I loved the Explorotorium in the early 1970s. They had a show with a bunch of early space stuff like Goddard's rocket, just stuffed into an alcove. I think one of the mercury capsules was there. I am told that the old man who ran the place back then was Frank Oppenheimer. There were lots of laser and holographic exhibits.
Went there as an adult to a corporate party. Found it lacking. Went back a month later when the kids were there. This place was made for kids, without them it is nothing.
Also visited Lawrence Hall of science a few times. Went there for an eclipse viewing that was out over the pacific. Again the place was full of kids. Also had a corporate party there for a company I was working for. They had the meat hors d'oeuvres in the "wolf" room which was a collection of carnivores. I did manage to find some stuff I recognized from an old textbook on programming, regarding atomic simulation. Was fun that I knew what it was.
We also locally had the "aquarium." Have not been there since they disneyfied it. This museum had endowed to it one of the finest collections of clocks and watches, not on public display. These items are now on permanent loan to the National clock and watch museum in Pennsylvania. It is sad when industrial engineering has no place in a "Natural History" Museum. That no one cares about the history of watch design and the "successful failures" that lasted generations.
Quite agree these kids museums are just so engaging for kids as well as adults. In Canada, the nature musem in Ottawa is just so wonderful. No matter how many times you go, you would not mind if have to another time. Science musems are also equally exciting in SanJose, SFO and so on. The science muesems or museums as such must be encouraged. But it should be maintained well. In US and Canada they are so well maintained.
@sheepdoll, you wrote:
"This place was made for kids, without them it's nothing."
True, unless adults get into the spirit of diving into things, like kids, and trying out everything with their own hands!
I was in fact very impressed when I talked to the director of Madison Children's Museum. I had been to the museum before but in preparing for this story, I wanted to double check on a few things. The museum director came out for the interview, and she told me, in a brief sentence, what I consider the essence of science and engineering: "experiments, patience and persistence." Since none of the objects on display at this museum comes with an instruction set, you need to figure it out by tinkering and fooling around with it -- as with anything "in real life," she said. Well put.
Chicago's Adler Planetarium has undergone a massive renewal, and is now one of the kid-friendliest places around. All the cool old stuff is still there, but the new interactive exhibits are wonderful. My husband and I went there very early one day, before all the kids arrived, and we had a blast!
I grew up in the Boston area so the Museum of Science was always a fun trip. All of my children loved going there as well so I know it isn't just a geek thing (me).Not far from MIT on the Charles "Dirty Water" River. Multiple trips are recommended as there is so much take in.
There can be no on great museum! Individually and collectively, it is wonderful that there have never been so many excellent showcases for the magic, wonder and real-world applicability of science and technology as we enjoy today. Notable examples are the Boston Science Museum, The Ontario Science Center, The NY Hall of Science (at the site of the Old NY World's Fair), Brooklyn Children's Museum, Long Island's Cradle of Aviation Museum, The NY Museum of Natural History (a century-old education palace!), the Chicago Museum of Science, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, the new Detroit Science Center, The Smithsonians in D.C., San Diego Science Museum, San Jose's Children's Discovery Museum and The Tech Museum of Innovation, The Computer History Museum, San Francisco's Exploratorium, Seattle's Pacific Science Center, The Seattle Aviation Museum at Boeing Field.
And in Shanghai, PRC, The Shanghai Science and technology Museum perhaps offers the finest balanced mix of Western and emergining eastern Science & Technology, with more exhibits encouraging kids to enjoy a place in the parade of progress that all other science museum directors would do well to take note!
The good news is that almost everyone in North America is within driving range of the finest children - and family - science centers in the world!
I confess, whenever I visit one of these museums, with my own (grown) daughters, or other children in tow, I feel like a kid again! Freshly reminded of the wonders and discovery that lay before me as a child, and still beckon to me as an adult.
I still remember my trip to Science museum quite a while ago as the experiments on display were no less than pure magic. Things like pendulum balls, tube water oscillation, bubble traps were just amazing.
I went there growing up too (East Bay kid tradition) and I remember climbing all over a life sized replica of a whale outside the museum entrance. I don't know if they still have the planetarium, but I know Chabot Space and Science Center does (and they have a lazer light show set to music!).
@Susan, this is absolutely a gem! I lived in the Bay Area for almost 10 years, and I never knew about this place! Besides the story about the city of Oakland used keep their own time is such an interesting piece of history! Next time when I come back to the area, I am definitely going there!
