You could call them playgrounds for the mind. At their best, children’s museums are both educational and fun.
Many also have hands-on fun, changing exhibits and special programs during March Break. Here’s a few worth checking out:
Billed as the largest regional year-round family attraction — and the second-largest children’s museum in the U.S. — the National Museum of Play will keep kids entertained for hours.
On until May 12 is the LEGO Travel Adventure. The popular exhibit includes eye-popping models and dioramas made by LEGO master builders. Key moments in travel history are rendered in the colourful plastic building bricks — the Wright Brothers flight from Kitty Hawk, Henry Ford’s factory and Model T, the first giant steamship, the first continental railroad. Plus there are vehicles made of LEGO set against landmarks including the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. One of many hands-on activities allows kids to invent their own vehicles and race them along two downhill tracks.
There are also many hands-on permanent exhibits, which allow youngsters to:
— Meet comic-book heroes such as Superman, Iron Man and Batman.
— Step onto Sesame Street and participate in activities seen on television.
— Experience the world of the Berenstain Bears — Main St., Bear Country School, Farmer Ben’s Farm, Club Houses and the Family Tree House.
— Visit the glass-enclosed Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden filled with live foliage, a waterfall and colourful, free-flying butterflies (additional charge applies).
— Play amid original artifacts and reproductions to get a taste of life as it was a century ago at One History Place.
— Step into a life-sized pop-up book and follow the Yellow Brick Road into five literary landscapes from children’s books: Adventure Island (explore a pirate shipwreck, scale a cliff and crawl through cave tunnels); Mystery Mansion (discover what lies behind the secret bookcase, decipher secret codes and scour for clues like Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown); or Fairy Tale Forest (cross a Troll Bridge, step into Cinderella’s pumpkin coach).
— Race a Slinky, swivel a Hula Hoop and more at the National Toy Hall of Fame, which features toys recognized for their significance in the world of play. See museumofplay.org.
He’s only five-years-old and already little Liam has a job serving lunch at a local diner. But wait, that steak and broccoli isn’t real, it’s plastic. And those aren’t real customers, but Liam’s parents.
Kids love to act grown-up, and at the Hamilton Children’s Museum they can dress-up like cooks, create "meals" and serve them to family and friends in a ’50s-style diner. That’s just one of many activities in this museum in Gage Park. Kids can also explore themes in nutrition, physical activity and science or put on some dancing shoes and groove to music from the Doo Wop jukebox. In the Theatre Space, children and their parents can see themselves on a TV screen while putting on a show.
Every day during March break, there will be crafts and activities on a different theme. Check childrensmuseums.org.
For some visitors, the fun begins outside the Manitoba Children’s Museum. The building looks like it’s on a slant, and it’s not unusual to find people having their photos taken pretending to prop up the structure — a bit like tourists at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Once inside, kids can get another dose of reality distortion in the Illusion Tunnel — a giant slide with funky colours that constantly change. It’s one of 12 new galleries in the museum, which recently had a $10-million renovation.
Built in 1889, the museum occupies the oldest surviving train-repair facility in Western Canada and has tons of hands-on fun. Youngsters can climb a "kid-sized" five-storey-tall play structure called Lasagna Lookout, make crafts in Pop m’Art, and explore the Engine House, where they can see the insides of an actual train engine and conduct a little locomotive action of their own. If you’re all tired out at the end, have a nap on a Ravioli pillow before leaving.
Located in downtown Winnipeg’s Forks (45 Forks Market Rd.) area, there is shopping, dining and other entertainment nearby. See childrensmuseum.com.