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American Museum of Natural History

The Best Museums for Kids

The essential guide to New York's most child-friendly institutions

Visiting New York City with kids can be a daunting affair. As parents, you want to keep them entertained but also make sure they get something out of the experience. Museums are an obvious choice, but how do you know which ones are worth the time and money? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Below, the definitive list of must-see museums for kids, from tried-and-true choices to the lesser-known (and sometimes even counter-intuitive) options that are big hits with tykes.

 

American Museum of Natural History
In addition to its famed Dinosaur Halls, the AMNH also features a butterfly conservancy (through May 2013), the mesmerizing Hayden Planetarium (including an exhibit that traces the history of Earth), an IMAX theater and space shows. And starting March 23, the museum will also play host to some serious whale action. Every Saturday and Sunday, families can enjoy Global Weekends, a series of day-long programs that include live performances. Upcoming weekends celebrate the lunar new year (Festival Luna, Jan. 25–26) and African-American History Month (Stories We Tell, Feb. 23). (Daily, 10 am–5:45 pm; 79th St. at Central Park West; B, C to 81st St.)

 

Tunnel at the Brooklyn Children's Museum

Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Besides the great permanent exhibits like Collections Central, a rotating selection of thousands of objects kids can see, touch and feel, the museum offers activities every day, from story time to arts and crafts projects. It also offers seasonally themed events each month. In February, the focus will turn to Chinese New Year (with special celebrations on Feb. 9–10 and 16–17) and Black History month, featuring an Anansi the African Spider Man program on Feb. 20 and Gameshow, a trivia show about African-American history, on Feb. 22. Visit their website below for the latest calendar—and check out the free days (4–7 pm on the third Thursday of every month and the first full weekend of every month from 2­–5 pm). (Tue–Sun, 10 am–5 pm; 145 Brooklyn Ave., Brooklyn; 3, C to Kingston; A to Nostrand; brooklynkids.org)

 

Children's Museum of the Arts

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Children’s Museum of the Arts
A hands-on art museum dedicated to encouraging budding artists, CMA launches large-scale exhibitions several times a year, with art-making activities that tie into each exhibit. Younger kids (ages 1–5) can create art projects in the WEE Arts Studio, and Media Lab hosts workshops in which kids can make their own sets and stop-motion animated films. The museum’s Face to Face exhibit, which runs from Feb. 7–June 9, 2013, offers kids a chance to draw their own self-portraits and submit them to be considered for inclusion in the museum’s permanent collection. (Mon, Wed noon–5 pm, Thu–Fri noon–6 pm, Sat–Sun 10 am–5 pm; 103 Charlton St.; 1 to Houston St., B, D, F, M, A, C, E to West 4th St.; cmany.org)

 

 

Children’s Museum of Manhattan
Everything is a wonder here, from a PlayWorks exhibit that combines fun with learning to Adventures with Dora and Diego, which helps kids learn problem-solving skills with their favorite characters.  But CMOM takes things to the next level with exhibits like Björk’s Biophilia. Using iPods, museum educators guide families through a suite of nine musical compositions from Icelandic singer Björk, accompanied by games, images and videos. (Tue–Sun 10 am–5pm, Sat 10 am–7 pm, first Friday of every month, 10 am–8 pm; 212 W. 83rd St., 1 to 79th St. or 86th St., B, C to 81st St.; cmom.org)

 

China Institute
In addition to offering Chinese-language classes for both adults and children (ages 3 and up) and screening films, the China Institute offers plenty of fun for families looking to learn more about Chinese culture. On Feb. 10, the institute kicks off the Year of the Snake with a free lion dance and Kung Fu celebration, followed by calligraphy, dumpling-making and paper-cutting workshops ($25–$50 per parent-child couple). (Sun–Mon, Wed, Fri–Sat 10 am–5 pm; Tue, Thu 10 am–8 pm; 125 E. 65th St.; 6 to 68th St., F to Lexington Ave./63rd St., N, R, 4, 5, 6 to 59th St./Lexington Ave.; chinainstitute.org)

 

Cloisters Museum and Gardens

Cloisters Museum and Gardens

The Cloisters Museum & Gardens
Located in Washington Heights, The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, and one of New York City’s hidden jewels. The venue itself is a fantasyland for kids, and the artifacts are perfect for youngsters who are all about knights and princesses. In addition to more than 3,000 works of art from the ninth to the 16th centuries, The Cloisters offers weekly family programs that help kids (and parents) learn more about medieval art. Upcoming programs include Medieval Knights (Feb. 2, 1–2 pm), Medieval Masons and Sculptors (Feb. 3, 1–2 pm), Tell Me a Story! (Feb. 16, 1–2 pm), A Medieval Menagerie (March 2, 1–2 pm) and Gold, Silver and Jewels! (March 16, 1–2 pm). (Nov.–Feb.: Tue–Sun, 9:30 am–4:45 pm, March–Oct.: Tue–Sun 9:30 am–5:15 pm; adults $25, seniors $16, students $12, members and kids under 12 free; 99 Margaret Corbin Dr., Fort Tryon Park; A to 190th St.)