One fine museum that you missed is the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (www.aahom.org). Both kids and adults love it. I'm partial to it because I am the station manager for the museum's amateur radio station, WA2HOM.
I don't want to be a game breaker, nor swallow too much serious pills here. But important for a museum is not to turn their place into a children's playground. That's not their task. With a bit of tears in my eyes I saw a couple of nice Dutch museums local here convert to such places. All technology ls stocked away into depots and they basically do not display much of the original technology backgrounds. "Kids find this boring", they say. But then I say: "Gleu a Mac Donalds aside the museum and let them play there!"
For people older than 16 there basically is not much to see. No real background, it is a playground. Really interesting items are hanging on the wall, high up, without sufficient interesting background. For a techie like me -at least- I recognize lots of things, but for most people it is 'abra cadabra'.
Am I child-unfriendly? No, not at all. I think that one of the main problems is to learn children to focus on one subject for longer than 5 seconds. *That* is what we should learn children first. The result will be that the museum does not *need* conversion to a playground: You can learn the child and you can learn yourself. And as soon as they get tired: Let them go to the Mac Donalds playground, leave one of the parents behind and dive back into the museum to swim & swallow into their beatiful technology ;-)
Great picks! Once you've stopped at The Exploratorium, Chabot Space Center, and Lawernce Lab, don't forget The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco! This place is part natural history museum, part aquarium (Steinhardt relocated here), part butterfly sanctuary, and earthquake laboratory. There are themed adult nights every Thursday, too.
One big item nobody has talked about: cost. The only semi-affordable way to go to many of the top attractions is to get a family pass.
Let's look at the cost for a family with 2 elementary school children:
Cal Academy Of Sciences $120 (family membership $200)
Monterey Bay Aquarium $130 (family membership $195)
Children's Discovery Museum SJ $48 (family membership $120)
Exploratorium $96 (family membership $150)
And for San Francisco, add in the cost of getting there (gas + parking or BART+Muni/Bus; at least the CDM has cheap $5 parking nearby).
BTW, both the Exploratorium and Cal Academy had new makeovers (or new location), and IIRC, each one cost at least $500 million.
We do family memberships, but only one or two a year (this year: Cal Academy + Oakland Zoo, which offered us a great price). But since we're already paying for these memberships, and find it hard to get there enough times anyway (my goal is at least 4 visits during the membership), we're not going anywhere else (so no CDM, Aquarium, or Exploratorium this year).
Final note: the Lawrence Hall of Science is cool (my son went to a birthday party there), but it's a pain to get there if you haven't been there before.
TonyTib - One big item nobody has talked about: cost.
The San Francisco Museums used to have a "free" day once a month. As I remember it was the first Wednesday of the month. The idea was for local and regional residence to see what a wonderful place these were. It was also a way to get in the under represented folk who might benefit from the experience.
Usually the places would be packed with kids on field trips these days.
I find it interesting that these replies mostly focus on the greater San Francisco Bay Area museums. I had the opportunity to travel in the 1990s (and get into the back rooms and basements of some great European Museums.) Some standouts were the Deuches Museum in Munich, The British Museum, Victorian and Albert Collection, London Science Museum. All seemed to have kid friendly programs and exhibits.
Little known are the London Guildhall museum. While it took a direct hit in WWII most of the library and collections have been re-created. A lot of what is shown are the masterpieces from the guilds as well as models the apprentices made to show how things worked.
Das Museum für Musikautomaten Seewen in Switzerland, was one of the highlights of my trip in the 1990s a friend just got back from visiting it a few weeks ago and could not stop talking about it.
There is a Museum dedicated to mechanical Music also in Utrecht. They had workshops were the restorations can be seen.
My impression is that all of these have programs and days where they do outreach to the community. Planning a trip to coincide with one of these days only helps to heighten the experience. I got to have dinner and stay for a whole evening in the Victoria and Albert collection.
It is also possible to get to know the staff and curators. This can open many doors which would not otherwise be available. These people know that without educational outreach there will be no further endowments. There are many opportunities for mentoring here. I myself was mentored by people with connections to museum staffs. Why I went on these trips in the 1990s with folk twice my age. So I could learn from them before it was too late.
@TonyTib, oh, we love Deutches Museum in Munich! Every time when I used to cover Electronica in Munich, I secretely plotted my travel plan so that i could set aside a weekend to go to Deutishes Museum (and Christmas Market at Marienplatz)!
