8 Great Museums for Kids in the Bay State
Does taking your child to a museum sound a bit daunting? It doesn't have to be. Fantastic museums designed especially for kids -- where they are actually encouraged to touch things -- are dotted throughout the state. But it's not just children's museums that are worth checking out. Some of the grandest institutions go to great lengths to encourage curiosity and interest from a tender age. Here are eight great museums in the Bay State to bring the kids to, and what they have in store this month.
Boston Children’s Museum
The second oldest children’s museum in the country, the Boston Children’s Museum is located on Children’s Wharf, with views of the Financial District and Boston Harbor. Designed for children and families, it emphasizes learning through play.
The museum has nearly two dozen exhibits, offering kids the chance to create art, build forts, or get on stage and put on a show. In the beloved Bubbles exhibit, children can create giant bubbles with a variety of tools and surfaces. In the kid-sized Construction Zone, they can ride a real Bobcat, operate a jackhammer, or scale the three-story climbing structure to get a birds’ eye view of it all. And what museum for kids would be complete without an animatronic life-size dinosaur?
The museum is best suited for kids up to age 10, and has a preschool science section and a kindergarten readiness exhibit. There is also a PlaySpace for the youngest visitors, an area for babies and toddlers to explore, experiment, and pretend in a safe place built just for them.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9 a.m.-12 p.m., 1:30-4:30 p.m. Reservations required.
Admission: $18; children under 12 months free
Offerings for Special Needs: Morningstar Access offers children with special needs/medical needs the opportunity to visit the museum at a time when there are only a few other visitors. At these times, there is a limit of 100 guests, and children and their families can explore the museum with less concern about large crowds. Pre-registration is required. Mask exceptions will be considered in advance at registration for children who have sensory needs or other types of needs that prevent them from keeping their masks on.
February Vacation: Engineering Week - Children can be an engineer, trying various activities and challenges throughout the week to explore, create, test and try again.
“Play Matters” is the philosophy at this museum in Acton. It’s a two-part campus: the indoor Discovery Museum with hands-on, low-tech, open-ended exhibits, and the outdoor Discovery Woods, a fully inclusive and accessible space with a giant treehouse, gardens, and acres of adjoining conservation land.
Throughout the museum you’ll find galleries dedicated to simple machines, water play, sound, math and more. Kids can cook up and serve play food in a pretend diner, or tinker, design, build, and invent in the da Vinci Workshop. In the Train Room, little engineers can buy tickets, schedule their departure, operate the train, and build or repair a track. There is also a special space for caregivers and children up to age three to play and spend time together.
Outside, you’ll find slides to zip down, boulders to scramble, and a wiggly bridge to cross into the Discovery Treehouse. The 550 square foot treehouse has quirky features, cozy nooks and hands-on activities to explore. It’s surrounded by a nature playspace with a climbing net, nest swing, woodland nook, rain garden, beaver lodge, and acres of adjoining forest. Take a short break on the Log Couch carved from a large 200 year old white oak tree, peek into a birdhouse or grab a map and wander into the 182 acre Great Hill Conservation Area.
The museum’s newest exhibit, "Picture Yourself: Women in STEAM" features six portraits of local female scientists, painted by local female artists. Accompanying the portraits are information panels that include the scientists’ interests, hobbies, and photo of them as a child—so kids can see that these accomplished scientists were kids, just like them. Another new exhibit is coming this month called Seeing Shadows, a fun way to investigate light and shadows.
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Admission: $15.50; seniors $14.50; children under 1 free. Tickets must be reserved online in advance.
Offerings for Special Needs: Especially for Me— the museum’s access program for families with children on the autism spectrum, who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have vision loss or sensory issues—offers a full schedule of free events for families in 2022. The schedule can be found on the museum’s website and includes all-access, autism-friendly, and sensory-friendly evenings, mornings and evenings for D/HH and KODA children, and sensory-friendly afternoons. Discovery Museum also offers free family memberships to Especially for Me families, so that they can visit any time with free admission.
February Vacation: Celebrate National Engineers Week over school vacation making sailmobiles and building bridges and cup towers in the drop-in Everyday Engineering workshops.
With 45 acres of indoor-outdoor experiences, Worcester’s EcoTarium is designed especially for kids and families.
Kids can investigate city science, geology and weather and even experience the sound and fury of category one hurricane-force winds inside a phone-booth sized hurricane simulator. There’s a Preschool Discovery Area sized perfectly for young children and stocked with fun learning toys and structures. And animal encounters and other live programming with museum educators are offered throughout the day.
