Children’s Museums: A Hands on Learning Adventure

February 12th, 2013 posted by Amanda Formaro

picking an apple from a velcro tree

Once you’ve plucked an apple from its tree, there’s no putting it back on. Or is there? Like hundreds of other youngsters that will pass through children’s museums daily, 2-year-old Dominic discovered that almost anything is possible. From Velcro trees, to make shift recycling centers, complete with magnetic cranes for separating aluminum from tin, there are learning opportunities around every corner. If you haven’t visited a children’s museum in the past, you may want to mark it on your calendar as a “don’t miss” event. Open year round in most cases, these child friendly environments are entertaining as well as educational. At the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, children can walk through the human digestive system, listen to the sounds of each process, climb through the ventricles of the heart, and experience the vacuum effect produced in the human lung. When finished there, children can call 911 and act out emergencies by following the kid friendly guides posted near each phone. Then climb aboard the ambulance, steer the wheel and flash the lights, be sure to get your patient there in one piece! Other exhibits include fun with learning, such as the arts and crafts area where you can design your own puppet, or the fun house mirrors that stretch your head and other body parts out of proportion. And who could resist playing with brightly colored clear Legos on a lighted table? Discover giant bubble makers, operate trains and blow the whistle, and drive the bus full of passengers to their destination. Dress up as a nurse, a police officer, or perhaps even a baker. Sorting colors, fruits, and objects

Learn your colors by matching the fruits and flowers to their color coordinated bins. Discover the sounds that different instruments make by beating a drum or ringing a bell. Hands on computers will also captivate children with topics ranging from musical sounds from every instrument imaginable, to the Magic School Bus adaptation of a volcanic eruption. Children’s museums are not geared only to the preschool and toddler set, there is plenty for the elementary and middle school aged child as well. Learn about velocity, friction, gravity, and sound decibels. Operate video cameras, be the star of the show, or play with the different sound effects heard in your favorite television programs. Other locations, such as the Chicago Children’s Museum in Chicago, Illinois, have an interactive waterway where children can learn about currents and water travel. This exhibit comes complete with raincoats! Wherever you live, there is more than likely a children’s museum within reasonable traveling distance. If you are interested in finding a children’s museum near you, consult your local yellow pages or try one of the locations listed below (U.S. and Canada).


The Children’s Museum of Denver

2121 Children’s Museum Drive Denver, CO 80211 General Info: (303) 433-7444 Group Reservations: (303) 561-3370


Learn through play. Their museum highlight is the “playscape” which encompasses physical activity and science exploration. Age appropriate programs are offered in house as well as by field visits. “The Children’s Museum of Denver promotes the value of childhood by using the arts and sciences to educate, support and nurture children. The Museum focuses on children newborn through age eight and the adults who care for them. As a leader in child development, the Museum uses interactive exhibits and engaging programming to create hands-on learning opportunities.”

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

929 E. Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53202 General Info: 414-390-KIDS playing with LEGO Exhibits include; My Body Works – Explore the workings of the human body. Crawl through a giant human heart. Weave a scab on the great wall of skin. Hear how food is digested in the Digestion Tunnel. A Trading Place – Role play jobs in the community and learn about economics and commerce. Pick apples from our orchard. Serve dinner at the Cafe Eat. Count money in the bank vault. WBB-TV – Ready, set, action! Get into the picture in the chroma-key studio. Experiment with electronic pictures and sounds. Direct camera switching. Sound All Around – Travel through the human ear, just like a sound wave. Explore exotic musical instruments. Play a keyboard. Learn how animals hear. Write a secret message using sign language. Play Port – For toddlers only, ages three and under. Explore a large barge. Play with sand and water. Watch all the live action outside on Lake Michigan. Toys By Us – Every child is an artist. Use paper, yarn, buttons, cardboard, markers, crayons and more to create something completely unique. Projects may vary, but you’ll always proudly claim, “I made it myself”.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

Canal Street @ the river #1 Canal Street New Orleans, LA 70130 phone: 1-800-774-7394 Animal Feedings and special exhibits such as Seahorses, Jellies, Sharks, Sea Otters and for a limited time the Frogs! exhibit

Madison Children’s Museum

100 State Street Madison, WI 53703 phone: (608) 256-6445 fax: (608) 256-3226 Very hands on. For example, the Construction Zone exhibit allows children to control the cab, boom and bucket of a 500 lb. working crane, and they can create their own buildings by experimenting with different construction materials and technologies. Other exhibits include First Feats: Celebrating The Early Years (open-ended activities and programs for ages birth to 5 years), Time Warp: Wisconsin Forward and Back, Shadow Room (children can freeze their shadow on a phosphorescent wall), Let’s Grow! (children can plant and harvest crops), Cows, Curds and Their Wheys (“Milk our cows or design your own barn at a drafting table. The Toddler Barnyard provides a special play area for children ages 3 and under.”) “Madison Children’s Museum is a private, not for profit museum featuring hands-on exhibits and programs for children birth through ten years old. Take a trip to an 1898 schoolhouse in the Museum’s time machine, capture your shadow without the help of Peter Pan and plant vegetables in our garden. In addition to our award-winning exhibits, special programs give you the opportunity to test the laws of science, paint, sculpt and take part in celebrations from around the globe.”

