Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tips for Visiting The Children's Museum of Indianapolis with Young Children

As I've said before, we didn't go a lot of places in my childhood.  Having cattle at home to get back to just didn't allow for a lot of travel.  But one place we did go almost yearly was the wonderful Children's Museum of Indianapolis.  Coincidentally, we always visited it when we were in Indy for Hoosier Beef Congress in December.

This setting stared in several short story assignments I wrote in my school days, and will always be on my list of top places to visit in Indy.  And now, as if it could get any better, my sister recently started working at the museum, and is able to give us insider tips!!!  I can't say enough about how great this museum is, for kids of all ages, and frankly it would take a long, long post to explain all of the different exhibits at the museum, so I'll just share some highlights and photos from our most recent visits with the pre-school set.  Back in 2011 we took the first three grandkids on my side, who were 0, 1, and 5 years old.  We've doubled the number of grandkids in the last three years, and took all six of them on the most recent trip, ages:  0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8. 

Of course they need an Indy Car! 
Favorite exhibits for the toddler/pre-schooler set:
Fireworks of Glass:  The colorful sculpture in the center of the museum, made by Dale Chihuly is neat to look at from the ramps, but the pre-schoolers in our group have always loved to look at it from below.  A rotating bench on the lower level makes for a great viewing spot.  And building their own sculpture with plastic pieces is always a hit.

Dinosphere:  The scene is set perfectly for entering the late Cretaceous time period, as changing weather (lights and sounds) add to the awesomeness of this exhibit.  A "storm" happens periodically, and help little ones imagine what it was like to walk with the dinosaurs.  Kids love the archeology pit here, as well as dressing up and hopping in a dinosaur nest.  

Playscape:  The newly remodeled play area for the youngest visitors is worth a membership on it's own if you live nearby.  There is sand play, water play, building, crawling, music, and even an art studio.  The under five crowd (and their "helper" older siblings) can experience sights, sounds, touches, and smells in this wonderful playscape.  Scienceworks is a similar exhibit, but for a bit older kids to explore.

The Carousel:  On the highest level, the full size carousel is always a favorite (though adds a $1 a ride to your costs, except under two who are still free).  Be sure to check if you want a stationary ride or an animal that goes up and down. The exhibit around the carousel includes a maze of mirrors, and some good dramatic free play space.

Take Me to China:  Finally, the exhibit featuring the destination China was also surprisingly fun for our group.  "Flying" on an airplane, "riding" on a commuter train, practicing eating Chinese cuisine, shopping in a grocery store, and dressing up in traditional costumes were all enjoyed by our kiddos.

Additional Tips:
  • Keep an eye out for temporary exhibits.  Even if you've been there dozens of times before like us, you never know when something new will be there.  We happened to be there during the short time this Wall to China Slide was up, and it was about the best slide ever.  A nice extra touch.   
  • Like many museums, they are closed on some Mondays.  Tues-Sun, hours are 10-5pm.
  • For an extra fee, you can view The Emperor's Painted Army in the China's Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit.  Though it was a little old for our crowd, it's very interesting for adults and all my second-grader niece could talk about when she visited on a school field trip.  She loved it, and they do a neat dramatization of the warrior and an archeologist in the atrium daily.  Check for the time, and hurry because the exhibit will end in November!
  • There is a Mother's Room in the new Playscape exhibit.  Private with everything needed for caring for a newborn (whether you are breastfeeding or want a quiet place to feed a bottle and change diapers).
  • If you have a Transformer lover, they will obviously notice the huge Bumblebee figure as you walk in, but be sure to catch the dramatization of Bumblebee in the atrium too.  Your action lover will delight in watching Bumblebee come to life.  (The main thing my four year old talks about when he remembers his trip.)  Check the time for this when you arrive.

  • Tickets to the Lilly Theater and the Planetarium (One World, One Sky:  Big Bird's Big Adventure is good for the youngest visitors) are free, pick up at the lower level ticket booth.  It looks like they have an awesome Christmas Seuss-themed play coming up in the Lilly.
  • There is a huge, real life train in the basement that kids can walk through.  Beware though, there are new train tables nearby.  You may want to distract them from these if you have a kid like mine who would play all day and may have a melt down if you'd rather not stay at that exhibit all day.
  • You can rent a stroller, pick up a complementary diaper, store stuff in a rented locker, eat at the food court, or even use an ATM in the museum.  Basically, they have everything you need including free wifi spots.  Since it is a bit pricey ($14.50-19.50, under two are free) you really should plan to get the most out of your money by spending the whole day there.  And if you do make it the whole day, plan to end at the top level around 4:55 for the daily "parade".  (They do offer free nights, but I have heard they are packed!)
  • Oh, and our favorite part!  Be sure to check out the clock in the atrium at 12:59.  You'll see why.
I'll have to update this in a few years with many of the other exhibits that are great for school age kids.  Because, if you can't tell, this is THE best children's museum in the country.

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