In a timely traveling exhibit, Project Vaccine, families can learn about how vaccines work and how to stop the spread of an outbreak. They can also take an interactive survey to see how their opinions rate in relation to their visitor group.
Outside, walking paths easily accommodate strollers, so families can visit ponds and nature trails, discover dozens of local plant species, and say hello to the EcoTarium’s otters, owls, fox, mountain lions, skunks, porcupine, eagle, and raven, which are part of its living collection. Kids can let off some steam at the nature playspace, featuring sand digging and building areas, water play, and areas for climbing, crawling and more. Cap it off with a scenic, open-air ride around the grounds on the Explorer Express Train.
Preschool Story Times are held on the first Wednesday of the month, when kids can enjoy a story, meet one of the resident animals and participate in hands-on activities. The Budding Scientists program for ages 3-5 is on the second Thursday of each month, and offers an introduction into scientific principles with fun activities.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: Adults $19; children $14; seniors $15; kids under 2 free
Offerings for Special Needs: The EcoTarium’s grounds and facilities are wheelchair and stroller accessible, as are most trails and paths. Exhibits and experiences are flexible and self-contained, and visitors are able and encouraged to "choose their own adventure" and visit the parts of the museum and grounds that work for them. Visitors are welcome to find a staff member if they'd like access to a quiet, carpeted library space.
February Vacation: Special programming is planned for the EcoTarium’s Engineering Week. Burgeoning engineers and those who like to build, tinker, and solve problems will be challenged to design a bridge strong enough to hold three billy goats (and a troll!), program a funky dance using a simple screenless algorithm, or help the environment by testing an innovative water filtration system.
Eric Carle Museum
The nation’s first museum of picture book art is nestled next to the Hampshire College campus in Amherst. The vision of celebrated author and artist Eric Carle – who is perhaps best known for the beloved The Very Hungry Caterpillar – the museum is designed to make visitors feel as if they are stepping inside one of the bold, bright collages in Carle’s books.
The Carle’s picture-book exhibitions showcase a variety of artists, themes, and styles. The three galleries host seven original shows a year, so there is always something new to see. In the auditorium, short, animated versions of new and classic picture book stories and family-friendly documentaries about illustrators are shown daily.
The museum also has a reading library and an Art Studio. Fun, interactive story times are held in the library, where children can browse hundreds of books and plop down in a chair to flip through a favorite. Art projects are offered daily in the Art Studio, ranging from thumbprint art to paper collages to sculpture and everything in between.
Hours: Thursday and Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 12-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $9; youths (ages 1-18) and seniors $6. Advance tickets required.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
More than one million visitors take in the MFA’s nearly 500,000 works of art each year. To engage the kids, search for objects and images—from cats and flowers to mythical creatures to arms and armor—to learn interesting facts and get ideas for art-making activities. The museum offers Art Connections Cards that focus on a specific theme, linking intriguing objects from many cultures. You can download these self-guided activity sheets or pick up a copy at the visitor center.
In December, the museum opened five brand-new galleries that create a grand entry to its collection of Greek and Roman art, and a new home for the collection of Byzantine art. With freshly imagined spaces that include natural light, innovative displays, interactive experiences, and immersive evocations of an ancient Greek temple and a Byzantine church, visitors of all ages can learn about the legacies of these ancient cultures and understand their relevance today.
Another hit with the kids: mummies! The Mummies Gallery has more than 140 objects ranging in date from about 1700 BC to AD 300, introducing visitors to the gods and goddesses who inhabited the underworld. There are also two large sculptures in the courtyard—Your Dog and Lime Green Icicle Tower – that are kid and family favorites.
The MFA offers studio art classes and workshops for families, children, teens, and adults, taught by experienced educators who are also professional artists. The kids program is intended for ages 5–11 (classes grouped by age). Students explore the museum’s collection, then respond to what they have seen through drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, printmaking projects, and more.
Hours: Thursday to Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $25; youth (age 7-17) $10; 6 and under free
Offerings for Special Needs: The MFA offers tips for visitors on the autism spectrum on their website. Its Beyond the Spectrum program, for ages 8-18, is designed to introduce the museum to children and teens on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s Syndrome. Each class consists of a gallery tour focusing on a few specific artworks, followed by an art-making activity in the classroom.
February Vacation: In-person events have not been announced, but online events include music, performances, distance learning classes, chats, talks, and more.
