Welcome to Museum Week at The Mother of All Trips! There’s really nothing my family likes better than museums, from the smallest of local historical societies to the biggest of sprawling city museums in New York or London or Paris. We love museums for inspiring us, for making us think, for teaching us about our world, and for offering a chance to see things from a new perspective. Even things like how the cost of everyday items has increased is just fascinating to find out about.
This week I’ll be profiling some museums – both new to us and old favorites – that my family has visited over the past few months and which I haven’t yet written about on the blog. But today I’m dreaming of some all-time favorites, a collection of museums that my entire family would happily return to again and again if we had the chance.
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Amherst, Massachusetts)
Don’t be fooled by the name of this museum: It’s not actually dedicated to the work of Eric Carle (although certainly his art is well represented in both the collection and the museum shop). No, this museum concerns the entire process of creating picture books and features many different artists and authors. Not only will you find the original paintings, drawings, and collages that ended up in some of both your own and your children’s favorite books, you’ll also have an opportunity to explore the history of individual picture books and see how the artists developed their ideas, then drafted, sketched, and mocked them up. There’s also a wonderful picture book library that you and your children can easily spend hours in as well as a light-filled studio space where children are encouraged to create their own enduring works of art.
Oxford Museum of Natural History (Oxford, England)
When this building was constructed as a temple to science, it was an era when people believed that the grandeur and meaning of a collection should be reflected in the building that housed it. Wander through this lovely museum and you’ll see carvings and ornamentation of leaves and other natural forms on the airy columns that hold up the glass ceiling, through which natural light pours. This exquisite building has been the happy destination of many a budding scientist for the past 150 years. Any child who loves dinosaurs, insects, sea life, rocks, or just collections of nifty natural things will be enchanted by the treasure trove to be found here. And of course, there’s the thrill of seeing the dodo famously encountered by Alice on her adventures in Wonderland, both in skeleton and stuffed form. There may be other natural history museums that are more up to date, but few that are more charming and engaging than this one.
Petersen Automotive Museum (Los Angeles, California)
What better place to explore the history of the automobile than on the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles? Even if your child isn’t car crazy, I guarantee you’ll all enjoy this museum, which shares the evolution of car culture in what is arguably the world’s most car-centered city. You can check out the exhibit of famous cars from TV and the movies (including my own favorite, Herbie the Love Bug) and ogle the huge number of Hot Wheels cars on display. The Discovery Center on the third floor offer hands-on exhibits where kids can explore how cars work as well as the scientific principles of motion and force. Oh, and they can also sit on a California Highway Patrol motorcycle. (And if you’ve got a fossil lover in your family, the Page Museum right across the street has enough on display to satisfy any budding paleontologist.)
This may be my favorite art museum in the world to visit with kids. For one thing, It’s housed inside a former train station and so the building itself is a fun to explore. (Be sure to check out the interior views of the huge clocks that used to tell passengers arriving along the Seine whether or not they were late for their trains or other planned assignations.) Fans of the Impressionists will have a very happy time here, as the collection includes hundreds of paintings by artists like Monet, Degas, and Renoir; the lovely thing about this school of painting is that so much of it concerns everyday life in ways that children appreciate and enjoy. I also love the sculptures in the majestic main hall, at the back of which you will find an amazing scale model of the ornate Palais Garnier, Paris’ elaborate opera house. If your child gets tired of looking at the paintings and sculptures, you can go up on the roof and watch the boats passing on the Seine.
Delaware Children’s Museum (Wilmington, Delaware)
I’ve visited children’s museums across the United States from the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia to The Magic House in Saint Louis and I have to say that the First State may be small, but its children’s museum rivals bigger, more well-established children’s museums in a couple of ways. For one thing, there’s plenty of room to move around, and even when it gets crowded, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. For another, the individual areas of the museum are designed to engage kids of varying ages, including older kids. I like that I can take my 9- and 6-year-old there together and they both have a great time without the older one losing interest. And best of all, the exhibits are kept up well and are spread out enough that children actually can (and do) focus on one thing at a time.
Wondering about how to keep your kids engaged at more “grown-up” museums? Here are some tips for taking your kids to art museums. You can also browse all of my posts about museums in the Museums and Zoos areas of my site.