While plenty of adult museums offer specific exhibits with kidappeal, there is a whole genre of museums that takechild-friendliness to a much higher level. These institutions arespecifically designed to engage the younger set through hands-on,interactive exhibits that literally turn learning into child’splay.
Compared to themeparks, whose admission fees can be pricey, the best children’smuseums are typically a relative bargain. And more good news:finding a good children’s museum is pretty easy. The non-profitAssociation of Children’s Museums includes well over 200 membersthroughout the United States that together welcome more than 30million kids and parents annually.
Among the scores of wonderful kid’s museum out there, here are 8standouts that have wowed us recently with their ability toinnovate, engage, and expand their offerings.
Boston Children’s Museum
Give a birthday hat tip to Boston’es kids' museum, located along Children’s Wharf, which iscelebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013. Of the 20 permanentexhibits here, be sure to check out Construction Zone, which wasinspired by Boston’s “Big Dig,” the largest urban infrastructureendeavor in U.S. history. Children can sit in a real Bobcatexcavator, balance on “high beam” girders, and feel the power of ajackhammer. Elsewhere, kids can create artworks, blow bubbles,explore an authentic Japanese house (a gift from Kyoto, Boston’ssister city) and much more. Best for: Ages2-8.
Madison Children’s Museum
This small but first-rate and oh-so-green museum in Madison,Wisconsin, gets high points for its focus on nature andenvironmental awareness. Get oriented with a fun scavenger huntusing a reusable treasure map, then bring the kids to the rooftopgarden where they can collect eggs from chicken coops, learn allabout homing pigeons, and get their hands dirty planting in agarden. There’s a nice padded crawling area for babies (made withall-natural local materials, naturally) and a little treehouse forthe preschool set. Best for: Ages 6 months to 6years.
Please Touch Museum
The name says it all. Opened in 1976 for the nation’sBicentennial celebration, this fantastic children’Ms museum in Philly invites youngsters to explore eight themedexhibits, including City Capers, a realistic urban environment withbuildings from Philadelphia’s skyline, and Wonderland, which youenter by descending down a rabbit hole to find a hall of doors andmirrors, a circular maze, and a pretend tea party. The FlightFantasy exhibit lets you carefully engineer your spaceship orengage in less lofty pursuits, such as shooting foam rockets atyour sister. Best for: Ages 6 months to 10years.
Strong National Museum of Play
Rochester’s 150,000-square-foot kid space is the world’s onlycollections-based museum devoted entirely to play. Highlightsinclude a working Victorian carousel, massive comic bookcollection, indoor butterfly garden, and brand new America at Playexhibit that invites you to try your hand at video games and jumpinto the action on oversized versions of iconic board games. Arecent update of the incredibly popular Super Kids Market nowincludes a market café, role-playing stations, and an organic farmfor toddlers. Best for: Ages 2-10.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
With five floors of exhibits covering nearly 473,000 square feetof floor space, this is America’s largest children’s museum and ablockbuster tourist attraction in Indianapolis.The iconic Dinosphere exhibit lets kids ogle life-size models ofdinosaurs, hunt for fossils in simulated “digs,” study specimens ina paleontology lab, and view one of the largest collections ofdinosaur fossils in the country. Other exhibits include aplanetarium, an age-appropriate biotech learning center, andhaunted house. A family could easily spend an entire day here.Best for: Ages 2-10.
Discovery Children’s Museum
A swish new 26,000-square-foot home near Symphony Park indowntown LasVegas gives this museum more than twice as much space as it hadin its former digs. Nine interactive exhibits focus on science andthe arts, with a special focus on innovation, healthy living, andthe environment. Kids will especially love the three-story SummitTower, which contains hands-on science displays as well as plentyof spaces for kids to climb and slide. Best for:Ages 2-10.
Children’s Museum of Houston
Houston’s children’s museum was one of the best in the country evenbefore it doubled in size to 90,000 square feet of exhibitionspace. Most of the 14 galleries focus on high-tech and interactivelearning, with wonderful outdoor spaces devoted to weather,ecology, and water flow. There’s a tot-friendly play area and kids5 and up get a three-story climbing structure with fun learningspots on the way up and down. Best for: Ages2-12.
Another museum on the move, San Francisco’s wondrous Exploratoriumrecently relocated to the Embarcadero on Pier 15. The new museum isnow three times bigger, with waterfront location that allowsfamilies to explore the Bay Area ecology as it also tackles thescience behind skateboarding, the principles of navigation, andmysteries of the human body. A mad scientist's penny arcade,scientific funhouse, and an experimental laboratory all rolled intoone, the Exploratorium contains hundreds of hands-on exhibits toexplore. Best for: Ages 4-12.
- 4Ways to Save Huge at Orlando Theme Parks
- 5Idyllic August Getaways
- SplashyDebuts: What’s New in Water Parks 2013
- 10Smart Tips for a Better Beach Vacation
- 7Classic Beach Boardwalks