At smaller museums kids learn more about the regions they are visiting

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Taking the Kids

Maybe you need a break from the beach … or the slopes. Maybe you’ve seen enough historic monuments for one trip.

Wherever you are going this spring, add a museum or two to the itinerary. Of course, you want to hit the biggies – the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C., t he American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris.

But often, smaller museums, as well as zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens, are a great bet to learn something more about the region you are visiting. They can also be a place to encourage a child’s passion.

History Colorado Museum in Denver
History Colorado Museum in Denver

For example, in Denver, where I live, the interactive History Colorado Center is a terrific introduction to Colorado, including the snow sports industry and the chance to visit a High Plains community. (Take a virtual joy ride in a Model T or climb into a hayloft and slide down. (Kids are free!)

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science exhibits include After the Asteroid: Earth’s Comeback Story based around a newly discovered cache of well-preserved fossils found near Colorado Springs showing how the Earth recovered from an asteroid 66 million years ago that killed off dinosaurs.

The Denver Botanic Gardens showcases an Alpine Collection (one of the largest in the world) and plants that grow in the West. The Mordecai Children’s Garden, a place for families to explore with hands- on activities, is part of the Gardens of the West, showcasing plants that thrive in Colorado’s climate and provide season-long color and texture.

In Phoenix, the Desert Botanical Garden focuses on the amazing plants that grow and bloom in the desert. (Come on Friday nights this spring to hear local bands!)

For those of you curious about the history of snow sports, Stowe, Vermont, is home to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. Vermont has played a crucial role in the development of skiing, from the first rope tow in North America. See some early equipment! And in Vail, visit the Colorado Snowsports Museum where one exhibit celebrates the famed 10th Mountain Division, the Army troopers of World War II who trained nearby and later helped found the Colorado Ski Industry. And in Park City, Utah, you can visit the Utah Olympic Park and race down a bobsled on the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games Sliding Track (for those 16 and older). There’s also a 2002 Winter Games museum.

US Olympic and ParaOlympic Museum in Colorado Springs
US Olympic and ParaOlympic Museum in Colorado Springs

Got any future olympians or paralympians in your household? the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, where many pro athletes train, gives you the chance to (virtually) compete against some of America’s best athletes as you run or race down a virtual slalom course. (An especially good bet with the summer Olympics coming up in Paris.)

Take your basketball-crazed kids to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, or The College Basketball Experience in Kansas City, Missouri. It houses the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame where visitors can honor college basketball legends and learn about the history of the game, as well as try to slam dunk a ball. Virtually every skill of the game has an activity station – rebounding, passing, three-point shooting, free throw shooting and more. While in Kansas City, take your baseball fans to see the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which highlights the obstacles players of color faced to play the game and what they did to overcome the challenges.

Take your musicians to the The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, a unique collection of more than 7,500 instruments from more than 200 countries. Through state-of-the-art, interactive media, guests can see the instruments, hear their sounds, and observe them being played in their original contexts. The newest exhibit is historic instruments – mandolins, guitars, and banjos. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville takes you behind the scenes of the artists. The brand- n ew American Currents: State of the Music exhibit highlights the latest developments in country music – artists including Taylor Swift, Luke Combs, Laney Wilson and Jelly Roll. The “Unbroken Circle” part of the exhibit highlights the musical connections of artists, including those who have influenced them or share musical perspectives.

Toy aficionados won’t want to miss The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y. It’s an interactive museum devoted to the history and exploration of play and toys. Fight crime with favorite superheroes, jump into a giant pop-up book or see the new Barbie You Can Be Anything Exhibit. Immerse yourself in video game scenarios and, weather permitting, play at the 17,000-square-foot, outdoor Hasbro Game Park! (How about a 15-foot-high version of Chutes and Ladders?)

Harry Potter Warner Brothers studio tour outside of London
Harry Potter Warner Brothers studio tour outside of London

Harry Potter fans, meanwhile, make the trek out of London to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London, which explore s the making of Harry Potter with sets, history, props, costumes and more.

I love that the Monterey Bay Aquarium focuses on the sea life of Monterey Bay. (Don’t miss the jellies and swirling sardines!) In San Francisco, the Aquarium of the Bay focuses on local aquatic animals from the San Francisco bay and neighboring rivers – more than 24,000 local marine animals, including seven gill sharks, the largest predatory animal in San Francisco Bay and playful river otters. The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport aims to connect visitors to the Oregon Coast with habitats that mirror the natural environment. Seals, sea lions and sea otters are among the residents, as well as seabirds in the largest outdoor aviary of its kind in North America. (Love those puffins!)

One caveat: encourage the kids to save their souvenir money. The offerings at the museum and aquarium shops are hard to resist.

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2024 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.