Cumberland Science Museum

800 Fort Negley Boulevard Nashville,Tennessee 37203 phone: (615) 862-5160 fax: (615) 862-5178 CSM currently features “Construction Junction,” “Mission : Possible,” “Dino Rumble,” and much much more. Plenty of hands on activities for kids!

The Children’s Museum

300 Congress Street Boston, MA 02210 General Info: (617) 426-8855 Very hands on! The museum offers an ever changing calendar of new exhibits and events. They offer live animal shows during school vacations. They have re-opened The Smith Family PlaySpace (designed to spark exploration and creativity in children ages 0-3 years), and their most popular exhibit is Arthur’s World where children can see what they would look like on TV with Arthur and his friends, explore Mr. Ratburn’s classroom, the Elmwood library, the Read Family kitchen, and even sleepover tents in Arthur’s backyard. Other exhibits include; Giant’s Desktop, Halls of Toys, Pueblos, Supermercado, Weaving, Boats Afloat, Grandparent’s House, Japanese House, KidStage, Science Playground, Under the Dock and We’re Still Here. “The Children’s Museum pioneered the concept of interactive exhibitions used widely in museums today. Designed and built in-house, exhibits from The Children’s Museum of Boston have been replicated at prestigious institutions throughout the world. Exhibits focus on early childhood development and have four themes: arts, culture, science and technology. Four to six new exhibits are installed annually.”

Hands On Children’s Museum

106 11th Ave SW Olympia, WA 98507 General Info: (360) 956-0818 Hands on. Current exhibits include; Body Basics where children can join Ms. Frizzle and The Magic Schoolbus Kids to explore the human body, and Backyard Wilderness where children can learn how to create a home for wildlife int heir own backyards. There is even a special place for toddlers to explore.

Lexington Children’s Museum

440 West Short Street Lexington, Kentucky 40507 General Info: (859) 258-3256 Very hands on! There are over 90 hands-on exhibits, the newest being “Brainzilla”, a giant interactive brain. They also offer toddler and preschool workshops.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan

212 West 83rd Street Manhattan, NY General Info: (212) 721-1234 Five floors of exhibits that use science, nature and art “to teach children about the creative process.” Many of hands on activities. For children aged 2-10 years. Children can produce their own television shows for CMOM-TV in the Time Warner Media Center. Other exhibits include; Body Odyssey which contains rooms representing different parts of the body (child walk through), and Seuss! based on the Dr. Seuss children’s books.

The Children’s Museum

305 Harrison Street Seattle WA 98109 General Info: (206) 441-1768 Hands on for any age. Exhibits to be found in The Kenneth and Marleen Alhadeff Exhibit Center include; Mountain Forest (climb a mountain and learn about Washington’s forests, even see a waterfall and hike through a cave), Discovery Bay (a trip undersea for children under 2 ½ years), Cog City (cause and effect exhibit), Global Village (around the world adventure), Keys To Your Health, Time Trek, and Neighborhood (all about transportation and careers).

Children’s Museum of Kansas City

Indian Springs Marketplace 4601 State Avenue Kansas City, KC 66102 General Info: (913) 287 – 8888 “A Magical Learning Journey Where The Children Are The Stars” looking into a funhouse mirror “Hands-on activities offer fun learning experiences–please touch! Jumpstart a child’s love for learning. Come explore a museum that invites them to “Touch everything!” Exhibits are designed to stimulate the imagination and creativity of children ages two through eight and encourage all-age family interaction.” New exhibit coming in May 2001: Bridges. Other exhibits include an Egyptian Tomb, 3-D Sculpture and Recycled Materials Center. They offer many discovery programs. Note: “Special exploration programs are offered daily at 10:30 a.m. during Spring Break. Each program is approximately 1/2 hour long, and is designed for all ages. These programs are FREE with the price of admission. Reservations are requested by the previous day.”

The Children’s Museum of Arkansas

Union Station 1400 W, Markhan #200 Little Rock, Arkansas 72201 General Info: (501) 374-6655 Hands on exhibits for ages birth through teens. Exhibits include; Brik Building, H2O Know (bubbles, bubbles, bubbles), Face Value (face painting), Farmer’s Market (learn how to trade and barter), Tree House (crawl, climb, slide and play for children 4 years and under). They also offer a series of challenging cultural exhibits.

