Meet Daniel. He was an 11-year-old German boy who lived with his parents and younger sister and loved soccer, swimming, and skiing. He was Jewish. Daniel was not a real boy, but rather a composite of the millions of children caught up in the Holocaust.
The exhibit Remember the Children: Daniel's Story is on the lower level of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and introduces the history of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young boy. While the permanent exhibition at the museum is recommended for children 11 and up, "Daniel's Story" is appropriate for younger children and doesn't require a time-stamped ticket to the museum.
You will walk through Daniel's rapidly changing life, told through his diary entries, from his comfortable bedroom in a German town with his soccer ball and skis, to the horror of a concentration camp.
"Remember my story," Daniel says in a movie at the beginning of the exhibit. "They hated everyone who was different." There are so many lessons for today—Darfur, for example.
"Have you ever been blamed for something that's not your fault?" Daniel asks, as he recounts how he was forbidden to go to school or swim in the area pool, or how people were told to no longer shop at his father's store before the family was finally forced to move from their home to a ghetto "far away."
If you are visiting Washington, D.C., you can stop in at this exhibit for less than an hour without buying a ticket. It's an excellent way to spur a discussion with your children about tolerance and freedom.
Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, make time to visit a museum—even if you take in just one exhibit. Museums are a great way to get the gang out of grandma's house for a couple of hours, especially when it's too cold to hit the local playground. And if you are a member of your local art, science, or children's museum, you may find that membership gets you in for free.
Look for new exhibits this holiday season, as well as stalwarts.The American Museum of Natural History in New York, for example, is opening "Brain: The Inside Story" right before Thanksgiving. "Brain" uses art, scan imaging, and interactive representations of the human brain, complete with a five-foot-tall model, parts of which light up as they are described by the narration.
The Museum of London has five new galleries, complete with special hands-on family areas, that tell the story of the city from 1666 to the present.
In Indianapolis, there's the new R.B. Annis Western Family Experience at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art where you can experience four different areas of the West through the lives of four different families, including a family of freed slaves who moved to Nebraska in the 1860s. (What would it have been like to live in a sod house like they did?)
Take the kids to the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, where there will be special family "Saturdays with Sam" programs and a special exhibit on Huckleberry Finn. You'll find a different literary favorite showcased across the country at Seattle's Pacific Science Center where "Harry Potter: The Exhibition" has recently opened.
Got a future meteorologist in your gang? The Weather Discovery Center in North Conway, N.H., which is owned by the Mt. Washington Observatory, is the only museum in the country totally dedicated to weather and it's ideal for kids. The Weather Discovery Center offers boats you can race in a tank to learn about wind, as well as the chance to touch a tornado or stand in front of a camera to pretend to be a meteorologist.
Nutrition takes center stage at The Greensboro Children's Museum in Greensboro, N.C. This museum boasts the only edible schoolyard, which features gardens, a greenhouse, testing kitchens, composts and even a chicken coop. Kids learn not only where food comes from but how to eat healthier.
Look for small museums or exhibits, too. Tour the Merry-Go Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio, or The Graffiti House in Brandy Station, Virginia, so named because it was used as a hospital during the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War. Soldiers from both the North and the South scribbled messages, signatures and drawings over the walls with charcoal from the fireplace. (Relatives who find an ancestor's name on the walls are invited to sign a family wall of current day graffiti.)
You can follow your passion at a small museum. There's a History of Diving Museumin the Florida Keys and a Computer History Museumin Mountain View, California. (Check out the 300-ton computer from the 1950s.) There's also the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach, California.
Or inspire a future career. The Miami Children's Museum touts a newly renovated cruise ship-themed exhibit where kids can explore different maritime careers while putting on a puppet show with captains, engineers, chefs and more.
The Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio, meanwhile, helps to teach us all how to cooperate and compromise, especially when interacting with extended family, as you play giant games, including backgammon, billiards, and dominoes.
At the end of "Daniel's Story" at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, kids are encouraged to write their thoughts about what they've learned.
"This made me realize this could happen to me," wrote one boy.
"Prejudice to anybody is wrong," wrote another.
A great holiday lesson, I think.
Do you enjoy taking your kids to museums? What's your favorite? Share your thoughts below!