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.
‘Americana and Coca Cola’ in Daytona Beach – image credit Museum of Arts and Sciences
The Charles and Linda Williams Children's Museum, Daytona Beach
The Charles and Linda Williams Children's Museum at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach features 9,300 square feet of dedicated kid space with 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.
Don’t miss seeing the 800 teddy bears and mid-century train cars that are part of the “Americana and Coca Cola” collection. And then, take a walk around the nature trails and explore the outdoor sculpture garden before heading home.
Explore Science in Orlando – Julie Fletcher for VISIT FLORIDA
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. NatureWorks, focuses on Central Florida's ecosystems and little ones can unearth dinosaur fossils and learn about light and sound at the museum’s Science Park.
Explorations V Children’s Museum, Lakeland
Explorations V offers three floors of exhibits designed to celebrate the five senses. Geared toward preschool and elementary students, the museum features activities on water conservation, the human body and space exploration.
Role playing also takes place at the museum with an on-site bank, news station and grocery store for educational fun. The children’s art gallery and science center allows little ones to get hands-on and create their own masterpieces and also take part in science experiments.
Hands-on fun at the Glazer Children’s Museum – Scott Audette for VISIT FLORIDA
Glazer Children's Museum, Tampa
The 53,000-square-foot Glazer Children’s Museum features 170 hands-on interactives in 17 themed areas. The museum houses the usual favorites, including a bank, health clinic, engineering station, restaurant and grocery store offering unique learning experiences.
“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.
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”.
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.” Plus, the “Engine Company 15 Fire House” exhibit teaches fire safety and shows kids what it takes to be a firefighter.
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.
“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 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.
Explore days past in Barberville – Jen Karetnick for VISIT FLORIDA
Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, Barberville
About a half hour west of Daytona Beach and an hour north of Orlando, visitors can step back in time at the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts. The historical village is a unique alternative to traditional museums featuring a living history lesson illustrating Floridian life from the late 19th century.
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. Little ones will enjoy the small farm with peacocks, chickens, goats and other animals, and older children enjoy the turpentine mill, pottery shed, general store and church.