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Thomas Jefferson Building will reopen to visitors via timed, ticked entry beginning July 15. Virtual events ongoing. More.

Parents & Caregivers

Parents and caregivers, you can use these guides to find:

  • Frequently asked questions from kids, with responses.
  • Suggestions for beginning conversations with kids related to the theme and the building.
  • Throughout your visit, you can:
    • Explore the theme by considering:
      • Which would they choose, and why? What do they think each one means?
      • What might hope or expect to see? Throughout each route, ask them to find items that interest them that they think fit the theme.
    • Explore the building by asking:
      • What do you notice? What makes you curious?
      • What do you think about what you see? Does it remind you of anything?
      • What questions do you have as we look around together?

    Gutenberg Bible

    Frequently asked questions from kids:

    • Did Gutenberg’s invention lead to more books? Before the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, the number of handwritten books in Europe was in the thousands.  Fifty years later, printers in many different countries were producing millions of books. Book-making and the spread of information had changed forever.
    • Did he need a lot of letters for his printing press? Gutenberg created thousands of pieces of metal type, using 300 different characters. As well as multiple copies of each letter of the alphabet, he needed pieces of type for punctuation and abbreviations.
    • How much faster was printing than writing? It took a scribe about three years to copy one bible by hand. Printing was so much faster that Gutenberg’s workshop only needed about two years to produce 180 bibles.
    • What language is the Gutenberg Bible in? The Bible is in Latin, the language of ancient Rome - Latin was the language of scholars, governments and the Catholic Church for hundreds of years. It was only after the invention of the printing press that books in local languages became common in Europe, and more people were able to read them.

    Great Hall

    Frequently asked questions from kids:

    • Who are the people represented by the busts? The busts on either side of the Great Hall are of the first president of the United States, George Washington (north side) and the country’s third, Thomas Jefferson (south side), for whom this building is named.
    • How long did it take to build the building? It took nine years to complete. The brick structure is covered in grey marble imported from Italy, one of the fifteen different types of marble used in its decoration.  Photographs show the construction of the Great Hall, and carvings ready to be installed. How many different colors of marble can you find in the Great Hall?
    • Why are there chubby babies on the staircases? The marble children in the Great Hall represent different jobs and hobbies. Can you guess what these are from their equipment? The four larger boys symbolize four continents. Find out more here. They all show an 1897 view of the world. Update them by imagining what jobs or tools they could have in the 21st century.
    • I see a lot of gold decorations in the Great Hall – so is that silver up in the ceiling?  That’s what we thought for a long time, but when the building was restored in the 1980s, we found out that the silver-colored metal around the skylight is aluminum. When the building was built, aluminum was a valuable and scientifically advanced material, due to the large amounts of electricity used to produce it.


    Second Floor, East Corridor. Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder within central arched panel leading to the Visitor's Gallery. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. photographer Carol Highsmith, 2007, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Frequently asked questions from kids:

    • Are Roman and Greek gods and goddesses the same? They represent similar things but they have different names. In Greek mythology, Minerva is known as Athena. The city of Athens was named after her.
    • Why is there a little owl on the left? It represents wisdom, and is also a symbol of Minerva.

    Printers’ Marks

    Credit: Second Floor Corridor. Printers' marks+Columns. Printer's mark of R. Pynson. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, 2007; Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Conversation starters:

    • Ask kids, What do you notice in these circles? Do you see any animals? What are they and how many do you see?
      • Many of the fifty-six designs in the four corridors include animals. Look for alion (west and south corridors), a peacock(west), and an elephant (south). Look for the design with the dolphin and anchor (Hint: look up and to your left as you stand in front of the Minerva mosaic). It’s one of the oldest printers’ marks, used in Italy by Aldus Manutius.  He was the first printer to produce small, cheaper books that were easy to carry around. Italic font was invented in his workshop.
    • Ask, If you wanted to make your own printer’s mark, what would you include?

    Second Floor Exhibitions

    Conversation starters:

    • Ask kids to pick an item that catches their eye, then start a conversation. What drew them to the item? What do they notice? What do they wonder about it? Explore the item together before diving into the associated text.
    • Ask older children to find something that they think best represents the pathway theme of ideas & action. Why did they pick that item? How does it fit the theme? If, if they didn’t find anything they thought fit, you can talk about that, too, or ask what theme they might give to the items they have seen.
    • You can find the full text for each exhibition and details on the objects here.

    Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote

    Conversation starters:

    • Many women of color participated in the fight for the right to vote, but their contributions are often less familiar than those of some of the more well-known suffragists. Look for the stories of Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Adelina Otero-Warren and others in the More To The Movement section.
    • There are “kid-friendly” labels in yellow throughout the exhibition. Look in particular for the story of a fourteen-year-old suffragist who wanted to join the 1913 March in Washington. What did she do to try to join the protest? How does this compare to modern-day organizing?

    Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words

    Conversation starter:

    • Let each person in your group find one item that they find especially interesting, then create a “collaborative tour” together, with each person explain the item’s significance and his/her reason for choosing it with the rest of the family or group. For more on this idea of a “collaborative tour,” see this blog post.

    Exploring the Early Americas

    Conversation starters:

    • Waldseemüller’s 1507 World Map
      Ask, can you find it? You can share with kids that the map is sometimes called “the birth certificate of America,” as it is the first map to show America as a separate continent and the first time that “America” appears on a map. Mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller decided to honor explorer Amerigo Vespucci by naming the new land after him. This is the only surviving copy of this map. No one had seen the map for more than 350 years until a professor found it in a private library in a German castle in 1901.
    • Compare this map with the one across from it, the Carta Marina. They are both made by Martin Waldseemüller. How are they similar or different?

    The 1516 map, unlike the 1507 map, does not show the existence of the Pacific Ocean and displays a greatly reduced continent of South America. The 1516 map has many areas that show creatures from mythology and from either real or fictionalized accounts of travel to the less–well–known regions of the earth. The large text block on the Carta Marina tells us that the 1516 Carta Marina is based on more modern sources than the 1507 map.

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