The New Jersey Children’s Museum

599 Industrial Avenue Paramus, New Jersey General Info: (201) 262-5151 Very hands on, appears to be mostly for ages 2 through 10 years. “…over thirty different exhibits, in 15,000 square feet, each designed for specific groups, from the special Baby Nook and Housekeeping for two’s and toddlers, to the challenging Science and Technology for first graders.” Other exhibits include; Explore The World of Animal Senses , Ahrens Fox Fire Truck (children sit in, “ride” a fire truck as well as dress up like firemen), Kid Sized Grocery, and The Medieval Castle.

The Children’s Museum of Memphis

2525 Central Avenue Memphis, TN 38104 General Info: (901) 458-2678 Or (901) 320-3170 “…encourages the curiosity and imagination of children and their families through interactive exhibitions, programs and resources that help demystify the arts, sciences, humanities and technology.” Many interactive exhibits! These include; Kid’s Market (children shop for their own groceries in this detailed supermarket complete with scanners that really work!), Bank (children cash a check to get play money, then try to crack open two safes), CityFriends, Garage, Playscape, Skyscraper (“This towering eight-story vertical maze challenges children while keeping them safe in their exploration.), Your House/My House, and Recycle Factory.

Capital Children’s Museum

800 3rd St. NE Washington, DC 20002 General Info: (202) 675-4120 Hands on. “Children are encouraged to explore by touching, climbing, tasting and using their imagination to learn about the world around them. Children visiting CCM can explore a prehistoric cave, make hot cocoa and learn the culture of our closest neighbors in Mexico, learn why gas is heavier than liquid in the CMA Chemical Science Center, star in a cartoon in the Chuck Jones Animation Studio, and drive a Metro bus in Cityscapes. CCM also offers special programs and activities all year long.”

Chicago Children’s Museum

700 East Grand Avenue at Navy Pier Chicago, IL 60611 General Info: (312) 527-1000 Hands on! Even the web site is fun! Exhibits include; Inventing Lab, WaterWays, Playmaze (kidsize city), Safe and Sound (look at x-rays, sit in an ambulance, learn how to play it safe) , Dinosaur Expedition, Face to Face (Dealing with Prejudice and Discrimination), Kovler Family Climbing Schooner (board the schooner and up the riggings, up 3 stories!) , Kids on the Fly (an exhibit at O’Hare Airport).

The Children’s Museum of Houston

1500 Binz Houston, Texas 77004 General Info: (713) 522-1138 Hands on! One of the most visited children’s museums for it size in the country. Exhibits include; The PG&E Corporation EcoStation (insect collecting, tree rubbings, water quality testing, decomposition observation, soil type exploration, and make-and-take activities), Think Tank, (“With a little help from Felicia Fact Finder, Carlos the Curios, Isaac I’ve Got It! and Rosie Risk It, you will be solving riddles, crazy brain games, mind teasers and more…”), How Does It Work, Yalalag: A mountain village in Mexico, Bubble Lab, Tot*Spot, Kid TV, Farm To Market, Cyber Clubhouse, Expressions (open-air art studio allows kids to be creative without the worry of being too messy), Kid’s Hall (traveling art exhibits), Allen Family Courtyard, Red Caboose, Babbling Bayou (encourages children to explore waterplay by launching boats, ducks and more along a twisting bayou textured by a fountain and zany water spouts) and Victorian Playhouse.

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM)

22 Sheldon Avenue, NE Grand Rapids, MI 49503 General Info: (616) 235-4726 Hands on. Home to Penrod’s New Home, a story about a resident pigeon and the founding of the GRCM. Written by three GRCM founders, Carla Morris, Georgia Gietzen and Aleicia Woodrick and illustrated by Holland artist Joel Tanis.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

3000 N. Meridian Street Indianapolis, IN 46208 General Info: (317) 334-3322 Hands on! Exhibits include the Carousel, Wishes and Dreams: “The young and not-so-young will delight in the carousel and its new starry surroundings. Originally installed in a local amusement park in 1917, the carousel is history you can ride and is now wheelchair-accessible.”, the CineDome Theater: “a 76-foot domed, large-format theater, is an innovative and exciting medium to present entertaining and educational films. The CineDome offers viewers of all ages a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to peer into the mouth of volcanos, travel to distant points around the globe and soar on the wings of eagles…”.

Omaha Children’s Museum

500 South 20th Street Omaha, NE 68102 General Info: (402) 342-6164 Hands on! Exhibits include: Main Street (A microcosm of life in an Omaha neighborhood, including post office and supermarket.), Creativity Center (“Using an array of recycled materials and endless pots of paint and glue, visitors are free to jump in, get messy, and express their creativity!”), Rainbow Farm for children 4 years and younger (“Experience life on the farm and enjoy developmental activities in this area designed especially for toddler-age children.”), Charlie Campbell Science and Technology Center (hands-on, interactive science activities for children of all ages), Baker’s Supermarket Exhibit (“Scale model of an actual Baker’s Supermarket complete with miniature working checkstands, shelving, products and service center.”) and Cox TV Station.

