The Absolute Best Children’s Museums to Visit
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One of the attractions I like to work into our family vacations, is a Children’s museum. They are educational, entertaining, and each offers something a little different. My kids became fast fans, and now they make sure that I try to fit one into our travel itineraries whenever possible. Over the years, we have visited many of the best children’s museums, but we all agree these four definitely stand out from the pack.
The Absolute Best Children’s Museums to Visit
1. Great Lakes Science Centre – Cleveland, Ohio
On our list of the best children’s museums, Great Lakes Science Center is hands down the kids favourite! We have already visited several times, and there is still no sign of their interest waning. The facility has three levels, which include the main (rotating) exhibit, the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, and the Science Phenomena area.
Great Lakes also has a dome theater where several educational movies can be seen, and a science lab where various demonstrations are given.
The rotating exhibits have been awesome the last few years, with something appropriate for every age group. One year the exhibit was called “Grossology.” The focus was on gross things the human body can do.
There was a display which discussed SNOT, which included a giant nose the kids could crawl through. Another display, which was truly gross in my opinion, asked you to match the foul odour with the body part that created it. UGH!! But surprise, surprise – the kids LOVED it!
We spent several hours at this exhibit, as it truly grabbed the kids’ attention. The displays were all interactive, so it was like an educational playground.
The kids didn’t even realize how much they were learning, while playing in this exhibit! Because what kid wouldn’t want to pump air into a tube until the giant man burps, or climb a wall of zits and skin tags?
This year the exhibit is called “Body Worlds RX.” It delves into how the human body deals with common diseases such as diabetes, arthritis or even obesity. The description on the website asks for families to determine whether this display would be appropriate for their children, leading me to believe the content is more geared toward older kids, this time around.
Learning Through Play
The upper floor of Great Lakes is literally a STEM science playground! Here, the kids can learn about how sound travels, weights/density, static electricity, gravity, pulleys, refraction – you name it!
Everything is hands on, so even though a younger child might not understand the concept of convex/concave mirrors, it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy dancing in front of one!
The main floor of Great Lakes houses the NASA Glenn Visitor Center as well as a few other smaller exhibits. This floor is pretty static, so the kids have seen it often enough, and as a result, choose not to spend too much time here anymore.
Mr. Bump, my aspiring pilot, will head to the flight exhibit. But aside from that, and some of the NASA/space displays, the kids prefer to spend their time elsewhere.
Cost for admission is $16.95 for an adult and $13.95 for children under 12. Entrance to the dome theatre is an additional charge, as is parking.
At the time of posting, The Great Lakes Science Center is open. However, you are now required to make a reservation online prior to attending. This is so they can limit capacity for easier social distancing. Masks must also be worn at all times, and health and temperature checks will be done prior to entering the building. The website is also stating that 94% of their exhibits are open.
2. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis, Indiana
At nearly 500,000 square feet in size, this is the largest on our list of best children’s museums, hosting 1.25 million visitors each year. In fact, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is considered the largest in the US. You will definitely need a whole day to fully appreciate this must see attraction.
With several themed floors to choose from, your child can decide what captures their interest. From the Dinosphere to American Pop culture, Beyond Spaceship Earth to Stories from our own Community, each display is unique, immersive, and thoroughly entertaining.
Take Me There
In 2018, when we visited the museum, one of the exhibits – Take Me There – was all about China (at the time of writing the exhibit is about Greece). The exhibit immersed you in what a day in your life in China would look like, as experienced through the eyes of a child.
From how a typical home would look, to what meals are prepared, and what games are played, you are submerged into the culture. Miss Somersault actually learned how to use chopsticks (and very well, I might add), as well as chopstick etiquette, while playing in this exhibit!
Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience
If you are lucky enough to be at the museum between March and November, you will be able to take advantage of the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. This is an outdoor exhibit where kids are able to try their hand at a variety of sports, including basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis, baseball, football and golf.
There is also a fitness path, running track, and a pedal car track! Much of the sports equipment comes in a variety of heights/sizes, to accommodate smaller participants.
With over seven acres of sports area to enjoy, it was pretty close to impossible to pull the kids away from this exhibit! And the best part, it’s included with your general admission! In summer months, you can even purchase a museum ticket for just the outdoor area.
And speaking of admission, this children’s museum isn’t cheap. But considering you are essentially getting 2 attractions for the one price, it is definitely worth it. The cost of a weekend adult admission is $24.50, and for children its $19.75.
Weekdays are slightly cheaper, with $.75 off the price of the weekend admission. Parking, which is free, is located right across the street. The parking garage has a skybridge which connects you to level 2 of the museum, making it convenient for strollers and/or different weather conditions.
