By Sandra Ketcham
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 a children’s museum in Florida.
While adult museums have a kid-unfriendly “do not touch” policy, these Florida children’s museums are packed full of hands-on exhibits and interactive adventures that encourage kids to move, pretend, create and learn.
1. 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.
2. Orlando Science Center / Orlando
The Orlando Science Center, one of the popular children's museums in Orlando, boasts over 50,000 square feet of kid-friendly exhibits. 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 Orlando museum’s biggest hits is KidsTown, a family-favorite exhibit designed for children ages seven and under. It's taken taken over the second floor, with 11,000 square feet of skill-based activities that encourage your gang to invent and create, build and test, spark their innate curiosity, and make exciting discoveries as they play and learn.
In includes an adventure in the Orange Grove, complete with an interactive factory and farmers market where guests will learn how oranges travel from tree to table. But that’s just the beginning of the fun; have a blast as you climb, design, build, and splash your way through KidsTown’s other interactive zones.
3. Explorations V Children’s Museum / Lakeland
Explorations V offers three floors of exhibits designed to celebrate the five senses. This children's museum in Florida is 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.
4. Glazer Children's Museum / Tampa
The 53,000-square-foot Glazer Children’s Museum features 170 hands-on interactives in 17 themed areas. This children's museum in Tampa 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 children's museum in Florida and featuers 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.
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