Does building a roller coaster, digging for dinosaur fossils, climbing a giant treehouse or stepping back into pioneer times sound like fun? If so, take a break from the beaches and theme parks and visit one of Central Florida’s children’s museums.
While adult museums have a kid-unfriendly “do not touch” policy, children’s museums are packed full of hands-on exhibits and interactive adventures that encourage kids to move, pretend, create and learn. A visit to a kid’s museum is a great way to sneak some science and history into your vacation, unwind after a weekend of rides and lines, or wait out the rain.
The Charles and Linda Williams Children's Museum, Daytona Beach
The Charles and Linda Williams Children's Museum, part of the larger Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, isn't the biggest kid’s museum in Central Florida, but it's definitely worth the affordable admission price. It has 9,300 square feet of dedicated kid space and features interactive science experiments, a mock doctor's office, a laser harp and multiple building centers. There's also a pretend pizza parlor and a planetarium offering an educational laser show.
Little ones enjoy the 13-foot, 130,000-year-old giant sloth housed in the main museum, and the giant dollhouse, 800 teddy bears and mid-century train cars that are part of the “Americana and Coca Cola” collection. Burn off excess energy walking the nature trails or exploring the outdoor sculpture garden before heading home.
To find out more, go to http://www.moas.org or call 386-255-0285.
Orlando Science Center, Orlando
The Orlando Science Center boasts over 50,000 square feet of kid-friendly exhibits focusing on the human body, mechanics and nature. There's also a movie theater with an 8-story screen, a planetarium and a 4-story atrium that houses live turtles, alligators and fish.
One of the museum’s biggest hits is “KidsTown,” a miniature village with multiple hands-on interactives and role-playing activities, including a water table, mechanic’s service center and an orange grove. The museum's exhibits on astronomy and earth science, and “NatureWorks,” which focuses on Central Florida's ecosystems, are also popular. Younger children enjoy unearthing dinosaur fossils on the fourth floor, and older children learn about light, sound, magnetism and electricity at the “Science Park” on the second floor.
To find out more, go to http://www.osc.org/ or call 407-514-2000.
Explorations V Children’s Museum, Lakeland
Located in Lakeland, about an hour southwest of Orlando, Explorations V offers three floors of exhibits designed to celebrate the five senses. The museum is ideally suited for preschool and elementary students and can be fully experienced in a few hours.
On the first floor, kids learn about water conservation, the human body and space exploration, and they can star in their own theater production. There's also a bank, news station and grocery store for educational role playing. A children's art gallery and interactive science experiments are located on the second floor, and the basement features an "O is for Oranges" exhibit that includes a juice factory and giant treehouse with slide. A toddler play area, the “Go Green!” station, and interactive exhibits on Africa, Asia and Australia are also located in the basement.
To find out more, go to http://www.explorationsv.com/ or call 863-687-3869.
Glazer Children's Museum, Tampa
The 53,000-square-foot Glazer Children’s Museum features 170 hands-on interactives in 12 themed areas. The museum houses the usual favorites, including a bank, health clinic, engineering station, restaurant and grocery store, while also offering a variety of unique and engaging exhibits not found elsewhere.
“Art Smart” allows children to make their own kaleidoscope or noodle sculpture, and children can redesign downtown Tampa in the museum's “Design + Build” area. Kids of all ages can pretend to be harbor pilots or dockworkers while learning about water in the “KidsPort” exhibit. Other popular areas include “My House, Your House,” which introduces children to other cultures, and “Get Moving,” an ideal place to tire little ones before leaving. There's also a 35-foot tall climbing structure designed to teach kids about the water cycle.
To find out more, go to http://glazermuseum.org/ or call 813-443-3861
Great Explorations, St. Petersburg
At Great Explorations, kids learn by role playing and participating in science-oriented hands-on exhibits. The two-story treehouse located at the center of the museum allows children to become designers, carpenters or engineers while learning about construction. The whole family can work together to build giant magnetic sculptures at the “Express Yourself Art Studio,” and there's a children's play area, called “Great Beginnings,” where younger children can play on a giant ship at sea.
Brave kids can crawl through the museum's 100-foot long “Touch Tunnel” in total darkness to navigate various inclines and obstacles, and little ones can grow their own veggies while learning about farm, beach and sea life at “Kane's Great Beginnings.” Other exhibits include an animal hospital, a child-sized grocery store and a cave that highlights the secret lives of spiders and reptiles. Plus, the “Engine Company 15 Fire House” exhibit teaches fire safety and shows kids what it takes to be a firefighter.
To find out more, visit http://greatex.org/blog/ or call 727-821-8992.
Children's Museum of the Highlands, Sebring
Enjoy the natural beauty of Central Florida on your way to the Children's Museum of the Highlands, located about two hours from Orlando and Tampa. The museum's small size and organized floor plan make it a huge hit with parents. While it's ideally suited for younger children, there are exhibits that appeal to older children, too.
“One World Diner” has children cooking pretend-meals from Italy, Mexico and other countries while tasting a bit of cultural diversity, and the puppet theater, doctor's office, grocery store and TV station foster cooperative play and role playing. Standout exhibits include a large milkable cow, a 12-foot high climbing maze and the “Drumbeat Safari” exhibit that focuses on nutrition and physical fitness. There's also a music station that encourages children to explore different instruments from around the world.
To find out more, visit http://childrensmuseumhighlands.com/ or call 863-385-5437
Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, Barberville
About a half hour west of Daytona Beach and an hour north of Orlando is one of the most interesting places in Central Florida, the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts. The historical village is a unique alternative to traditional museums and will please both kids and adults. The settlement is a living history lesson illustrating Floridian life from the late 19th century.
Families can explore a log cabin and old schoolhouse, step inside a railroad depot from the late 1800s, and learn about the skills necessary to survive in Pioneer Florida, including butter making, weaving, blacksmithing, candle making and woodworking. Younger kids love the small farm with peacocks, chickens, goats and other animals, and older children enjoy the turpentine mill, pottery shed, general store and church. The settlement is open year-round to families, but it's best to visit during the school year to benefit from the hosted educational tours.
To find out more, visit http://www.pioneersettlement.org/ or call 386-749-2959
Tips for Success:
- Museums are generally less crowded on weekdays; avoid weekends if your kids don't like crowds.
- Always call ahead to confirm the museum's hours. Some museums offer extended summer hours and some close early to set up new exhibits.
- Look into dining options before leaving home or your hotel. Not all museums have restaurants on site. Also, call ahead to determine what options are available for children with food allergies or other dietary considerations.
- Keep your visit short. Prioritize exhibits in case little ones tire quickly, and remember that younger children do not have the attention spans of older children or adults.