About Children's Museums

Why Visit a Children’s Museum?

Shedd AquariumChildren’s museums are places where children learn through play and exploration in environments designed just for them. Reflecting their diverse communities, children’s museums create playful, interactive learning experiences. In an increasingly complex world, children’s museums provide a place where all kids can learn through play with the caring adults in their lives.

Many children's museums are located in major travel and tourism destinations. More and more families visit children’s museums each year for unique, face-to-face fun, enlightenment and shared experiences not found in traditional museums or other popular destinations.

Children’s Museums and Vacations

Adults plan vacations, and while parents and caregivers do their best to build-in activities for their children, many of these activities require adult-like strength, skills or knowledge.

That’s not the case at children’s museums. Peek inside a children’s museum and you'll see babies and toddlers touching a variety of textures, stacking blocks, crawling through a tunnel or blowing bubbles. Take another look inside a children’s museum to see boys and girls enter a 19th century ship where they hoist a net full of fish, take part in a fishing derby, raise and lower sails and semaphore flags, all the while building an understanding of maritime history. Say adiós to rigid rules: at children’s museums the general rule is: Please Touch!

Children’s museums produce programs and exhibits that transcend age and experience, and empower children to set their own pace — important features for young vacationers who can get overwhelmed by being away from home and exhausted from an action-packed itinerary.

Children’s Museums and Lasting Memories

Moms and kids, activitiesOften it’s the downtime in between the periods of highly stimulated entertainment that children and families will remember fondly. Children’s museums offer a variety of activities, some as simple as reading a book or pretending to shop at farmer's market. Other hands-on experiences may invite a family to learn about a foreign culture by trying on clothes and costumes native to a people or country, engaging in an “authentic” festival or creating traditional folk art. Many children’s museums have exhibits that provide families an inside look into the workings of machines or the principles of science. Children’s museums offer opportunities for family learning as well for time to bond with family members.

Welcoming Places

Due to the interactive nature of children’s museums, most families can participate in exhibits regardless of their language fluency. Many museums provide signage and literature in more than one language. Kids will be delighted to find furniture, props and materials scaled to their size. Additionally, many children’s museums create opportunities within exhibits for children and family members who use wheelchairs, or who rely heavily on their sense of sound or touch because of differing abilities.

Make the Most of Your Trip to a Children’s Museum

Call ahead or visit a children’s museum Web site
By checking-in ahead, you can learn about seasonal programs, permanent and traveling exhibits, admission days and costs, as well as if the museum has a café or allows visitors to bring their own snacks and beverages. The size, type of exhibits and operations differ greatly among children's museums, which means each children’s museum offers a unique experience. When arriving at a museum, study the map of the gallery floor and check the daily performance and activity schedules.

Let Your Child be the Guide
While it may be tempting to nudge your child along so that the family can see every exhibit and participate in every activity in order to get the full “value” of the museum, your child may equate quality rather than quantity as the best indicator of time well spent. So go ahead and let your children explore just one or two exhibits.

Support Your Child’s Learning and Play Styles
One of the best ways to do this is by asking questions that don’t require a yes or no response. Such as: What do you think will happen next? Why do you think the (object) works that way? After you leave the children’s museum, you may find yourselves in a place that reminds you of an exhibit. Use these moments to reflect with your children about the museum experience and how it compares with the present environment. Be prepared for some surprising discoveries!

Children’s Museum Facts

  • There are 341 ACM museum members, representing a total of 22 countries. Approximately 23 percent of these children’s museums are in the start-up phase.
  • Including children’s museums, businesses, individuals and museums with programs for children, ACM has more than 515 members.
  • According to 2007 data, more than 30 million children and families annually visited children’s museums.
  • Sixty-five percent of children’s museums are located in urban areas.
  • Twenty-three percent of children’s museums are located in suburban areas.
  • Twelve percent of children’s museums are located in rural areas.
  • Thirty-five percent of children’s museums are flagships in downtown revitalization projects.
  • Sixty-two ACM member children’s museums are undergoing a capital campaign in order to build a new facility or expand an existing facility.
  • Four percent of children’s museums are accredited by the American Association of Museums.
  • Eighteen children’s museums are green buildings; 24 museums are in the process of building a green facility. Therefore, 12 percent of ACM member institutions have committed themselves to be green children’s museums.
  • In 1975 there were approximately 38 children’s museums in the United States. Eighty new children’s museums opened between 1976 and 1990. Since 1990, an additional 125 have opened. There are about 70 children’s museums in the planning phase.
  • Outreach programs in ACM member museums extended to nearly 4 million people in 2007.
  • Eighty-one percent of ACM museums have a dedicated early childhood exhibit space specifically designed for infants and toddlers.
  • Thirty-five percent of ACM museums have an outdoor exhibit and/or garden.
  • Forty-nine percent run after school programs.
  • Sixty percent develop curriculum materials.
  • Seventy percent provide school outreach.
  • The largest children’s museum is The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (Indiana), which has a total of 433,000 square feet.
  • The oldest children’s museum is the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (New York), which opened in 1899.