by Amy Piper
One life-size brontosaurus had smashed through the museum’s window to investigate what was happening inside, while his partner in crime had charged through a wall and two junior-size brontosauruses frolicked on the lawn. Before our family even entered the museum, the youngest asked, “Can we see the dinosaurs first?” At the Dinosphere, Grandpa had a lively discussion with the staff paleontologist at the functioning paleo prep lab on the discovery of Dracorex, while our five-year old participated in an interactive conversation about Leonardo the mummified dinosaur with a docent and other children. Everyone touched the real T. rex femur that’s millions of years old.
“Children’s” museum is a bit of a misnomer here. “The All Ages Museum of Indianapolis” might be a more appropriate name for this museum that entices, excites, and engages everyone. At 472,900 square-feet, it’s the largest children’s museum in the world. The museum is based on twelve permanent and several rotating exhibits that promote collaboration, interactive and immersive learning. Online, there are tools that help focus families’ learning and aid the family in engaging together through intergenerational learning opportunities. The multi-sensory exhibits are immersive and engaging simulation-based activities, with sound and light shows — the clap of thunder, the flash of lightning, the texture of a T. rex femur, the scent of pine, a favorite dinner food. Visuals include Dinos flying across the domed ceiling.
The docent explained, “Leonardo the mummified dinosaur found mummification by accident. Eating pine trees helped mummify him.” The docent used group collaboration to complete a magnetized Dino puzzle on the board, which engaged the children. “Leonardo is 77 million years old and was buried in a mudslide. Heat and cold mummified the dinosaur, and he is one of only a handful in the world,” the docent added.
At the paleo prep lab, we touched real fossils and talked to paleontologists about the stories behind the bones, including the Dracorex hogwartsia (meaning dragon King of Hogwarts) that has graced the cover of National Geographic. The dinosaur theme carried into bathrooms near the exhibit, with old dinosaur movie posters hung to remind us of movies like “The Land that Time Forgot.”
Learning for both children and families in the arts, sciences, and humanities are at the core of the museum’s values. We experienced all of these in the Take Me There – China exhibit. “Look they’re boarding the flight to Beijing now!” Grandma shouted. We quickly took our seats on an almost life-size plane. “Look out the window; there’s the Great Wall of China.” As we “flew,” we saw the Forbidden City and landed in Beijing.
We were all starving after our long flight so we decided to try our hand at eating with chopsticks. The “pretend” noodles were delicious, and after a few attempts, Mom was using them like a pro. Meanwhile, the youngest bottle-fed the stuffed baby pandas, while the rest of the family learned about issues facing those trying to save the pandas. The family artist enjoyed the calligraphy lesson the most, while her sister tried playing some of the real Chinese instruments on display.
The museum is an excellent illustration of interaction and collaboration, where visitors interact with the exhibits, museum staff, and each other. As we entered Beyond Spaceship Earth, we meet an interpreter dressed as an astronaut, trained by astronauts. The space station build-out replicates the International Space Station (ISS), where the living space is the size of a six-bedroom house. The ISS has blue bar footholds astronauts need to stay in place due to the lack of gravity, and the same company that made them for the space station made them for the museum’s replica ISS. We watched videos of astronauts exercising, doing chores, and working in space, and then tried our hand at using the robot arm to dock supplies and do chores using the astronauts’ heavy gloves. There were also shows in the Schaefer Planetarium and Space Object Theater with question-and-answer sessions, and Mercury 7 is on display center-stage.
The plays in the Lilly Theater change with the seasons; they’re free with admission, but you have to request tickets in advance. These are full productions with lights, stage, set, and costumes. Three generations enjoyed a day at the “children’s” museum and Grandpa asked, “When are we coming back?”
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
3000 N Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46208
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed some Mondays, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
- A smiling greeter answers questions at the free parking garage.
- The adjoining skywalk allows access to the entrance without going outside.
- There are lockers and a coat check at the entrance to travel lighter.
- If you don’t have a museum membership, purchase tickets online; it allows you to skip the line, saving time.
- There are no stairs; it is all ramps and elevators, which is great for keeping kids safe from falling down steps.
- The food court allows outside food, so pack an indoor picnic and enjoy it there.
- There is a large museum store.