Orbiting Planet Word Museum doesn’t require a spacesuit or a spaceship. But you will be traveling to an out-of-this-world place when you visit Washington DC’s newest museum.
Located in the historic Franklin School, Planet Word Museum opened on October 22, 2020.
“The museum where language comes to life” is the slogan for Planet Word. I felt like a terrestrial on another planet from the moment I crossed the plaza leading up to its front door.
SO this was the first museum that I visited in April 2021 after Washington DC museums began to reopen after their lengthy shutdowns. I was leaving my COVID World and entering Word World.
A large metal tree decorated with dangling objects sits in the center of the plaza. I circled around it several times to view it from different angles. This “Speaking Willow Tree” immediately became my moon rock. As I walked under its branches, I heard whispers in hundreds of languages. (Contemporary artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer created this sculpture.)
Next, I pushed open the entrance door to enter and glided to the front desk. After showing my registration, the clerk pointed me to the elevator on my right side. Ready for takeoff.
I was momentarily confused when I stepped into the elevator. It appeared I had stepped into a library room. All the walls were covered with books … digital images that is. Books would be the energy that propels my journey through planet Word.
Planet Word: Six Core Values
As an English major, I heartily endorse the museum’s mission. Imagine if I could have encountered a museum dedicating to reading and writing when I was a child. This museum turns into a summer writing camp condensed into a day’s visit.
“Through ten immersive learning galleries, visitors can use their voices to interact and engage with exhibits while hearing from a diverse international cast of leaders, authors, and everyday people who share what language means to them.”Local Projects
You don’t have to be 3 or 7 or 13 years old to find this museum fun. From the second I met the cheerful staff who launched me on my trajectory, I knew that I would be climbing high into the clouds.
The museum embraced what I have always known as a writer. Words matter. You want words to swirl around in your mouth as you read aloud a sentence you write. How does it feel on your tongue? What image does it summon? How melodic do a combination of words sound?
My educational tour begins at the “First Words” exhibit. It tells the story of English. The idea is to show how humans learn to speak their first language. This interactive exhibit shows the whole process, from a baby’s first word to a toddler’s stream of words.
Next I examine the “Where Do Words Come From?” exhibit. Standing 22 feet high, this “wall of words” literally can speak. Watch attendees’ reactions to the talking wall as it shares the story of the English language on my blog’s YouTube channel.
“Planet Word offers unique, participatory, changing, and innovative experiences with language and words.”Planet Word
While I didn’t arrive at Planet Word with a second-grade class or even several children in tow, I absolutely discovered how energizing this place could be. I could spend an entire day exploring the Library. Some of my favorite books in the world can be found here.
But I think my favorite discovery was the Planet Word’s poetry nook. It is hidden behind a wall of books in the library. Imagine touching a button to reveal a secret meditation room. You sit down on a bench alone and start to hear poetry recited. Closing your eyes you ponder how these poems summon up feelings inside you. While you might not have the opportunity to hide away in this secret room, it is still a fun place to spend a few minutes during your visit to Planet Word.
“Planet Word engages participants in physical, social, and cognitive play to increase understanding of language.”Planet Word
I was caught off guard in almost every room I entered at Planet Word. The architecture of the historic building coupled with the high-tech technology made me feel transported to the World of Words.
Clearly, the founder understood that “Spontaneous learning takes place around every corner.”
While I didn’t record myself in the Lend Me Your Ears booth reciting a favorite speech or poem, I can clearly picture an 11-year-old girl reciting Amanda Gorman’s speech at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. I can also picture a 9-year-old boy delivering President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
Planet Word lets children go on stage by incorporating the sound studio to record themselves. The museum’s goal is to “encourage a lifelong interest in words and language.”
If I were a teacher, I would love to bring my students to visit Planet Word. This is a place where can experience language in person instead of on their tablet. I thought the room where books come alive was meaningful as well as symbolic.
As every parent or teacher knows, the hardest job is to get a kid to open up a book and read for 15 minutes. If the author is successful in telling a story, the kid will keep reading … long after the minimum reading time set for his homework. The museum’s goal is to help kids achieve: “Planet Word strives to have a measurable impact on literacy outcomes.”
There is no better way to improve a child’s test scores than reading aloud to him or her.
Planet Word is not a museum about American vocabulary or authors. It celebrates the world of literature. “Planet Word strengthens the community by celebrating and valuing all types of linguistic diversity.”
The Glittering Globe is housed in a huge room on the upper floor. Sunlight streams in the long window. People stand near microphones staring back at Planet Word.
The idea of this interactive exhibit is to experience the “awe-inspiring diversity of languages from around the world. Meet speakers and signers from all over the globe, and let them introduce you to what’s unique about their own language.”
Orbiting Planet World took me out of my life as a business owner and transported me back to my childhood. I was only a second grader when I first began to dream of being a writer. It would take 16 more years of writing in school newspapers, competing in writing contests, and earning my dual English and Journalism degree to launch me into space as a professional writer.
Planet Word also will help its visitors discover words. In fact, my favorite interactive exhibit was Paint with Words. “Dip your brush into verdant, surreal, or luminous and thrill as you transform the room around you with color, sound, and motion.”
Planet Word is housed in the historic Franklin School. Renowned architect Adolf Cluss designed the Franklin School as the flagship of eight modern urban public school buildings in Washington, D.C. A special section of Planet Word is reserved as a museum dedicated to “Adolf Cluss: Brick Master.” It includes a historic photo of students who attended the school.
“The building served as a model for the modern public school system and offered free education to as many as 900 White boys and girls per year (D.C. schools were segregated at this time).” (Planet Word)
“The building’s 19th-century façade – including a bust of Benjamin Franklin – is an eloquent expression of principles of public education for a democracy in post-Civil America.”www.Adolf-Cluss.org
Planet Word is a joy to explore. You can almost hear the shouts of children who once milled in the lobby or played in the school ground at recess. Now it is a place of wonder for children in the greater DMV to explore.
About Planet Word
Ann Friedman is the Founder and CEO of Planet Word. The museum’s auditorium is named after Friedman.
“Planet Word is an immersive language experience located at the historic Franklin School in Washington, D.C. Ideal for all ages, Planet Word is a voice-activated museum (the world’s first!), and our interactive galleries and exhibits bring words and language to life in all sorts of fun ways.”
There is no fee to visit the museum but reservations are required. As a nonprofit museum offering free admission, Planet Word could not exist without donations. Be generous!
We’re on a mission to share the power, fun, and beauty of language with as many people as possible. Will you help us?Planet Word