Just as there are museums for practically every grown-up's taste and interest in New York City, there are plenty of offerings for kids as well, running the gamut from the mathematical and scientific to spaces where the younger set can enjoy hands-on fun while learning about NYC history and the world around them. Here we've collected some of our favorite child-friendly institutions bound to engage visitors of all ages.
American Museum of Natural History
With 1.6 million square feet and 32 million specimens and artifacts, the American Museum of Natural History is recognized worldwide as a leading cultural institution devoted to the sciences. There are the classic exhibits on the origins of human and animal life, the futuristic planetarium and blockbuster seasonal shows like the Butterfly Conservatory. The dinosaur wing truly brings the T. Rex and its friends to life, and no visit is complete without gazing up at the life-size model of a blue whale that hangs from the ceiling of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.
Children's Museum of the Arts
The CMA's 10,000-square-foot museum on Charlton Street in SoHo offers both the hands-on (interactive exhibitions and an art-making space) and hands-off (a mind-expanding collection of children's art from around the world). Whatever they do, kids can’t help being inspired, and they’ll have access to plenty of creative tools to explore the museum on their own terms.
Staten Island Children's Museum
This playground for kids' minds includes giant board games, a close-up look at a bug's life and life-size replicas of different ecosystems. For more grounded flights of fancy, the museum's “House About It” area allows visitors to work a real drill; in the other direction, “Portia’s Playhouse” is stocked with costumes so little actors can get down to thespian business.
DiMenna Children's History Museum
This museum-within-a-museum (opened downstairs from the New-York Historical Society in late 2011) teaches the City's history through the lives of its children, whose stories are vividly told via interactive displays. Using a mix of digital tools and historical artifacts, kids can become history detectives, discovering NYC's past through hands-on games and a full slate of programming.
Brooklyn Children's Museum
Ever since opening in 1899 as the first American museum expressly for kids, the Brooklyn Children's Museum has been been a pioneer, focused on teaching young folks of all ages and backgrounds. An expansion in 2008 nearly doubled its footprint, which now includes a freshwater pond with live turtles and plenty of exhibition spaces for its collection of 30,000 historical artifacts. There's also an area for children 5 and under (including a special section for those under 18 months), with activities tailored to how littler ones learn.
Jewish Children's Museum
Kids can scale a giant challah and explore a miniature kosher supermarket at this institution dedicated to Jewish history and culture. And there's no bar or bat mitzvah required: families of all backgrounds and beliefs are welcome.
Children's Museum of Manhattan
From its humble beginnings as a storefront museum to its current 38,000-square-foot incarnation, the Children's Museum of Manhattan has taken a holistic approach to learning. It's organized around four core principles—early childhood education, creativity, health and world cultures—which come to life through exhibits and innovative programs, like a new program to get toddlers to fall in love with fruit and veggies.
New York Hall of Science
New York City's only hands-on science and technology center started 50 years ago as an offshoot of the 1964 World's Fair, and it hasn't lost its knack for getting attention. To wit, Rocket Park Mini Golf, the first mini-golf course in the world to double as an astrophysics classroom, fronts the museum. It's just one of over 450 exhibits, workshops and special events, including the award-winning 60,000-square-foot Science Playground and state-of-the-art 3-D Theater.
New York City Fire Museum
From a historic firehouse in SoHo, the New York City Fire Museum serves as a living timeline of firefighting history, in the City and beyond. Displaying antique equipment along with the modern gear the FDNY uses, plus art and other fire-related items, the museum honors the many contributions and sacrifices NYC's firefighters have made in service to the City.
National Museum of Mathematics
Every angle is right at this newish museum dedicated to preaching the gospel of fractals and equations. With the help of immersive exhibits, it puts mathematical abstractions into the hands—and heads—of fourth through eighth graders. Even for those too young to grasp the Pythagorean theory at its root, the Harmony of the Spheres display casts an enchantment with light and sound—and math.
Museum of the Moving Image
Located in part of an old movie studio complex, the Museum of the Moving Image offers insight into the workings of the screen—both big and small—with plenty of fun interactivity and family-oriented film programming along the way. Its permanent exhibition, fittingly titled Behind the Screen, runs through animation, sound editing and other technical aspects of filmmaking while throwing in costumes and set models from Hollywood blockbusters as well as collectibles from Star Wars and Star Trek. Seeing it all assumes you can take your eyes off of Gregory Barsamian’s mesmerizing zoetrope “Feral Fount,” near the beginning of the displays. And what kid (even an overgrown one) could resist the finish line: an arcade’s worth of classic video games?
Queens County Farm Museum
A working farm within City limits? It's true: this museum is situated on the largest remaining tract of farmland in NYC. Nestled within the 47-acre property are historic farm buildings, greenhouses, an orchard and herb garden, farm machinery, and goats, pigs and other animals. Open year-round, it hosts hayrides on weekends April through November (weather permitting) and special events like wreath-making workshops, antique auto shows and the annual Queens County Fair in September.
The Intrepid Museum
Located at Pier 86, the Intrepid Museum boasts a wealth of sea-, air- and spacecraft: a USS Growler submarine, a British Airways Concorde, and the space shuttle Enterprise, which was dramatically towed up the Hudson River to its new home in 2012. In addition to exploring those highlights, visitors can scramble around the innards of the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned WWII aircraft carrier that holds an array of fighter planes on its top deck.
Historic Richmond Town
The past comes alive at Historic Richmond Town, where colonial life is not just preserved but interpreted. You can walk through restored homes, a general store and a courthouse, a stroll that was the 17th-century version of social networking. The village also includes a museum, workshops on everything from cooking to quilt-making, and a café serving light fare and, on certain days, afternoon tea and prix-fixe full dinners—in case you need to step back into the 21st century.