RECOMMENDED: More kids' museum picks for families
These legendary NYC museums never cease to amaze us with their ever-changing offerings, but their permanent exhibits are longtime favorites for a reason! Between the fossil halls at the Museum of Natural History and the cool dig site at the Jewish Museum, there are tons of things to do with dinosaur-loving kids, plus there's a film-centric exhibit for youngsters who want a behind-the-scences peek at the best kids' movies and space-themed minigolf for active tykes. Check out our favorite NYC picks below and hit up the ones that strike your kid's fancy.
Introduce kids to ideas about why and how cultures develop with an exhibit that features a dig's worth of interactive elements: Tots can piece vessels together, weigh and examine replicas of artifacts, decipher the meaning of symbols in a mosaic and don a costume reminiscent of Indiana Jones's garb. Note that this exhibit is not open on Saturdays due to the Sabbath.
Youngsters navigate a maze of kid-sized shops—a Chinese stationary store, a Mexican bakery and a West African import store, to name a few—modeled after real Brooklyn businesses. The miniaturized community also houses an international grocery store equipped with conveyer belt--propelled wares that tykes can use to restock the shelves, and a theater where children watch recorded performances by Brooklyn dance troupes, then step onstage themselves to replicate the steps.
Secreted away on floors four and five, the museum's permanent collection chronicles the hundred-plus-year history of modern art so ravishingly that it remains the institution's pride and joy. Nearly all of its works have kid appeal, but Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night, Henri Matisse's The Red Studioand Pablo Picasso's Three Musicians are some of the most riveting.
The spectacular $210 million Rose Center for Earth & Space—dazzling at night—is a giant silvery globe where kids can discover the universe via 3-D shows in the Hayden Planetarium. The immersive film Dark Universe whisks youngsters into the great beyond, from Jupiter's atmosphere to the Mt. Wilson Observatory in California. While older kids and adults might recognize astronomy lessons on their voyage, little ones will just be, well, star-struck.
At the museum's core exhibit, kids can put sound effects into film scenes, insert their voices into a part of a film, or even make a short animated film and e-mail it to themselves. Nostalgic parents will want to introduce the next generation to the classic arcade games on display, like Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
The CMA's 10,000-square-foot home has more than enough room to house its 2,000-piece collection of international children's art, including a huge center gallery to display it in. Artists lead workshops in classrooms, studios or media lab—that has a sound station, clay bar and video-making equipment. Kids can work their bodies as well as their minds on the museum's second floor, where they'll find interactive art displays and a ball pit.
Expand your mind and let your imagination flow at this exhibit that allows adults and kids to problem solve and find creative solutions to engineering and design problems. The exhibit features five activity areas: Backstage, where guests come up with solutions to performance-based activities, Sandbox, where guests construct large structures that they can stand in, Studio, where guests construct smaller tabletop structures, Treehouse, where guests can experiment with objects in a split-level area, and Maker Space where guests are taught how to use tools to transition design ideas into prototypes. This exhibit allows visitors to experience creative experments, collaboration and critical thinking.
Healthy living for the entire family is the goal of CMOM's groundbreaking exhibit. A giant head, representing the body's decision center, is equipped with interactive games where young visitors can compete for the longest lifespan. Kids also get the chance to crawl through a digestive system; see how the lack of z's affects performance, in the Sleep Deprivation Zone; and pedal, dance, run, bounce and jump in the Play Center.
Moved from its original Nile-side setting and now overlooking a reflective pool, the Temple of Dendur was built by the Roman governor of Egypt around 15 B.C. and dedicated to Isis, Osiris and two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain. Tots can step right into the compact structure to eye the inscriptions on its sandstone columns and walls (and the graffiti left by 19th-century European explorers). Off to one side, they can ogle the majestic, 11-foot-long granite sphinx of Hatshepsut, ancient Egypt's premier female pharaoh and possibly the world's first woman head of state.
The "museum within a museum," occupying 4,000 square feet on the Historical Society's lower level, offers kids the opportunity to learn NYC history through the eyes of children. Young historical detectives visit seven pavilions centered around New Yorkers both famous (Alexander Hamilton) and anonymous (boys and girls who hawked newspapers). Touch screens are ubiquitous, but it is the decidedly low-tech activities (think practicing penmanship or sewing a cross stitch) that truly inspire curiosity.