Located in the heart of downtown Springfield, the Springfield Museums include five museums, including the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, all under a single admission.
Of course, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is the favorite destination for children. With completely immersive, hands-on and minds-on exhibits throughout several galleries that make you feel like you walked right into one of Dr. Seuss’s books, this museum made especially for kids is hard to beat. The first floor features interactive exhibits to experiment with new sounds and vocabulary, play rhyming games, and invent stories. The second floor, curated by Springfield-born Theodor Geisel’s two step daughters and great nephew, recreates the author’s studio and living room (with the furniture and art materials he actually used) and features never before publicly displayed art, family photographs and letters.
The live animal center at the Springfield Science Museum holds a lot of appeal with little ones, too. Turtles, lizards, snakes and fish capture kids’ attention and their sense of awe. Other kid-friendly spaces are dotted throughout the campus: The Smithsonian Spark!Lab in the Science Museum, Hasbro Gameland in the Wood Museum of Springfield History, and the Art Discovery Center in the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum.
There are also often traveling exhibits specifically for kids. This winter, check out Under the Arctic: Digging into the Permafrost, a STEM-based, immersive exhibit that incorporates the sights and smells of the Western Hemisphere’s only permafrost research tunnel, and Ice Age fossils.
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $25; seniors $16.50; youth (age 3-17) $13; children under 3 free
Offerings for Special Needs: Sensory Friendly Saturdays are offered on the second Saturday of the month, a quieter experience for children with sensory sensitivity (from 9-11 a.m. in the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss and the Science Museum). All museums are accessible, and many have audio tours with verbal descriptions for visitors who are Blind. Sensory backpacks are available to borrow to help enhance visitor experiences.
February Vacation: Check out Hip Hop Hooray over school vacation week, with family friendly programming including music, dance, crafts, and reading.
USS Constitution Museum
Come aboard USS Constitution and meet the active duty sailors who are part of her legacy today. Then, go deeper into the ship’s history at the USS Constitution Museum. Serving as the memory and educational voice of “Old Ironsides,” this museum offers hands-on experiences exploring how the oldest commissioned warship afloat was built, sailed, and preserved.
The museum is located in the historic old Engine House at the Charlestown Navy Yard, which sits at the end of Boston’s Freedom Trail. Visitors entering the museum walk directly over the location of the original pump wells that first drained the dry dock for the Constitution.
A family favorite at the museum is the award-winning exhibit, All Hands on Deck. Try a meal of salted meat and ship’s biscuit, crawl into a hammock, and enjoy a video in the Battle Theater. Families can furl a sail, fire a cannon, and scrub the decks to see what life at sea was like 200 years ago. There is also an "Eagle Eye" scavenger hunt (spot all the eagles hidden in the museum) that is designed for children and can be picked up at the front desk.
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-5p.m.
Offerings for Special Needs: The All Hands on Deck exhibit is designed to be multimodal and accessible. There is also a social story for what to expect when visiting the museum available at the front desk.
February Vacation: The USS Constitution Museum will host its popular LEGO Maritime Festival during school vacation week. Details are to be announced.
Worcester Art Museum
The WAM houses over 38,000 works of art dating from antiquity to the present day and representing cultures from all over the world. The museum offers interactive Scavenger Hunts and Family Guides to help kids and families explore the galleries in fun and engaging ways. Art Carts throughout the museum offer places for children to have hands-on participation with objects and materials that they see throughout the museum. Touch Carts have objects that children can handle, interactive iPads and more. When you’re ready for a break, the WAM has a Family Nook, where you can read, make art, and chat together before returning to the galleries.
Of all there is to see, the WAM’s massive collection (the second-largest in the country!) of arms and armor is perhaps the most enchanting for kids. They can view full suits of steel armor, try on a helmet or heft a sword to feel what these objects were really like. In live, interactive Arms and Armor presentations, recommended for ages 6+, you’ll learn all about different kinds of arms and armor, including those used by Roman soldiers, Medieval knights, Vikings, and more.
The museum holds First Free Sundays, allowing families and visitors of all ages free admission on the first Sunday of each month, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: Adults $18; seniors $14; children 17 and under free
February Vacation: WAM holds vacation week workshops as a fun introduction to the museum’s collection, and the process that goes into creating art. The February theme is “Into the Future,” and features unique programming for ages 3 to 17, including Nano Portraits, Robo-Creature, City Planner and more. Check out the WAM website and look under “classes” to register.