The holidays are behind us but there are still a couple of months before spring is sprung, and it can be a challenge to fill up these lazy, winter days. As a mom to three young kids, I'm all for cozy afternoons watching movies, play-doh sessions in our pjs and finger painting to pass the hours. But sometimes, we need a change of scenery! A chance to get out of the house, explore, learn and fill another gray and chilly day. Fortunately, New Jersey offers up some awesome indoor activities. Bundle up, pile the gang into the car and check out our top 10 fun and educational picks.
1. Liberty Science Center (Jersey City, NJ)
We’re lucky to have LSC right in our backyard, as it’s consistently rated one of the top science museums in the country! Go early to beat the field trip crowds, start on the 4th floor and work your way down. You could definitely spend two or more days exploring but if you’ve only got a day, check out the popular Wonder Why exhibit to climb a rock wall and make six foot high bubbles, see snakes, iguanas and a family of cotton-top tamarind monkeys at Eat or Be Eaten and let wee ones play without the big kids in the I Explore room just for ages five & under. For more information, please call 201-200-1000.
2. Imagine That! (Florham Park, NJ)
A cozy winter outing for preschoolers, Imagine That! Children's Museum is perfect hands-on fun for the five and under set. A play space complete with a small jungle gym opens up to a room with a real small airplane and fire truck that kiddos are welcome to climb. Turn the corner and play make believe in a miniature house and castle, try on tap shoes and dance or play instruments from all around the world. And don't forget to stop at the arts & crafts room on your way out. My daughter's personal favorite, this space has big sheets of paper for painting and all sorts of supplies from glue to popsicle sticks to pipe cleaners, so kids can craft to their heart's content and take home their projects too! For more information, please call 973-966-8000.
3. Garden State Discovery Museum (Cherry Hill, NJ)
The Garden State Discovery Museum is hugely popular with southern NJ families and with constant rotating exhibits and dozens of children’s programs, it’s easy to see why. On a recent visit, my little guys loved exploring the animals at the Turtle Bog and Wildlife Area, climbing and digging in the Dinosaurium and getting plenty messy with giant suds at the Bubble Trouble exhibit! And if room after room of hands on fun isn't enough, they’ve also got a Discovery Theatre next door, with kid-friendly shows. For more information, please call 856-424-1233.
4. Adventure Aquarium (Camden, NJ)
Adventure Aquarium is just the right size for a day trip, not too big and not too small. If you've got energetic toddlers and preschoolers in tow, start by exploring their special KidZone area, where low down tanks full of colorful fish are intermingled with places to climb, like a giant walk-through Banyan tree. Also check out sharks, sea turtles and touch tanks in the rest of the aquarium and don't miss Hippo Haven, where the giant, playful mammals splash and swim in a humongous tank! For more information, please call 856-365-3300.
5. Milk & Cookies Children's Theatre (New Brunswick, NJ)
Milk & Cookies is a lively and interactive theater series featuring storytelling, music and puppetry. Oh, and did we mention it's FREE? Children ages 3-8 and their caregivers can reserve tickets for all different types of shows throughout the year and discover the simple joy of interacting with the fine arts. Take a peek at their website for current show schedules, such as Winter Wonderland: Stories for a Frosty Day series - full of culture, storytelling and high-energy audience participation. For more information, please call 732-246-7469 ext. 545.
6. Trailside Nature Center (Mountainside, NJ)
When you think of NJ nature centers the great outdoors might come to mind, but Trailside Nature Center brings the outside in. The 4,500 square foot, two-story building is a welcome refuge in the chilly winter months with rotating exhibits showcasing local flora and fauna in a fun and educational setting. Kids will be impressed by the 34-foot American beech tree exhibit that fills the atrium and will love rolling up their sleeves to dig for dino fossils. The second floor houses a small, low-key library with nature books for all ages from babies & toddlers to adults. Also be sure and check out their calendar for classes and workshops throughout the year. For more information, please call 908-789-3670.
7. Kidz Village (Kenilworth, NJ and Woodbridge, NJ)
They say for kids playing is learning and Kidz Village gives little ones the opportunity to make believe with bright, cheery rooms set up to spark the imagination. Children can take turns working in a hair salon, shopping for groceries and caring for dolls in a nursery. To burn off that bottled up winter energy, a huge indoor climbing gym with slides and tunnels awaits. A special section for babies with mirrors, activity gyms and colorful under-the-sea murals ensures parents with multiple kids can keep everybody entertained. For more information, please call 908-445-7220.
8. Montclair Art Museum (Montclair, NJ)
For a dose of culture, bundle up the crew and take in some works of art at the Montclair Art Museum. Their Education Department offers programs to encourage children to explore and enjoy art, and best of all, make it accessible. Check out the 3rd floor family learning lab for hands-on activities that let kids learn about MAM's 100 year old collection. The museum's Native American Art collection will resonate with history buffs and be sure and take a peak at 'Come as You Are - Art of the 1990s.' For more information, please call 973-746-5555.
9. Fire Museum at the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ)
The Fire Museum is a must-do for NJ kids. Start with a climb on a real fire engine or try on firefighter clothing and visit the Hazard House - an exhibit filled with special effects and interactive displays to help families locate fire dangers and escape safely in the event of an emergency. Their 'A Cry of Fire' exhibit features a fascinating and historic look at firefighter protective gear, equipment and memorabilia. Best of all, kids (and grown-ups too!) will come to understand the history of firefighting and the bravery of the men and women that wear the uniforms. For more information, please call 973-596-6550.
10. Insectropolis (Toms River, NJ)
If you've got little bug-lovers in the house, this quirky 'bugseum' is the perfect indoor outing if you're up for a trip down the shore. Get up close to insects of all shapes and sizes at the Insectropolis. Start by learning the basics at their Bug University and visit the various creepy crawly exhibits such as Creepy Tavern and Rubber Tree Power Plant. You'll learn all about how bees communicate at Hive Airport too. If you're feeling especially brave, hang around for the Touch Presentations to - you guessed it - touch one of the resident insects! For more information, please call 732-349-7090.
For more family fun, both indoors and out, check out 100 Things to Do in New Jersey with Kids Before They Grow Up.
Image: Montclair Art Museum
Originally published 2015