Of course you do. I’m a parent and I want my children to be happy, healthy and smart. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis hits the mark on all accounts. “We are the biggest and best Children’s Museum in the world” is what I was told by one curator. We drove two and a half hours to get there and spent four hours exploring, playing and learning and still did not get a chance to see every exhibit. Let me stress that this is not your average children’s museum – size aside – while some museums tend to be educational from a large motor skill, movement standpoint (I don’t argue that they are educational) this museum is a different sort of hybrid. Imagine a museum, like the Field Museum, that was scaled down to accommodate kids touching, experiencing and interacting. This is truly a Museum for Children. The exhibits aren’t just play spaces, they are educational and hands on.
We have been trying to tour all of the local area museums before we move and this one really is the biggest. Located across 5 floors, with its own stand alone parking garage equipped with a greeter at the entrance and piped in music, this museum stands alone both as a structure and the standard for all children’s museums. The side of the museum has dinosaurs breaking out of it and the front of the museum has dinosaurs breaking into the museum – an architectural wonder for all of my kids.
When you enter the museum via the skywalk you cross over and you are greeted by a larger than life movie size Bumblebee that requests you to stop by the museum entrance to purchase tickets. That was a big hit with my tikes, I took a picture of it from a story up and it doesn’t do the statue justice. The entrance fees are a little steeper than most museums and they do not offer any reciprocal program; however, they do offer discounts to military families, and online coupons accessible via a smart phone. For our family of four (under 2 no charge) admission to get in was $54.50 and that included a $6 per adult coupon and the ability to see all of the exhibits including The Lily Theatre (Rapunzel Rapunzel was playing but the kids weren’t interested in sitting for a show) and the Planetarium adventure (there was a long line so we skipped it). A family membership will cost you $145 (regularly a visit for a family of four is $64) so if you plan to visit more than twice it pays to get discounts on the food court, gift shop, etc and purchase the membership.
The maps for this museum are a small booklet and we decided to start on the ground floor in the Dinosphere – and the name suggests
it all. Chock full of fossils, an area to play with dinosaurs, an area to crawl around a dino habitat, become a dino with a nest of eggs, watch and talk to paleontologists while they work, fondle fossils and fossil molds –the list goes on and on there is even a viewing area above the Dinospehere, right off of the Dragons exhibit, so you can watch the light show around the dinos. The Dragons exhibit illustrates the link between the mythological creatures of lore and dinosaurs. There is a sketching station where children can move their benches and easels around a dino skull and sketch a dragon, there are displays and other drawing opportunities including a “how to draw a dragon” interactive exhibit, a sculpting exhibit where kids can add putty onto dino skulls to see how “fleshed out” reality could be mistaken for fiction and even more – really too much to remember and write about so take a look at the Dinosaurs and Dragons Album for a peek into the family fun!
After the Dinosaurs we made our way to the All Aboard! Exhibit and the National Geographic Treasures of the Earth Exhibit, we then passed by Lilly Theatre and the Planetarium without stopping.
All Aboard! was amazing, and I’ll toot the Children’s Museum horn by saying it was even better than the train exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago. If your kids like riding the silver bullet at MSI they will soil their diapers over the All Aboard! experience. Kids can interact in a real old time train station and sell tickets to different destinations (there is also a train table to play with), ride the rails, view a steam
engine, even get behind the wheel of a steel locomotive. The ride on train is interactive with moving landscape and options to change what you see. If you step outside you can catch a snapshot of family members “back in time” riding the rails. Did I mention all of the model trains tooting around and on display for “big kid” collectors to oogle?
The Treasures of the Earth was pretty darn cool to me. There was a digging area again to help unearth Terra Cotta Warriors and unlike the usual rubber woodchips this museum uses a sand polymer mixed with glue a process that takes three days to dry. “We refill it every three months, taking anything that the kids dig up, recycle it and move it to the back room – once it is all collected we mix it with glue and put it down” confided a curator. This method and model of digging actually requires “the children experience a more true dig, just like an archaeologist would”. In this exhibit children were digging to find pieces of the Terra Cotta Warriors. The same
curator shared with me that the museum would be “getting a real Terra Cotta Exhibit, not just one of the touring ones. The Terra Cotta curators came in to see how we run things and have designed an exhibit just for us, it will be very interactive!” I’m not sure how much more interactive the exhibit can get when they already have broken Terra Cotta Warriors to help put back together but I would love to find out! The tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh contains a sarcophagus that needed fixing and other displays I just couldn’t get around to see while trying to wrangle three kids who all wanted to go in different directions. In the Caribbean shipwreck Exhibit there was a coral reef to help repair, interactive fish on screen that were lifelike, Captain Kidd exhibits, cannons to measure and climb and even dress up opportunities. The whole family was truly transported to three different archaeological sites! Not only were there places to climb, three dimensional puzzles to piece together and nooks and crannies to explore, there were bonafide curated museum exhibits to read and learn from.
