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These Kid-Friendly Museums Will Keep the Whole Family Happy

BY: Editors | Feb 24, 2017

The phrase "kids museum" might send a shudder down parents' spines as they imagine the shrieking and chaos that characterize these places. But this is a list of kid-friendly museums—most of them are designed for grownups, with a component that engages kids as well.

North

Henry Ford Museum | Dearborn, MI

The Field Museum | Chicago, IL

While the museum's famed T. rex SUE is on hiatus, families can find plenty to explore in this collection of cultural artifacts from all over the world, one of the best kid-friendly museums in the city.

Recommended Exhibit: While there are many items at the museum that kids can't touch, at The Crown Family Play Lab, kids ages 2 to 6 are encouraged not only to get hands on, but to crawl (into a dinosaur nest) and explore (dinosaur bones).

Click here for deals on the Field Museum.

 

The Works Museum | Bloomington, MN

This is not the typical kids museum—you'll find no pretend town or play grocery store here. Instead, it sneaks in lessons on engineering and design in hands-on exhibits where kids build and experiment.

Recommended Exhibit: The only thing you can't touch in this museum is the K'Nex Ball Machine—a 23-foot tall sculpture made from more than 100,000 K'Nex pieces.

 

Henry Ford Museum | Dearborn, MI

A celebration of the Industrial Revolution, this museum began as Henry Ford's personal collection and has since grown to include 90 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits. Highlights range from the 1909 Model T to Thomas Edison's laboratory.

Recommended Exhibit: Kids pretend to be a mechanic, as they repair a car in the Texaco Play Garage.

Click here for deals on admission to the Henry Ford Museum.

 

The Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL

With more than 300,000 works of art spanning every major historical period, this sprawling museum is chock-full of all the art you (and your kids) can handle.

Recommended Exhibit: At The Elizabeth Morse Touch Gallery, kids can actually touch the art, so they can better understand the nuances of different artistic styles.

 

South

Austin Toy Museum | Austin, TX

Austin Toy Museum | Austin, TX

One of the more obviously kid-friendly museums, the Austin Toy Museum is the culmination of decades of work by toy collector Caleb Zammit. This is a kids museum for children of all ages—it features more than 20,000 toys from Zammit's personal collection, including classic action figures and video games.

Recommended Exhibit: The arcade collection boasts more than 50 playable video-game systems, including '80s arcade cabinets and some of the first home consoles.

Click here for deals on admission to the Austin Toy Museum.

 

The Center for Puppetry Arts | Atlanta, GA

This puppetry collection spans the entire globe, celebrating the artistry behind Southeast Asian shadow puppets, Malian hand puppets, and some recognizable pals from Jim Henson's labs.

Recommended Exhibit: At the Jim Henson Collection, both parents and kids will find some familiar faces, plus a recreation of Henson's office complete with his actual desk.

 

East

The National Portrait Gallery | Washington, DC

Mass MOCA | North Adams, MA

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates all artistic media: painting and sculpture, but also performance, film, and music, among others. Here, visitors can catch a stage show, admire outdoor installations, and create their own masterpieces.

Recommended Exhibit: A gallery within a gallery, Kidspace is a place where the smaller set can explore artwork curated just for them and craft projects designed in collaboration with artists chosen for their own ability to relate to kids.

 

Please Touch Museum | Philadelphia, PA

"Don't touch that." The founders behind Please Touch Museum knew kids were used to hearing this phrase—and they wanted to change things. So in 1976, they opened a museum with interactive exhibits and hands-on interaction would let kids learn through play.

Recommended Exhibit: The whole family should not miss the enormous toy collection, comprising more than 25,000 board games, action figures, and other fun items manufactured after 1945.

Click here for deals on admission to the Please Touch Museum.

 

The National Portrait Gallery | Washington, DC

America's foremost collection of portraits gives faces to the names that made history, from the nation's Founders to modern-day icons.

Recommended Exhibit: Champions pays tribute to famous American athletes, so your kids might recognize some familiar faces. Even if they're too young to follow sports, the portraits showcase dynamic movements that are sure to catch their eye.

 

USS Constitution Museum | Boston, MA

Located adjacent to its namesake ship, aka "Old Ironsides," the museum takes guests through the story of the old ship and the era in which it sailed.

Recommended Exhibit: Among the museum's hands-on exhibits is Constructing Constitution, where kids can race to assemble a miniature ship.

 

Franklin Institute | Philadelphia, PA

In homage to Benjamin Franklin, this museum was designed to inspire wonder and interest in science and technology in immersive exhibits.

Recommended Exhibit: In Sir Isaac's Loft," visitors see for themselves the physics principles Isaac Newton explored, pulling pulleys, swinging pendulums, and even toppling domino mazes.

 

Whitney Museum of American Art | New York, NY

This world-famous art museum showcases the illuminating work of the country's living artists, making it the place to learn about the most current trends in art.

Recommended Exhibit: Most weekends, the museum hosts an open studio, where families can create art inspired by the latest exhibit.

 

West

Travel Town Museum | Los Angeles, CA

 

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum | Tucson, AZ

Spread across 98 acres, this unique outdoor museum lets kids get up close and personal with the desert's wildlife and features a variety of educational activities.

Recommended Exhibit: Kids can see some of the desert wildlife in action at any of the live animal presentations, which include meet-and-greet sessions with lizards and rattlesnakes.

 

Heard Museum | Phoenix, AZ

Dedicated to showcasing Native American art, the museum shares the stories of people indigenous to North America, with brilliant paintings, sculptures, and other masterpieces.

Recommended Exhibit: The museum rotates through family-friendly exhibits, inviting them to try their hand at Native American art techniques.

 

Travel Town Museum | Los Angeles, CA

Nestled in beautiful Griffith Park, this kid-friendly museum features a variety of classic, restored trains that any child or student of locomotive history will enjoy.

Recommended Exhibit: In the model train room, you'll find a variety of elaborate model train sets that both children and adults will enjoy watching as they go round and round.

Click here for a deal on admission to Travel Town Museum.

 

Musical Instrument Museum | Phoenix, AZ

In this musical collection that spans the globe, the oldest instrument is a goblet drum from China that's estimated to be from 5000 B.C. Both kids and adults immerse themselves in the universality—and timelessness—of the musical arts.

Recommended Exhibit: The STEM Gallery describes the science behind music in interactive displays, educational videos, and instruments from all over the world.

 

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center | Colorado Springs, CO

According to staff, the center aspires to be an "entire arts district under one roof," housing a theater, an art school, and, of course, a museum filled with art from US and international artists.

Recommended Exhibit: Kids don't often get the chance to touch anything at an art museum. Not so in the Mashburn/Marshall Tactile Gallery, where visitors are encouraged to get hands-on with the texture and shape of art pieces in order to better understand how they were crafted.

If you're wondering "Where is a kids museum near me?" click here to find one.

This article was originally published in a different format and has since been updated by our editors.

 

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