 

DiMenna Children's Museum at the New-York Historical Society

DiMenna Children’s Museum at the New-York Historical Society

DiMenna Children’s History Museum at the New-York Historical Society
The first children’s museum of its kind, the DiMenna allows kids to explore 300 years of American and New York City history through the eyes of children from past generations. The museum occupies the entire lower level of the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library and includes a children’s history library, interactive exhibits and games and character-based pavilions in which kids can learn about historical figures. And for kids who are fans of the Broadway hit Newsies, the museum offers a retrospective on newsboys. (Tue–Thu, Sat 10 am–6 pm, Fri 10 am–8 pm; Sun 11 am–5 pm; 170 Central Park West at 77th St.; 1 to 79th St., B, C to 81st St.)

 

Dyckman Farmhouse Museum
When this Dutch Colonial farmhouse was built in 1784, its location on Broadway and 204th St. was considered deep in the country. A museum since 1916, today it’s a living reminder of what old New York was like, offering kids a chance to see how different their lives would have been 250 years ago. Through May 26, the museum is hosting a Collecting the Kitchen exhibit, in which visitors can look at dozens food-related objects from the 18th century, like spider pans and gridirons, then take a “kitchen quiz” to see which ones they can identify. (Fri–Sun 11 am–5 pm; 4881 Broadway at 204th St.; 1, A to 207th St.; dyckmanfarmhouse.org)

 

The Guggenheim
The spiraling walkway of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright building alone is enough of an eye-opener for many kids, but the art helps too.  Not only is the Guggenheim home to the Thannhauser Collection, which includes masterpieces by Paul Cezanne, Eduoard Manet and Pablo Picasso, it also hosts regular family events, including a weekly open arts studio (Sundays, 1–4pm), Second Sunday Family Tours and Select Sundays, which include an interactive gallery tour and an art project. (Sun–Mon, 10 am–8 pm, Tue–Wed, Fri 10 am–5:45 pm, Sat 10 am–7:45 pm; 1071 Fifth Ave. at 89th St.; 4, 5, 6 to 86th St., guggenheim.org)

 

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex
The Intrepid is always a fascinating place for kids—where else can you see fighter jets and a space shuttle on the deck of an aircraft carrier? But Kids Week (Feb. 16–24, 2013) is particularly special, featuring Broadway stars, in-person appearances from professional athletes, puppetry, circus acts and projects that tie into Intrepid exhibits. Kids Week activities are free with admission to the museum. (Daily, 10 am–5 pm; Pier 86, 46th St. at 12th Ave.; A, C, E, N, R, S, 1, 2, 3, 7 to 42nd St.)

 

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
This museum dedicated to educating visitors about tenement life offers three ways to learn about the Lower East Side’s history: tours of the restored apartments and buildings from different time periods, “meetings” with residents (costumed guides) who once lived at 97 Orchard St. and neighborhood tours that incorporate both culinary and cultural history. The museum’s newest tour, Shop Life, explores immigrant businesses from the past and features an interactive “sales counter” where kids can choose audio and visual media clips to explore the stories of turn-of-the-century shopkeepers. All tours are appropriate for kids ages 12 and up, but some are open to kids as young as eight. (Daily, 10 am–6 pm; 103 Orchard St.; B, D to Grand St., F to Delancey St., J, M, Z to Essex St.; tenement.org)

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
With one of the largest collections of art and antiquities in the world, it doesn’t get better than the Met when it comes to exposing kids to high culture. And did we mention the cool sarcophagus? The museum hosts weekly family programs, including toddler storytime, drop-in art workshops and Start with Art at the Met, an introduction to art for kids ages 3–7, all of which are free with museum admission. And though the museum is usually closed on Mondays, it opens up on select days for Charles H. Tally Holiday Monday Family Programs (upcoming dates include Jan. 21, Feb. 18, March 25 and April 1). (Tue–Thu 9:30 am–5:30 pm, Fri–Sat 9:30 am–9 pm, Sun 9:30 am–5:30 pm; 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.; 4, 5, 6 to 86th St.)

