Are you looking for a fun yet educational family activity? A trip to a children’s museum offers plenty of opportunities to learn through play and supports healthy brain development in toddlers and older kids. What a great reason to get off the couch and into town! If you’re at loss regarding which museum to visit or want to change it up, keep reading: StudyFinds compiled a list of the best children’s museums in the U.S. to visit with your little ones.
Children are naturally curious and soak up knowledge like sponges; we just need to provide them with the right environment. Children’s museums help children understand the world around them and lay the foundation for skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It should go without saying that this equally applies to boys and girls: Girls not being interested in STEM is a worrying stereotype that continues to contribute to the gender gap in STEM education. A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University further confirms that the assumed disparity between the mathematical abilities of boys and girls does not exist!
In addition to introducing kids to science, those early trips to the museum can lead to children developing specific interests and lifelong passions, key “ingredients” for strong brain health (and possibly a successful career in their field of choice). “Passion, or having a strong interest in something, can be the decisive, driving factor that leads us to learn new things. Over time, this impacts the development and maintenance of our neural networks,” says Prof. Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.
As science clearly shows, early-childhood education – through venues like museums – provide a long-lasting foundation. To set the next generation up for success, StudyFinds created a list of the best children’s museums in the U.S. Our list is based on the top recommendations across ten websites. Visited a better children’s museum and don’t see it on the list? Add your selection in the comments below!
The List: Best Children’s Museums in the U.S., According to Experts
1. The Strong National Museum of Play – Rochester, NY
With eight out of ten recommendations, The Strong National Museum of Play in New York was the most recommended children’s museum among our consulted experts. It features a National Toy Hall of Fame and according to Family Vacation Critic is “the nation’s second-biggest children’s museum” with “one of the world’s largest collections of dolls, toys and games.”
“There’s something for everyone in this mecca of playtime,” writes Parenting. “Mini superheroes can don a cape and go to Super Powers School at the comic book exhibition; Sesame Street fans can sit on the famous 123 stoop; and parents can relive childhood memories at the Toy Hall of Fame. The museum also has a massive coral reef aquarium and a rainforest garden boasting 1,000 butterflies.”
“This museum takes history and explores it through play,” so The Travel’s review. “It is a collections-based museum with many historical materials that children can interact with. Its wide array of exhibits are not only for kids, and are just as educational and fun for the adults!”
2. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN
This museum ranks first on USA Today’s 10 Best Children’s Museums list, as well as on the lists of Parents and Scenic States. It’s “the largest children’s museum in the world” with “a 481,000-square-foot facility covering over 30 acres (Scenic States).”
“The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is often cited as one of the best children’s museums in the U.S., and for good reason. Some of the most popular exhibits include Dinosphere, which showcases Leonardo, the mummified duckbill dinosaur, as well as Dracorex hogwartsia, a newly discovered dinosaur species, ” writes Fodor’s Travels.
In addition to meeting dinosaurs, children can “explore outer space through the lens of NASA’s Project Mercury, travel overseas without a passport […] and play one of 12 sports outdoors in a fabulous interactive sports park with health in mind,” says USA TODAY 10Best.
3. Please Touch Museum – Philadelphia, PA
Finally a touch-friendly museum! “Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum offers two floors of exhibits that kids are actively encouraged to touch,” explains USA TODAY 10Best. “Little ones can build at the Imagination Playground or go down the rabbit hole to a Wonderland-inspired play station. A historic and recently refurbished carousel is a great way to end a visit on a high note.”
At this hands-on museum, “there are scheduled activities every day, from storytime to arts and crafts, live theater, and an end-of-the-day parade.” Plus, “the museum invites children with developmental disabilities and those on the autism spectrum to visit at special times before it opens to the general public, offering a quieter space with specially designed activities,” according to Fatherly.
Please Touch tied with our #2 based on its number of expert recommendations (seven out of 10), but couldn’t quite compete with its fame and size. However, as Fodor’s Travels points out, this museum is “located […] in Fairmount Park, […] Philadelphia’s biggest park, spanning more than 9,200 acres; stick around for its playgrounds, the Philadelphia Zoo, and plenty of trails for biking and horseback riding.”
4. Boston Children’s Museum – Boston, MA
While this museum may not be the largest, according to Scenic States it’s “the world’s second oldest children’s museum (founded 1909)” and “Boston’s first LEED-certified Green museum.” But our #4’s possibly most important claim to fame is that “the concept of ‘hands-on learning’ in a museum was introduced by the Boston Children’s Museum,” writes Fodor’s Travels.
“This century-old Boston hotspot centers itself on ‘the power of play’ and in giving kids experiences that will help them learn life skills,” writes Parents. “Whether your kids are into art, music, building, science, pretend play — or all of the above — there’s plenty for them to do or see here.”
“Check out the permanent exhibits Arthur & Friends, Countdown to Kindergarten, Japanese House, Construction Zone, KidStage, Science Playground, and PlaySpace,” recommends Scenic States. “They also have a special section for toddlers aged 3 and under, with a gate to prevent little ones from wandering off.”
5. Port Discovery Children’s Museum – Baltimore, MD
The fifth most-recommended children’s museum is aptly named, as it is “located in the heart of Baltimore’s inner harbor” according to Parenting and includes a “wonders of waters exhibit [that] invites kids to float boats along with the stream table” as described by Fatherly. Other “permanent exhibits at the Port Discovery Children’s Museum include a mental and physical obstacle course set in 1920s Egypt; a soccer and games stadium; and Miss Perception’s Mystery House,” says Fodor’s Travels.
“Budding artist? Adventurer? Future entrepreneur? Soccer player? Sleuth? There’s something for every kid at this variety-filled location,” writes Parents. “On Wonderful Wednesdays, kids under age 6 experience a morning packed full of age-appropriate activities that focus on music, literacy, and early learning.”
According to Parenting, this museum is great for kids of all ages: “Infants and toddlers will love the Tots Trail exhibit; it’s a play haven with padded, mock sand dunes and tidal pools that babies can crawl through, and tunnels perfect for toddlers to navigate. Older kids will love climbing through KidWorks, a three-story urban tree house complete with a rope bridge.”
You might also be interested in:
- Best STEM Projects For Kids
- Best Art Museums
- Best Family Cruises
- Best Children’s Books
- Best Playgrounds For 2023
- USA TODAY 10Best
- Family Vacation Critic
- The Travel
- Fodor’s Travels
- Scenic States
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links.