Artful Play: Florida’s Kid-friendly Museums and Creative Spaces

    By Jodi Mailander Farrell

    Finding a creative place where children can play is a joy – for kids, who get to explore, and for parents, who know that hands-on artistic experiences deliver valuable learning opportunities.

    Sarah Chirih, 4, shows her coloring page to her father at the Crayola Experience, one of only two in the world. The other is in Easton, Pa.

    Sarah Chirih, 4, shows her coloring page to her father at the Crayola Experience, one of only two in the world. The other is in Easton, Pa.

    - Scott Audette for VISIT FLORIDA

    The Crayola Experience gets the crayons into the digital world with the Color Magic area where visitors can bring their creations to life.

    The Crayola Experience gets the crayons into the digital world with the Color Magic area where visitors can bring their creations to life.

    - Scott Audette for VISIT FLORIDA


    “I think it’s essential to expose your children to the arts in order to educate the whole person,” says South Florida mom Michelle Olson-Rogers, who hunts for screen-free theater and dance moments for her 2-year-old daughter, Avery, and shares her favorite finds with other parents at Modern Boca Mom.

    “My experiences taking dance and music when I was a child helped shape the creative person I’d like to think I am today.”

    From Jacksonville to Naples, there are plenty of places with cool stuff to touch, invigorating educational exhibits and special events designed to stimulate learning through the arts. Some of the spots favored by Florida parents aren’t always children’s museums. Adult-oriented museums like the Tampa Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville win points from moms like Marisa Langford for getting in on the act with child-centric play areas and family days.

    “Start them young because they have a better chance of being able to grasp any kind of art form they put their mind to learning,” agrees Pensacola parenting blogger Toni Patton, mom to three children, ages 7 to 13. “Music, drawing and writing really help kids express themselves, and that’s an important lesson.”

    Creative minds think alike. With help from in-the-know Florida parents, we’ve collected some favorite artful stops for families traveling in Florida.

    Young at Art Museum

    Davie, near Fort Lauderdale
    751 SW 121st Ave.
    954-424-0085

    With art interaction integrated into academic subjects such as math and reading, the YAA in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Davie is beloved among South Florida moms because it was designed specifically for kids and uses art as a springboard for learning. The museum’s architecture and spaces were designed with input from famous artists with South Florida ties, such as Kenny Scharf and Edouard Duval Carrie. There are Mommy and Me workshops, weekly play dates and one-day camps, along with four galleries devoted to literacy, culture and history. There’s even a public library branch incorporated into the campus and an outdoor playground for pre-schoolers. A teen center caters to high school-age students, with a professional recording studio, creative writing classes and a poetry slam. You can sign up for age-appropriate classes in painting, drawing, mixed media, printmaking, photography, cartooning and pottery.

    Museum of Contemporary Art

    Jacksonville
    333 N. Laura St.
    904-366-6911

    Located on the fifth floor of downtown Jacksonville’s contemporary art museum, the Art Explorium Loft encourages children of all ages to explore their creative side. The gallery is packed with interactive art stations. At one, kids create their own funny scarecrows using recycled household objects. Other stations promote exploration of textures, shapes, abstraction, body movement and more. There’s also a reading tent and a small library of art books. “You’ll leave inspired to go home and make art after you walk through the Florida Blue Education Gallery and view works of art made by kids in the Jacksonville area,” says Langford, who posts tips from traveling with her four kids, ages 2 to 10, on her website, AdventuresofTampaMama.com. “Kids can really relate to the art in this exhibit because they can see themselves making it.”

    The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

    Jacksonville
    829 Riverside Ave.
    904-356-6857

    For your little techie, electronic stations in Art Connections, an internationally recognized interactive gallery, encourage children to explore the world of art and creation through child-sized, touch-friendly computer technology. There’s a dancing wall where your child’s image is blended with computer-generated effects and paintings via video screen. Artists share personal stories about their work, the steps they took to create it and what the piece means to them in videos connected to several pieces of art. Work off some steam afterward in the gorgeous gardens, where paths lead to beautiful views of the St. John’s River.

    Crayola Experience

    Orlando
    8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail
    407-757-1700

    The Tampa Museum of Art brings an artistic touch to the Tampa area with its dazzling exterior as well as its exhibits.

    The Tampa Museum of Art brings an artistic touch to the Tampa area with its dazzling exterior as well as its exhibits.