Austin Children’s Museum

201 Colorado Street Austin, TX 78701 General Info: (512) 472-2499 Hands on! Exhibits include: Global City Works (“exhibit includes eight role-play environments in which children can explore how people work, live, and play together in a diverse, global city”), Infant and Toddler Playscape, Time Tower (“A climbing playscape where children can discover Austin history from mastodons to microchips.”), Weather Corner, and K*ACM, Austin’s newest radio station for children.

Fascinate-U Children’s Museum

116 Green Street Fayetteville, NC 28301 General Info: (910) 433-1573 Hands on! “…a place where children can explore their world the way they learn best– through creative role-playing, manipulation and interaction with each other and objects around them.” Exhibits include: Dental Office, Broadcast News, City Bank, Doctor’s Office, Under Construction, Utility Works, Fayetteville News, City Works, Judge’s Podium, Gro-Right Grocery and Deli, Theater, Post Office, Fire Station and City Hall.

Habitot Children’s Museum

2065 Kittredge Street Berkeley, CA 94707 General Info: (510) 647-1111 Ages infancy through preschool. Hands on!! Exhibits include: Performance Stage and Costume Closet, Small-Scale Town, Infant and Toddler Garden, Wind Tunnel Science Lab, WaterWorks water play and learning gallery, and Back To The Farm.

Children’s Museum of La Crosse (Gertrude Salzer Gordon Children’s Museum)

207 Fifth Avenue South La Crosse, WI 54601 General Info: (608)784-2652

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

180 Woz Way San Jose, CA 95110 General Info: (408) 298-5437 pounding on a drum Hands on! Exhibits include: Streets (“Take an excursion down the Museum’s streets to investigate the sights, sounds and textures of city life.”), Current Connections (“Gain an understanding of how electricity is generated, using people-powered generators, how it is distributed, and how ultimately how it is converted to other forms of energy.”), West Wing, Jesse’s Clubhouse (“Crawl and clamber through a multilevel tower.”), Step Into The Past, Kids’ Bank (“Learn about the ebb and flow of a currency system from deposits to withdrawals using a variety of cranks, pedals and levers.”), Bubbalogna (“explore the principles and properties of the fascinating, yet unpredictable world of bubbles”), Post Office, Magic Beans Creative People, Take Another Look (“Look. Look again, differently. In this vast and incredible world, there is always something new to see.”), Rhythm, Garden, Alice (“Shrink and grow, visit a tea party, and encounter different animals as you enter Alice’s unique and curious world.”) and ZoomZone (“Adopt the exploratory “ZOOM spirit” to tryout and create activities. The ZOOMzone features brainteasers and math puzzles, word games and a place to write poems, short stories and a science activity station.”).

The Imaginarium Science Discovery Center

737 West Fifth Avenue Anchorage, AK 99501 General Info: (907) 276-3179 Hands on! Exhibits include: Alaska Marine Life, Reptiles, Mission to Mars, Galaxy Room / Planetarium, Physics of Toys and Bubble Lab.

Montshire Museum of Science

One Montshire Road Norwich, VT General Info: (802) 649-2200 A hands-on museum with dozens of exciting exhibits, relating to the natural and physical sciences, ecology, and technology. There are also several outside walking trails. Exhibits include; Andy’s Place, Anti-Gravity Mirror, Bikevator, Bring Your Own Bug, Bubbles, Duck-in Kaleidescope, Leafcutter Ants, Light, Vision and Mirrors, The Lighthouse Little Cat’s Feet, Monarch, North Woods, Polygon Mirrors, Reptiles, Science Park, Soda Fountain, Tower Clock, Weather, Fluorescence and Looking Inside.

Wyoming Dinosaur Center

110 Carter Ranch Road Thermopolis, Wyoming 82443 General Info: (307) 864-2259 For ages 8 and older. This museum is known for some of the largest dinosaur fossil quarries in the world. Children can go on their own digs!

Children’s Museum of Richmond

2626 West Broad Street Richmond, Virginia 23220 General Info: (877) 295-2667 Hands on! Exhibits/programs include; The Robbins Commons, The Art Studio (individual and collaborative experiences utilizing a wide variety of recycled materials, child-sized tools, and innovative art techniques), How It Works (creative problem solving, children form conclusions about their physical world), Feeling Good Neighborhood (visit an orchard, marke

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Amanda Formaro (345 Posts)

Amanda Formaro is a freelance writer, editor, craft designer, and recipe developer. She loves multi-tasking and has been writing and working on the Internet since 1997. You can find her at You’ll find her craft projects at and her recipes on

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