One of the biggest goals of The Playful Parent is to spread the word about the importance of learning through play. What better way to help children explore than taking a trip to a museum designed for little hands. Taking children to a family-friendly museum where everything is meant to be touched can spark a true love for learning. Over the summer our family toured the East coast from Maryland to Georgia and stopped at kid friendly museums along the way. This article will include science centers and children’s museum that balance play with educational opportunities. Whether your kids are inspired by outer space or animals, trains or planes, playing house or creating a work of art there is sure to be something at each one of these award winning museums to keep them entertained. Check out these 10 must visit museums that are Playful Parent tested and approved.
ANNEMARIE SCULPTURE GARDENS & MUSEUM
After you’ve ventured through the forest, step inside the award-winning Arts Building, where you will find plenty for kids to do. They are sure to love the kids section and art studio which are dedicated to inspire creativity and curiosity. The best time to visit Annmarie is during any popular annual festivals or creative family programming. Two of our favorite programs to attend are the Fairy and Gnome Home Festival and the Full STEAM Ahead Program. I think what I love best about this hidden gem is how nature and art are merged together. It is such an inspirational, fun and peaceful place to visit.
Hours: Open everyday 10 AM – 5 PM
B&O RAILROAD MUSEUM
It’s no secret that my children are train fanatics… Truth be told, I’ve become a huge fan myself. The B&O Railroad Museum brings to life the magic and adventure of railroading through hands on exhibits that allow you to see, touch, hear and explore the wonders of trains. There is so much to see and do at this museum anytime of year!
The main exhibits are showcased in a magnificent roundhouse. The building is gorgeous as it windows let in tons of natural light to show off the splendid engines and train cars that encircle the turntable. The museum is designed to be self guided and allows for visitors to explore as they please. Many of the trains are open for viewing and some of the engines are set up to investigate how they work; perfect for little engineers to pretend they are taking the locomotive on a trip. They even have a kids play area where little ones can have fun with wooden railroad or LEGO trains. You will also find stations throughout the museum designed for children to learn about the history of trains in a way that is fun. They can get a passport and stamp their pass as they stop at each exhibit.
Just when you think you have seen it all in the main building their is tons to explore outside. In the cars stationed to the side of the main building you will find a caboose to investigate, box car that showcases a theater and a car that houses the model train layout. Outside in the court yard you will find another model train layout, playground, carousel and Choo Choo Blue miniature train ride. Don’t forget to purchase tickets to climb aboard a working train for a ride a real locomotive.
CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF THE UPSTATE
You are sure to fall in love with The Children’s Museum of the Upstate located in lovely downtown Greenville, South Carolina. The Children’s Museum of the Upstate happens to be one of the largest children’s museum in the country. It’s also the first children’s museum to be affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. It truly is a beautiful museum. There are over a dozen art exhibit galleries to admire. The first thing you will notice when you enter this amazing state of the art children’s museum is a large climbing structure that looks like a work of art.
The first floor has an entire section dedicated to hands on physics experiments that features how cars, airplanes, and even space ships work. There’s an exhibit on the first floor that provides information on the human body including a digestive system slide and life sized Operation board game. You will also find plenty of imaginative play on the first floor at the market and teddy bear hospital.
The upper level is where you will find a really awesome agricultural area designed for young toddlers. I think my boys enjoyed the architectural exhibit the most; they had a blast pretending to be construction workers.
Downstairs there’s a huge section dedicated to water play. You could easy spend hours playing at the water table. There was even a special water table for infants where you could sit them in a high chair type seat so they can splash around. The lower level seemed to be dedicated to the arts and features an impressive art room, media studio and music room.
Don’t forget to step outside to enjoy the giant outdoor play structure called Bib’s World. Your little ones are sure to get their energy out on this massive play structure that was gifted by The Michelin Corporate Foundation. It has three-stories of outdoor fun to explore. This structure really is one-of-a-kind in that it combines learning through play by focusing on play panels that teach: science, physics, and language.
DISCOVERY PLACE SCIENCE
Located in the charming town of Charlotte, North Carolina is where you will find Discovery Place Science. This premiere hands-on science and technology center is one of our favorite museums to visit when traveling south to visit family over the summer every year. It’s a great place to go to stimulate and keep the kids active; especially after spending a few hours in the car.
My boys love the KidScience section designed for children under 5. This extraordinary hands-on, mind-on experience allows little ones to explore science through imagination and fun in an environment made just for them. Build a giant tower with life sized soft blocks, make a vibrant picture on a giant light bright or watch objects zip through a maze on the wind wall.
The museum is huge, it’s almost impossible to explore all the exhibits in one day. You wont want to miss the following exhibits which are our favorites… Explore More Life lab which is a a hands-on lab that focuses on biodiversity. Discovery IMAX Theatre – An amazing digital movie experience. Think It Up – This section is full of activities that engage visitors in the processes of innovation. Project Build – Guest are encouraged to conceptualize and creating building plans and even design buildings using blocks. Cool Stuff- Is an awesome exhibit that offers the chance for you to discover physics through some of the coolest hands-on activities. Cool Stuff was our favorite area and where we spent the most time.
GREENSBORO CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The Greensboro Children’s Museum is chock full of energy burning activities in its amazing 33,000 sq ft building located in downtown Greensboro. There are three main rooms with various playing areas each with a different theme. It is a place where families could spend hours having fun. It’s the perfect setup for parents to play along or even sit back in a comfy chair and watch.