Looking at this post it is rich with photos and dialogue – it truly mimics this museum experience and I have only gotte
n to the first floor! The reason we chose this weekend to visit is because the Hot Wheels For Real Exhibit was leaving May 27. We had already missed Geckos which closed May 15 and coming soon is Avatar the Exhibit. What we did get to see on the second floor included: Take Me There: Egypt and whoa! we were really transported to an Egyptian town, including interactive homes with Egyptian Sesame Street playing on television, a market place, the Nile Exhibit with a ride on crocodile, ride on sphinx, an area for Egyptian percussion interaction (children playing drums and zills was a bit overwhelming at moments), jewelry making and more. You get to the exhibit through an airplane – and while it doesn’t hover above the museum floor like the one at MSI, it is really impressive inside!
Mr. Bear’s Playhouse was another second floor experience with a great Mama Bear nursing room – all museums should have these little cottages – a quiet space for over stimulated children or moms who like to relax to nurse. The area was designed for the under 5 set and full of hands on experiences, drawing areas, ball moving machines, ride on trucks, sandpits and soft play place. We could have stayed in this one exhibit the whole afternoon. This exhibit won’t be around forever, the museum will be adding an all new Playscape on Aug 31 right before Mr.Bear goes into hibernation in September.
The last exhibit for us on the second floor was the Hot Wheels For Real with life sized cars based on the miniatures or vice versa, displays on how the toys are made, displays of the toys, different ways to make the cars move (up high, on a track) a slide (which was backed up because it was also a car drop point – should have been better designed), a “shop” with a car parked in it that kids could decorate with cling on racing stickers and chrome pieces, polish and drive. There was even a diamond encrusted car that I photographed for all of you who love bling made with 3,000 blue diamonds set in an 18K gold body to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this American toy icon. Even is you missed this particular exhibit, your race car enthusiast won’t be left out of the photo fun. Level three has, of course, a real IndyCar to sit in a imagine driving in the Indianapolis 500.
Level three houses “The Power Of Children” recommended for ages 8 and up along with the “Anne, Ruby and Ryan Sound and Light Shows”. Shows run throughout the day and tell the heroic stories of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White. This is a real tear jerker, my 12 year old son was very moved by the exhibits – especially the Ryan White one that included a section of lockers from Ryan’s school where teens had etched in hate speech. Aptly so the museum has provided tissues and a “Sit and Speak” area where you can sit with your children and discuss what they have seen and experienced. My four year old son was not aware of the magnitude of the display and instead ran around with youthful exuberance and energy. Entering the life-sized Ruby Bridges classroom he sat at the teachers desk and presided over an imaginary class. Then he skipped into a replica of Ryan White’s bedroom and asked all about the vintage toys and posters. I found the experience of this exhibit gut wrenching and strangely I had been thinking about Ryan White last week – how the media no longer remembers him or discusses the difference he made in the societal discussion of HIV/AIDS. We sniffled our way out of this exhibit and upstairs to level four
The fourth full level houses ScienceWorks, RockWall, Health House and a full sized Carousel (I’m not kidding!). We had very little time to explore these areas, it was five minutes to close and we actually got caught up in one of the most innovative ideas I have seen in a while. The museum has a costumes character – green plush dino that starts on the spiral ramp of the fourth floor. He leads a cheering parade to close the museum down the ramp while singing a song about saying goodbye. Truly ingenious! The watershed exhibit is more than just a place for kids to splash and get wet.
We had to cut level four very short since we arrived at five minutes to close. Other daily activities we missed out on included: Meet the Paleontolofist, Cannon Talk or Tomb Tour, Play a Part:Sebou, Live Theatrical Performance at Power of Children, SciencePort, Biotechnology Learning Center (each of these have hands on science labs/experiments) and the shows about space and flight. We did get to see the WaterClock adn the Fireworks of Glass and we even stopped in the largest gift shop on our way out. The way out was an experience of its own as we opted to go through the garden which houses kid sized replicas of the Great Wall, the Great Pyramids, and more. Here is a photo of my little Babiator battling it out.
Right before this trip we visited our family doctor for a well baby check at 17 months. Since we don’t vaccinate we go less frequently. The doctor asked if our daughter could say at least 10 words, to which we replied, “About 100 or more” and on cue Iz started talking, “Birds live in trees, fly, live in nest. Why?” and other sentences. Our doctor was truly shocked and commented, “17 months? My kids never spoke this much at 17 months.” Of course good genes help but I truly believe we are all born with potential and it needs to be nurtured. I talk to my kids from day one and as soon as we are both ready postpartum we head out to museums. While at these museums I do not talk on my phone, I don’t text – I pay active attention to my children and interactive with them. I let them lead the exploration and direct their own learning. If you want your children to be the best they can be, take a step back and a step away from diversions – truly become immersed in their world and talk to them – even when you think they can’t understand because the truth is they can.