It's nice to know money isn't a problem for you, but for most of us those admissions price are substantial chunk of change, and not very kid friendly (especially since kids get tired pretty quickly: my rule is 2-3 hours max, so 2 visits of 3 hours is much better than 1 visit of 6 hours)
I frankly don't care what they charge, but it affects my decisions. That's why I haven't been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in over a decade (it's nice, but overrated, and not worth it - for the same price I'd rather go to the Cal Academy). So if they want fewer people to visit, fine.
It need not be huge museum. What is required is small Community Science Center with equally active and creative curator.
Weekly (weekend( small workshop with hands-on approach is more effective. The theme and display articles can be elf created or can be moved around chain of these types of center around country. It may need more volunteers.
$7.95 per ticket? That's a bargain! Of course, I'm in the super-rich, super-expensive Bay Area, but consider this: if I make 4 trips to the Cal Academy on my pass, I'm still paying more per trip ($50 per visit).
There are some affordable places; for example, Palo Alto has a small museum and zoo (with some smaller animals and a some hands-on stuff) that's based on donations (free, but they recommend a donation -- and I've donated both times I visited).
Around here, the more expensive places tend to have less reciprocity. For example, with my Oakland Zoo membership, I get half off to the SF Zoo, Happy Hollow Zoo and Park (mini-zoo + kids rides + cool playgrounds), and Aquarium of the Bay, but no discount to the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Cal Academy -- or IIRC, the SJ CDM.
" (especially since kids get tired pretty quickly: my rule is 2-3 hours max, so 2 visits of 3 hours is much better than 1 visit of 6 hours)"
I used to do what my Father did with me, try to drag my kids through the whole museum "we have to go here, we haven't seen this section yet" and my kids were indeed exhausted after a couple of hours. But they weren't exhausted with the museum--they were exhausted with me.
Then I figured out this trick. I would let them lead the way, and more importantly, stay at any exhibit as long as they wanted. This works at hands on museums like the Exploritorium. I ended up being the frustrated one when I'd enter a large museum, then they'd want to spend one hour playing with the magnets then another hour playing with the beach ball above the air blower. We'd end up spending hours seeing only three things in a museum filled with hundreds of exhibits, and they'd have the time of their lives, but I'd be as frustrated as heck, until I learned to relax and let them have fun.
If you are likely to go to several science based museums (especially if there is one local to you) consider getting a membership to one of them. Many offer discounts to members of related museums.
I can attest to the appeal to kids of all ages for this one. A few years ago I went to the City Museum while in St.Louis for the FIRST World Championship (Robotics competition). Our group had 3rd through 11th graders. They all put it at the top of their list for favorite part of the trip outside the competition. It is a bit more playground than many museums, but some experiences are best when you get your hands dirty...
COSI (Columbus, OH)
I gotta put a plug in for the one near me. If you are in Central Ohio COSI is worth checking out.
In my day, 34 years ago, only about 5% went to Uni.
Straight A's in 4 or 5 subjects required.
Nowadays I would be lost, a half day exam was easy peasy, but the essay and assignment curricula system now in place now would have flummoxed me, given the dummied down assessments.
I started with a year of theoretical physics (tutorials were fun), but then the creative streak clicked in and switched on back to electronics (childhood hobby).
I pity the majority that now seem to go to colleges and uni, and respect those in trades, they make at least as much dosh as an engineer and certainly more than a scientist. Heck I supported myself by working as a steelworks bricky during summer and winter holidays, tax free £746 per week.
I knew an Astrophysics graduate that swept streets, we shared the same the same cottage back then.
Welcome to Scotland, "wish you were lovely, weather is here"!
Something has to change for survival, obvious, but I ain't the kid on the block that can make that happen.
Two years ago, my 3-year old son pointed at the prop of a B-24 sitting on the tarmac at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley and said, "Propeller". Then, "wings" as he pointed at them. Then he worked through all the parts: Tail, cockpit and landing gear.
I knew then that he was his father's son!
Here's my favorite aviation and space museums for kids that have not already been mentioned. They are in no particular order.
The 49er's museum at their new palace (AKA Levi's Stadium) will also include a hands-on STEM education area. At a glance, looks like it's going to be reserved for class field trips at first (and mayber 49er ticket holders?), but the price is right: free.