When it comes to must-do museums for families, the nationally renowned Museum of Science and Boston Children's Museum dominate travel brochures and websites (and deservedly so). But since its 2018 renovation and expansion, the Discovery Museum of Acton is where my own kids want to go when a day calls for an outing that flexes our brains along with our bodies. With an indoor museum space devoted to interactive play and an outdoor "Discovery Woods" area full of nature-based play structures, the Discovery Museum is truly the sort of place where kids don't realize they're learning while they're having fun.
Because it has carefully enacted safety policies to stay open for longer than most museums throughout the pandemic, the Discovery Museum is a good choice for your next day trip with kids. Don't miss these museum highlights when you visit, and be sure to check out our Boston Museum Guide for more enriching family outings.
First Floor: Color, Water, "AirMaze", and Building Blocks
The first thing to notice when walking into the Discovery Museum is how filled with light it is: refreshing for a museum! After checking in, kids will gravitate to the Light & Color room, featuring several small kiosks where children can explore prisms, shadows, and more. Next around the bend is the Water Room—and boy, is it hard to tear kids away. There are a handful of carefully designed water tables that take hydro-play well beyond what you could do with spoons and ladles in your own home (and some other museums). There are containers with funnels in which balls get sucked into the middle, and a floor-to-ceiling spout that amazingly suspends balls in the air. Maybe most engaging of all was the slanted table with Legos that kids can manipulate to create dams.
Farther down the hall, there was a Sound exhibit—wonderfully low-tech, with things like PVC pipes and flip-flops to encourage music-making—a heat-sensor screen that shows kids where their body heat is located, a huge Amethyst geode, and the 1,500-square-foot Changing Exhibits room. The current exhibit is, in my mind, a keeper: a space devoted to building and engineering, complete with large plastic and foam blocks, small manipulatives, and even thematic favorite books, like the Rosie Revere series.
But my kids' number-one interest is always the jaw-dropping AirMaze, which sucks in lightweight objects (foam balls, scarves, etc.) and spits them out, to the delight of all viewers (adults included!) surrounding it. It's a blast to see how fast the objects are sucked through the maze and where they emerge.
Second Floor: Imaginative Play, Physics, and Art
Designed for the under-3 set, the Brain Building Together has manipulative toys for toddlers as well as a nursing room that's a welcome respite for moms. Next door, there is a reimagined "Bessie's House" from the old museum, pre-renovation, consisting of a whimsical train station, diner, a spot for Teddy Bear tea, and, my kids' favorite, a cozy campfire space with a tent where you can make shadow puppets and even a mini-treehouse with a slide.
Beyond this imaginative play zone, there's a large section called DaVinci's Workshop, meant to inspire kids to combine art and engineering the way the old master did. There's a replica of his flying machine and a vertical wind table where kids can design and try their own. There's also a roomy space with loads of art materials where children can tinker around with other designs.
Rounding out the second floor are exhibits devoted to gears, sand play, magnetism, simple machines, math, and more.
Third Floor: The Big Ship
Just next to Bessie's is access to a tiny third floor, otherwise known as The Ship Room. With a captain's wheel, costumes (including the cutest little mermaid tail you've ever seen), a rowboat, and even a secret portal revealing a spooky skeleton, this room totally entrances even "bigger little kids." You can also get a pretty sweet view of the entire museum from the ship's "helm."
Outside Fun: Discovery Woods
Still got energy? Located a stone's throw from the museum, Discovery Woods, which opened recently as the first phase of the Discovery Museum renovation, is an all-seasons, outdoor wooden wonderland for kids. Designed by TV's "Treehouse Guys," it features wheelchair accessible ramps throughout, a big swing, log teepees, rope ladders, a giant treehouse with craft materials, and more. My children explored every nook and cranny of this whimsical space before, reluctantly, climbing back in the car—brain- and body-tired—to head home.
What to Know Before You Go...
- Planning to come at opening hours or later in the day is a smart idea to avoid crowds. There are also special extra hours for kids with certain differences, such as autism and hearing impairments. The museum is completely interactive and ultra-accessible, so designed for kids of all ages and abilities in mind. There are few signs, so children are encouraged to test the water, sound, and other features using their own instincts and ingenuity. Ladders are swapped out for ramps, stairs, and elevators, so differently abled children are, for the most part, able to reach the features the same way as other kids.
- There are plenty of roomy bathroom spaces close by the exhibits, with changing tables. There is not a restaurant or cafe on the grounds, but the small gift shop sells drinks and snacks, which can be consumed (along with food from home) on colorful benches in the lobby or in the outdoor picnic area during nice weather.