3. The Wild Center – Tupper Lake, New York
Even though we have put it on our list of the best children’s museums, the Wild Center is actually more of an adventure park. The focus of the Wild Center is on conservation and the relationship people have with nature.
Unfortunately, with the current situation, all indoor exhibits are still closed until further notice. However, the Animal Encounters experience, once held in the Big Wolf Great Hall, has now been moved outside to the outdoor classroom.
Now called the Creature Feature, see how many flash facts you can learn in 5 minutes as you meet one of their many Adirondack animals. It happens daily, and is an awesome opportunity for kids to get a close up look at owls, snakes, or porcupines – just to name a few creatures.
Once you head outdoors, there are 115 acres to explore! We started with the Wild Walk, which is a suspended trail of bridges through the treetops. With educational plaques and knowledgeable guides/docents along the way, it is impossible NOT to learn something new.
Something a little new to the Wild Center – although visitors will not have access to the indoor otter exhibit, staff are bringing guests behind-the-scenes to catch a glimpse of the otters in the outdoor otter play yard—a spot normally off-limits to visitors. Definitely something you don’t want to miss!
We saw the otters indoors during our visit last year, and the kids couldn’t get enough!
The Wild Walk
The Wild Walk experience includes a 4-storey twig tree house, a full sized bald eagles’ nest, and a gigantic rope spider web:
“The Snag”, or hollowed out giant white pine, is big enough to hold a 4-storey stairwell inside. Here, you will find all kinds of displays about who calls these pines home.
The full-scale eagle’s nest, which is big enough for a crowd to walk around in, is perched up high enough to offer amazing views of the surrounding forest. The sheer size of the nest is mind blowing!
But the attraction that the kids were most excited about was the giant rope spider web. It is massive! There was more than enough space for Mr. Bump to run and chase his sister around on!
The ropes are pretty tightly woven, with a layer of netting underneath. This made it easy and safe for even younger kids to navigate. These hands-on displays were an absolute hit with the kids.
The Pines Wild Play Area
Our next stop was the Pines Wild Play Area. There are no swings or traditional play structures here. Instead, the kids can climb on giant tipped up trees, build things with logs and piles of sticks, or beat on log drums.
There is plenty of space to use not only their imagination, but to use up the some of the boundless energy kids have!
Because we went to the Wild Center in October, we weren’t able to take advantage of paddle boarding on the Oxbow, or their guided canoe trips.
Admission is $20 per adult, and $12 for kids ages 5-17.
4. Kalamazoo Valley Museum – Kalamazoo, Michigan
This is the smallest of the 4 best children’s museums on our list. But this children’s museum has something all the others don’t – free admission! Yup!
Kalamazoo Valley Museum has exhibits suited for preschoolers, all the way up to adults. And it’s free to enter! (They do accept donations, which go towards running the museum.)
The 3-storey space has some amazing exhibits which captured my kids’ attention for several hours.
One of the special exhibits running when we visited was called “Wicked Plants”. The upper floor of the museum was transformed into a creepy Victorian Mansion. Each room had interactive displays about the world’s most villainous plants.
From figuring out the cause of someone’s death in one room, to learning about how some common foods actually have poisonous attributes in another, we all took away some new information from this exhibit.
Other Amazing Exhibits
Miss Somersault was also fascinated by the Mummy display. The exhibit had x-ray photos and scans of an actual mummy, along with explanations behind what you were seeing.
She found it particularly
gruesome interesting that while a person’s organs were removed, embalmed, and returned to the body; this was not the case with the brain. Ummm… ok.
Mr. Bump, on the other hand, loved the Innovations exhibit. Here, he could build a race car and see how fast it would move on the race track.
We were also able to fit in a movie at the Planetarium during our visit. Movies are not included with the free admission, but at only $3 per person, it was a steal! With several to choose from, it won’t be hard to find something that is age appropriate for your kiddos.
Our family spent about 3 hours in the museum, but we could have easily been there longer. If you are in the area, and have some time to spare, you should definitely look into the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
As for parking in downtown Kalamazoo, it is pretty limited. The children’s museum does not actually have a parking lot of it’s own. So the best place to park is about a block away, in a public parking garage. The price was pretty reasonable, and it’s only about a 3 minutes’ walk to get there.
As of the writing of this post, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum will only be open on Tuesday and Thursday for a very limited amount of time. Online registration is also required to receive a timed entry. The Planetarium is also not running.
Final Thoughts on the Absolute Best Children’s Museums to Visit
So those are the 4 best children’s museums we have seen thus far. We can’t wait to add more to the list, as we continue our trek across the continent!
If you have any suggestions for us to try or just like what you have read, follow us or leave a comment below!