    - Tampa Bay & Company

    Chelsea Miller, 4, of Seminole, listens to her mother talk on the other end of a long tube at the Glazer Children's Museum during Sunshine Sunday for special needs children.

    Chelsea Miller, 4, of Seminole, listens to her mother talk on the other end of a long tube at the Glazer Children's Museum during Sunshine Sunday for special needs children.

    - Scott Audette for VISIT FLORIDA


    Inside the Florida Mall, this new family attraction has 25 hands-on activities. Kids can star on their own coloring pages, animate creations on a big digital projection or see how crayons are made in a live theater show. Personalize your own crayon and label as a take-home souvenir.

    Great Explorations Children’s Museum

    St. Petersburg
    1925 4th St., North
    727-821-8992

    Hands-on stations for weaving and sculpting with magnets and clay are part of this 28-year-old museum’s Express Yourself Art Studio. In the Imagination Playground, children use giant blocks to build their own creations while live music and dance shows are on view in the Explorations Theater. Designed for children 10 and under, it’s filled with activities to stimulate learning through creativity, play and exploration.

    Tampa Museum of Art

    Tampa
    120 W Gasparilla Plaza
    813-274-8130

    Every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the region’s largest museum devoted to art in our time features Art Spot, a free, drop-in art classroom where children explore their creativity by creating projects designed by art instructors. No registration required. Projects vary week to week to tie into exhibitions on view in the museum. On one recent Saturday, children made a Smudgy Silhouette, an oil pastel with negative space silhouettes. The museum also holds several Family Days each year, with drop-in docent-led tours, pay-as-you-go admission to the galleries and themed art projects for kids.

    Glazer Children's Museum

    Tampa
    110 W Gasparilla Plaza
    813-443-3861

    This toddler-friendly museum has 170 hands-on activities in 17 themed areas. There’s an Art Smart section where children can make their own kaleidoscope or noodle sculpture. They can redesign downtown Tampa in the museum's Design + Build area. Other popular areas include My House, Your House, which introduces children to other cultures. Langford and her four children recommend the Make It Monday program, which works with children to make an art project tied to weekly themes, such as Wizard of Oz-inspired Tin Man hats and Cowardly Lion faces or a make-your-own-maracas workshop tied to dance.

    Miami Children's Museum, Kidscape Village

    Miami Children's Museum, Kidscape Village

    - Dana Bowde

    The Crayola Experience

    The Crayola Experience

    - Scott Audette for VISIT FLORIDA


    Dunedin Fine Art Center

    Dunedin
    1143 Michigan Blvd.
    727-298-3322

    The David L. Mason Children’s Art Museum is an interpretive gallery space inside the center for children and their families. It provides hands-on activities that help develop an understanding and appreciation of the work of artists exhibited in the larger museum’s galleries.

    Explorations V Children’s Museum

    Lakeland
    109 N. Kentucky Ave.
    863-687-3869

    The “V” represents the five senses, which this fun-filled museum seeks to stimulate with three floors of hands-on art and science exhibits. Mini-art enthusiasts will love the art gallery, with amazing instructional programs offered daily.

    Pensacola Museum of Art

    Pensacola
    407 S. Jefferson St.
    850-432-6247

    Patton calls this fine arts museum a hometown favorite. It incorporates family-friendly activities into some of its visiting exhibits. A recent exhibit of marine art work by Florida’s own Guy Harvey, for instance, included opportunities to make a fish-rub print and a take-home marine life postcard. Once a month, the museum opens for free from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for Gallery Night, which often features artists at work and welcomes visitors of all ages.

    Boca Raton Children’s Museum

    Boca Raton
    498 Crawford Blvd.
    561-368-6875

    Kids will love the hands-on activities, magnetic art, multicultural dress-up room with musical instruments, doll collection and house, play bank and grocery store, and mineral dig.

    Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples

    Naples
    15080 Livingston Rd.
    239-514-0084

    Better known as C’mon, this museum includes an art studio and gallery stocked with bins of art materials, drying racks and shelves, easels, and child-height work tables and stools. Artists visit regularly to work with kids. 

    Miami Children's Museum

    Miami
    80 MacArthur Causeway
    305-373-5437

    Children practice with different genres of art and media as they play with clay, paint and crafts in the All About Art Studio. In the Sketch Aquarium exhibit, children’s physical artwork becomes an animated and digitized part of the rich undersea environment. In the World Music Studio, children explore different instruments and musical styles, from bebop to Dixieland. There’s also a recording studio, karaoke and city sounds.

     

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