planet Word that follows will answer the other two nagging questions.
- Planet Word Museum Overview
- Your Questions Answered
- Other Interesting Museums to Visit
Planet Word Museum Overview
Planet Word celebrates language – written and oral. Visitors are drawn into thinking about the words we use through state-of-the-art-technology and innovative exhibits. Don’t think of this as a dry, read-a-lot-of-displays experience. In fact, be prepared to get hands-on. Every exhibit has an element of engagement to it. You can choose how in-depth you go, but there is something for everyone to come away with.
When you enter, listen to the voices in the speakers of the tree that you pass under or around. The whispers of language begin before you’re inside.
General admission is free, but donations are appreciated. After you make your donation at the main desk, take the elevator to the third floor and start there. You’ll wind your way down to the bottom.
Where to Start
The third floor greets you with videos exploring the first sounds and words of little ones. Enter the room to the left with a large globe in the center and several stations surrounding it. Pick one of these stations and begin.
At the station a native speaker of one of the world’s hundreds of languages will welcome you and introduce you to their language. At the end you’ll have a chance to practice one of the phrases – after you give it a shot, look up to the globe for a creative lighted cheer!
Continue navigating through the rooms and exhibits, walking down the stairs to each level as you finish the previous one. Don’t miss any of them!
Interactive Library Exhibit
My favorite was the large library (what a surprise!). Be sure to pick up one of the books from the large reading table in the center. Put the book on the table and listen to a narrator with special effects tell a bit about the significance of the book. It was hard not to imagine that this is what a library at Hogwarts would be like.
You can also take an interactive quiz on the use of words in books (and algorithms) – we took a quiz about words used in Dr. Seuss books. If you’re more of a paper-and-pen type, they have a worksheet with a picture of bookshelves waiting to be colored and lettered.
Famous Speeches Exhibit
There is an exhibit to consider the epic speeches of our times. You could even stand in a booth and give one of the speeches by following a teleprompter. It is an impressive collection of some of the more powerful ways words have been used to encourage, inspire, and educate.
Painting the Scene Exhibit
One smaller exhibit shows a painted picture on three walls in the room. Beneath the exhibit are giant brushes set in small, round holes. Each hole has a mood label above it – verdant, spring, sunny, dreary, etc. Take a brush to the picture and watch the image transform to reflect the adjective you selected. It was a creative and fun look at setting and imagery in language. I was surprised how much I enjoyed waving different brushes over different parts of the image. What a great visual!
Jokes, Karaoke, & More Exhibits
We guessed idioms using props.
I wanted to do the “tell-a-joke” station, but it was quite popular when we were there so we didn’t get a chance. Check out how language and artistry is used in popular music – and sing along if you want. Then consider how those same two things are used in advertising. Do you have what it takes to make your own ad using the skills and parameters provided?
Your Questions Answered
Will it be worth it?
Yes. We (two grown adults) had so much fun. For children I think it’s best for 7+. Many of the activities will be better enjoyed if participants can read.
How can you make a museum about language interesting?
Please see above. So much creativity went into the exhibits!
It surprised my husband and I how well the museum engaged language and encouraged visitors to think about words and how they are used. Planet Word is not a super large museum so you can explore and be done in an hour or two (depending on your group’s size).
Where is Planet Word located?
Planet Word is in a beautiful building on the corner of K Street and 13th Street.
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM.
Their address is 925 13th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
But pay attention! The entrance is on K street.
The museum operates through donations. General admission is free, but $15 is the suggested donation. Of course, generosity is not a bad thing if you’re able.
Other Interesting Museums to Visit
Planet Word Museum in Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite museums that we’ve visited to date. For creativity and engagement, I would put it right next to BostonTea Party Ships & Museum from our Boston trip and the Museum of the Alphabet located just outside of Charlotte, NC.