As I explained before there are three main rooms full of exhibits to explore. The first room is filled different themed sections perfect for imaginative play. You will find… A mail room that even has a mail truck! A grocery store with play food, carts and registers. A construction room with tools for building. A doctor’s office. A theater, perfect for dressing up and performing. A reading corner with comfy bean bag chairs and book. A craft room with all the supplies you need to create something. There is also a huge gated in toddler are for little ones to play safely.
The second room has real vehicles to explore! They can climb aboard a real fire truck, race car or police car. There’s also a section a area for camping complete with tents, sleeping bags and a pretend camp fire. My boys really enjoyed the life sized linkin logs.
The third section was probably my boys favorite since there was a giant train to play on. You can shovel coal and blow the whistle! Also in this area there is the front part of an actual plane, complete with seats and a cockpit and slide to escape down.
Just when you think you have explored it all, there’s more outside. Make sure you check out the outdoor garden, that works as an edible school yard and teaching kitchen. New this year is the outdoor play plaza which consists of two European-imported 30-foot-tall Neptune Climbers connected by a 25-foot suspended net tunnel. This is definitely a play structure for the bigger kids. It’s a great tool for building self confidence.
GREENSBORO SCIENCE CENTER
The Greensboro Science Center is one of the biggest museums I’ve been to. The center features a mixture of different science subjects by offering a aquarium, zoo, museum and planetarium all in one place.
First we visited the Carolina Sciquarium which is an aquarium where visitors can view different sea creatures and marine life such as penguins, otters, stingrays, fish and sharks. There is even a skates and rays station setup for little ones to touch these majestic creatures. Be sure to check the schedule to see when feeding time is in the shark tank.
The Museum itself is huge with multiple levels to explore. There is a section dedicated to herpetarium and aquatic discovery with tons of wondrous creatures big and small to explore from frogs to lizards and turtles to snakes. The is a awesome room with a dinosaur exhibit. There is even a Omnisphere Theater which is much like a planetarium that offers 3-D adventure films. You can purchase tickets for an additional fee to watch shows like“One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure” and the animated “DEEPO” A Fish Story.
My boys spent the most time at Sciplay Bay. This indoor play space features interactive activities that focus on learning through play. Build a beach blanket fort, pretend to operate a ice cream truck or watch scarfs zip through a wind tunnel. There is also a deep see section with a pretend submarine and pirate ship to explore.
On top of the already massive science center there is a complete zoo. It seriously is a really nice zoo! Located right on the same campus the zoo sits on a lush, wooded outdoor portion of the science center. Animals on exhibit include, tortoises, lemurs, meerkats, wolves and even tigers. My kids really loved the petting zoo; where you can pet and brush goats and sheep. Don’t miss the reptile house.
Since my kids aren’t quite old enough we didn’t get to try out Sky Wild. This attraction is a huge outdoor ropes course that takes you on a adventure through the zoo high in the trees. You get to climb, repel, and zip line.
INTERACTIVE NEIGHBORHOOD FOR KIDS
While visiting my grandmother in a small town called Gainesville; located a short drive from Atlanta, Georgia we discovered a one of a kind, unique and fun place to explore. The Interactive Neighborhood for Kids (INK) offers the perfect opportunity for children, ages 2 to 12 to immerse themselves in imaginative play. Walking into the INK is like walking into a miniature town for kids. The museum has child-sized interactive exhibits that encourage children to assume various different real-world roles. I included pictures and information about the different exhibits we enjoyed exploring.
The neighborhood includes hair salon, grocery market, diner and bank each with everything you would need to pretend you are running or using these businesses. I love that the diner has a working jukebox. The make believe veterinarian clinic, dentist office, medical clinic & Radiology Department rooms have everything your little caregiver needs to be a doctor, nurse or patient. I found it pretty awesome that there are even working light boards and real x-rays.
If your little one is into all things with wheels, they will be excited to see a real police car, fire truck and airplane they can climb aboard and pretend to take for a ride. There is even a train you can climb aboard and push buttons to blow the whistle or pull the brakes.
Just when you though you explored it all there is still a building room with giant foam blocks, farm with an exhibit that features a cow you can pretend to milk and a indoor playground.
PORT DISCOVERY CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF RICHMOND
ROPER MOUNTAIN SCIENCE CENTER
Exhibits at Harrison Hall feature life science, microscopy, geology, environmental studies, ecology and marine science. Step inside the Tropical Rainforest Conservatory where you can walk among butterflies. Explore the Discovery Room and meet reptiles, amphibians, and birds. At the end of the hallway is the Palentology Lab and the Earth Science Lab which houses and displays the centers rock, mineral, and fossil collections. Don’t forget to take time in the ecology and marine lab where you can learn about fresh and salt water environments through hands on experience.
At the top of the mountain is where you will find the observatory, planetarium and Symmes science hall.The Charles E. Daniel Observatory features a very historic 23″ refractor telescope, the eighth largest of its kind in the nation. The Hooper Planetarium features a 360° full immersion dome, 4K projection, state-of-the-art lighting, dynamic 5.1 surround sound, interactive lobby exhibits, expanded curriculum, new shows, and more. The Hooper Planetarium features the first American installation of the Spitz 4K IQ projection system. You wont want to miss visiting the Symmes Hall of Science which is home to STEM, Physical Science, Weather, Forensics, and many other unique and engaging experiences.
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