A Stroll Down Lexicon Lane

“Torrid and frigid are antonyms,” I repeat for the third time to my 10-year-old daughter as she takes her vocabulary quiz. “Why can’t she remember their definitions?” I pause in frustration.

When we visited Planet Word Museum in Washington, DC, we encountered an exhibit that engaged my daughter in learning all kinds of synonyms and antonyms. This time, she remembered the words: because she used them as paint.

Innocuous though it appeared, this little three-sided room was full of learning. Full-color interactive scenes on the wall were altered when my children dipped their paintbrushes into the meanings of the words next to the paint pots. As my children gestured across the wall, their scenes became either more verdant, surreal, or luminous. They made it into a competition to change each other’s scenes. The visual context allowed better understanding of each descriptor.

This is exactly what makes Planet Word so different from any other DC museum: active participation. From the first moment in the museum, visitors get to shout out answers, alter the story and control their learning. They make it the experience they want to have.

All aspects of language are considered from etymology to linguistic theory to advertising slogans. For youth raised on electronics, this museum keeps pace with their short attention spans. I personally would have preferred more written plaques and fewer screens, but I am probably not their target audience.

My father loves to share jokes with my children and we all lingered together in the joke room, enjoying the wordplay.

Housed in the 1869 Franklin school, the space itself is instructive. Thankfully, parking nearby is feasible, too. This is always one of my considerations when taking my children downtown.

The cherry on top was the gift store. Such creative options for word lovers! We were delighted with the word-themed games, jewelry and decorations.

Though it’s hard for a admission-charging museum to thrive in a city of free Smithsonians, this one is going to last. It’s been open now for almost 3 years and will certainly continue to attract visitors. We spent almost two hours enjoying the exhibits and my children asked to return soon.

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