 

 

Morris-Jumel Mansion
Not many people realize the role that New York City played in the Revolutionary War, but during the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776, George Washington’s headquarters were in what is now Upper Manhattan. The battle was the first in which the Continental Army was able to force a British retreat, and the mansion now serves as a historic site. But don’t let the “history” focus prevent you from seeing the mansion’s value for kids. Throughout the year, the Morris-Jumel Mansion offers free drop-in events for families, including a celebration of George Washington’s Birthday  (Feb. 23, 11 am–4 pm), which features tours of the mansion, birthday card crafts, colonial costume dress-ups and a scavenger hunt. Other upcoming highlights include the 5th Annual Chocolate Day (Feb. 16) and a Historical Fashion Tea Party (March 23). (Wed–Sun, 10 am–4 pm; 65 Jumel Terrace; C to 163rd St., morrisjumel.org)

 

The Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art
It sounds pretty adult. But the Museum of Modern Art offers family gallery talks that look closely at some of the bright and dazzling works of art in the building. And kids can sign up for hands-on art workshops like Supersize It!, a look at Claes Olderburg’s oversized sculptures, Putting it Together, a class on reusing and recycling everyday materials into art and Look and Listen, in which kids ages 4–6 explore music and movement in a drawing workshop. (Wed–Sun, 10:30 am–5:30 pm, Fri 10:30 am–8 pm; 11 W. 53rd St.; E to Fifth Ave./53rd St., B, D, F, M to 47–50 Sts.)

 

Museum of the Moving Image
The core exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image is “Behind the Screen,” a collection of more than 1,400 movie artifacts—including a real Yoda from the Star Wars films—and an interactive experience that allows kids to make stop-motion animations, add sounds effects to famous movie scenes and “star” in their own flipbooks. The museum also offers special family events, including The Game-Making Game (Feb. 16-19, 2:35 pm & 3:45 pm), in which kids use tokens, dice, game chips and other materials to make their own games and a weekly drop-in studio (Saturdays, noon–5 pm) where visitors can make their own movies. Other kid-friendly exhibits currently include “The Art of the Rise of the Guardians” and “Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off” (both run through March 3). (Wed–Thu 10:30 am–5 pm, Fri 10:30 am–8 pm, Sat­–Sun 11:30 am–7 pm; 36-01 35 Ave., Astoria, Queens; R, M to Steinway, N, Q to 36 Ave/Astoria; movingimage.us)

 

New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science
With exhibits ranging from the serious (The Evolution-Health Connection explores the role of natural selection in illness prevention) to the awesome (Tony Hawk/Rad Science seeks to explain how physics makes tricks possible in action sports), the museum is a science playground designed to delight and fascinate. And if that’s not good enough, there’s also mini golf and 3D theater presentations. Upcoming events include a Robot Building Workshop (Jan. 26–27), Engineering Day (Feb. 18) and BubbleMania with Science Channel star Casey Carle (March 25–30). (Sept. 1–Jan. 31: Tue­–Thu 9:30 am–2 pm, Fri 9:30 am–5 pm, Sat–Sun 10 am–6 pm; Feb. 1–March 31: Tue­­–Fri 9:30 am–5 pm, Sat–Sun 10 am­–6 pm; Apr. 1–Aug. 31: Mon–Fri 9:30 am–5 pm, Sat­–Sun 10 am–6 pm; 47-01 111th St., Queens; 7 to 111th St.; nysci.org)

 

New York Transit Museum
Who doesn’t love a choo-choo? Little conductors will appreciate the heavy hardware on display in this decommissioned subway station. Every weekend, the museum offers family-friendly programming, including a Junior Engineer series (ages 4 and up), Create a Grand Central City and Zoomin’ Zoetropes, which highlights Bill Brand’s Arts for Transit installation, Masstransiscope. (Tue–Fri 10 am–4 pm, Sat–Sun 11 am–5 pm; Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn; 2, 3, 4, 5 to Borough Hall, R to Court St., A, C, G to Hoyt-Schermerhorn, F, R to Jay Street/MetroTech; mta.info/mta/museum)

 

Sony Wonder Technology Lab

Sony Wonder Technology Lab

Sony Wonder Technology Lab
The SWTL bills itself as a “technology and entertainment museum for all ages,” and it delivers on that promise in a big way. In addition to free children’s movie and television screenings, the lab offers regular workshops for families with kids of all ages. Tech for Tots workshops teach kids ages 3–6 about digital cameras, computers and other technology, while Sci-Tech helps older kids (ages 8 and up) take things apart and put them back together — to better understand how technology works. Most film screenings are preceded or followed by a Family Workshop like the Monster Animation Workshop on Feb. 2, which ties into the showing of Hotel Transylvania the same day. Reservations for all events are necessary, beginning two weeks before the event by calling 212-833-8100 and selecting option 3. (Tue–Sat 9:30 am–5:30 pm; Sony Plaza at 56th St. and Madison Ave.; 4, 5, 6, N, R to 59th and Lexington, E, M to 5th Ave./53rd St., F to 57th St., wondertechlab.sony.com)

Discover more of top places to see and things to do while in New York City with our Best of New York series.

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