Washington, DC is home to some of the most fantastic museums in the world. Museums where visitors see one of a kind objects, are transported around the world through expositions, and participate in unique programming. The National Archives is one of those museums. Here, visitors contemplate our democracy while examining the signed Constitution of the United States, travel the world as they view records documenting our interactions with other nations, and become inspired and engaged through programming for everyone pre-K to adults.
Four years ago, the National Archives, in partnership with the National Archives Foundation, began a sleepover program for young museum goers. Designed for children 8-12 years old and their accompanying adults, these sleepovers are inspiring the next generation of historians, stewards of our nations records, and advocates for the work of the Archives. The themes for the sleepovers change, offering a glimpse into the diversity of holdings in the Archives and an opportunity for participants to come back again and again.
This past weekend, 120 participants from across the country embarked on this year’s space themed sleepover in commemoration of the JFK centennial. These participants got the “star” treatment right from the start as they paused to look through a telescope set up at the museum’s entrance. After getting checked in, and being welcomed by both the Archivist of the United States and the Executive Director of the National Archives Foundation during orientation, sleepover goers set out to see if they were suited for space. Hands-on activities throughout the museum engaged participants and ignited imaginations. A few examples of activities include making mission patches, putting together astronaut John Glenn’s genealogy scrap book, dressing like a space explorer, and training like an astronaut using neutral buoyancy. NARA also collaborated with the National Air and Space Museum who brought over telescopes, meteorites, and astronaut underwear, with Catherine Kruchten who taught participants how to engineer their own rockets, and astronaut George Zamka who shared experiences of his time in space. If you would like to see some of his experiences in space, look in the holdings of the National Archives. At the end of the night, everyone slept in the Rotunda next to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
With Archives Sleepovers, participants not only see one of a kind objects, but sleep next to them. They are transported not only around the world but out of the world as they encounter the universe of space exploration. The unique programming that happens here could not happen anyplace else. Each one of the billions of records in the holdings of the National Archives unlocks a piece of what it means to be an American and adds to the stories told here.
Each amazing sleepover experience would not be possible without ideas, planning, creating, and enacting of many interns, volunteers and staff. Each person involved in the process helps to make the Archives sleepovers a success from A to Zzzzzzz. If you are interested in joining us, the next sleepover is set to blast off on February 24, 2018.