Deck the Halls With Nature Crafts and More Natural History Programs This December

Join us for programs about colorful corals, ancient art and more at the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History rotunda is lit up with green garlands hanging from the balconies, with the elephant standing the the middle of the image.
Lighted garland and decorated wreaths around the National Museum of Natural History’s Rotunda. Smithsonian Institution

This December, the National Museum of Natural History is celebrating the holiday season with an enchanting assortment of educational programs for revelers young and old.  Take a dip into the fascinating science of coral reefs, explore how early humans got creative with ochre, and bring the outdoors in with an evening of festive nature crafting. 

Natural History Research Experiences (NHRE) for Undergraduates: How to Apply INFO Session
December 6, 1:00 p.m. ET and January 16, 3:00 p.m. ET

NHRE interns conduct fieldwork with NMNH entomologist Matt Buffington.  Interns are able to identify areas of research that are most interesting to them. Smithsonian Institution

Surrounded by the Smithsonian’s unparalleled scientific research collection, NMNH researchers are always excited to share their natural history knowledge with the next generation of scientists. Every summer, the NHRE internship program pairs undergraduates with museum scientists to complete a research project in Anthropology, Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, Mineral Science, Paleobiology or Vertebrate Zoology. Interns also have a chance to attend additional events including lectures, tours of museum collections and other activities related to natural history research.

To learn more about the application process, interested undergrads can attend a virtual info session on January 16th. Register for the webinar here.

Questions about NHRE? Contact us at [email protected].

Dive Into the Deep Sea Habitats of Puerto Rico
December 12, 11:00 a.m. ET

Jeremy Horowitz, a postdoctoral researcher in the museum’s invertebrate zoology department, examines a coral specimen during an expedition off Puerto Rico earlier this year. Jeremy Horowitz, NMNH

The best way to see many living corals is by snorkeling through shallow, sunlit reefs. But some coral species thrive in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean and provide habitats for other deep-sea creatures. These corals have adapted unique features and behaviors to survive in extreme conditions hundreds or even thousands of feet below the surface. Instead of forming rock-like coral reefs like their shallow-water cousins, they pile on top of each other in shapes resembling trees, feathers, fans or columns that can be dozens of feet tall.

On December 12th, head to the Ocean Explorer Theater to learn all about the deep-sea coral habitats of Puerto Rico: a treasure trove of coral biodiversity. Chat with museum scientists, watch expedition footage, and see coral specimens up-close. This program is presented by NMNH Coral Researchers Jeremy HorowitzLuke McCartin, and Annemarie Wood.

Explore the History of Ochre: A Touchstone for Early Human Cognition
December 14, 11:30 a.m. ET

A sample of prehistoric red ochre from California, collected in 1875. Smithsonian Institution

Over 300,000 years ago, early humans started to use ochre – a soft, iron-rich mineral – for a variety of expressions. They eventually stamped and stenciled ochre on the walls of caves, painted their own bodies with it, and even included this brightly-colored pigment in their burial rites. Evidence of its use in early human history is allowing archaeologists to glimpse back at the evolution of human cognition.

Tammy Hodgkiss, an archaeologist and curator at the Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand, is among these scientists. She will join this Zoom webinar to share her research, specifically how humans used ochre in the past in southern Africa, and discuss new research and interpretations on early human interactions with ochre. The webinar will be moderated by NMNH paleoanthropologist and educator Briana Pobiner.

Get Creative for an Evening of Festive Nature Crafting
December 14, 6:30 p.m. ET

An origami crane created by artist Ira Blount. Ira Blount, Smithsonian Institution

Update: Sold Out. Check back here for future Sip and Create events in 2024.

The holiday season has finally arrived! On December 14th, come inside the museum’s Q?rius, The Coralyn W. Whitney Science Education Center for a festive night at this month’s After Hours Sip & Create. Inspired by the museum’s Our Places: Connecting People and Nature exhibition which will be closing in 2024, mix and mingle over refreshments, get inspired by personal stories of connection with nature and deck your halls with nature crafts made at the event. You don’t want to miss it!

Tickets are $30 per person and must be purchased online; ID required for verification (21+) at the door.

Marvel at the Many Colors of Coral Reefs 
December 19, 10:30 a.m. ET

Healthy hard corals and their soft-bodied relatives at Chinchorro Reef in the Mexican Caribbean Sea. David Paz-Garcia, Smithsonian Institution

Join museum educators for play dates at NMNH every Tuesday. During the month of December, these events will explore the wonderful world of color! Each week, families will learn about color through different natural history themes. On December 19th, head to the Q?rius Education Center to dive into the colors of corals.

As some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, coral reefs are home to a vast array of ocean-dwellers, including countless species of fish, crustaceans and marine plants. But contrary to popular belief, corals are animals too. They are marine invertebrates that come in many different shapes and sizes. They owe their brilliant colors to the zooxanthellae – a type of single-celled algae – that live in their tissues and produce pigments. 

Learn all about colorful corals at this playdate designed for early learners (ages 0-5), their caregivers and families. Come play, make art, and make close-up observations of coral specimens!

Related stories
Get Ready for the Holidays With These Festive Programs
Jazz Concert Season Kick Off and More December Happenings
Smithsonian Expedition Yields a New Species of Deep-Sea Coral