Few things are more satisfying for parents than introducing children to culture while also having some fun. Luckily, Long Island is home to a host of museums that cater to a younger crowd. In fact, many of these sites offer hands-on, interactive activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
From air and space to science and trains, these spots offer special exhibits and programs to keep children engaged, entertained, and educated. So why not visit? In the meantime, scope out some more fun in our guide to indoor play spaces on Long Island as well as our event calendar. And our museums and arts guide offers the complete lowdown on Long Island planetariums, science centers, historic sites, and more.
Kid-Friendly Museums in Nassau County
A living museum that re-creates Long Island's aviation history, the Cradle of Aviation is sure to delight little flight and space enthusiasts. Planes are suspended from midair in the all-glass atrium as you enter. Check out the planetarium for kid-friendly shows. Annual events such as the "Pumpkin Smash" attract kids from all across Long Island. There's even a separate play space for younger kids. Daily and annual memberships are available. Memberships include free admission to the museum, discounts on the museum store, and discounts on the planetarium, Nunley's Carousel, and theater. Family memberships receive discounts on birthday parties and camps.
This natural history museum on Nassau's North Shore has been a Long Island institution for more than 50 years. Have a dino-lover in the family? Take him or her to Garvies' paleontology programs for hands-on lessons on dinosaur habits and habitats. Garvies also boasts archeology and bird-watching programs as well as Native American education and cultural seminars. Through summer 2022, check out an exhibit on Seashells from Around The World. Summer camps feature half- and full-day sessions from June through August. Birthday parties are also available.
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The climbing area is an adult-free zone at the Long Island Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of LICM
LICM offers year-round, hands-on exhibits for kids that even adults find fun and engaging. An outdoor water play area is open during warmer weather. The museum, on Nassau County's Museum Row, offers weekly activities as well as STEM programs, early childhood programs, and more. The LICM Theater puts on live performances regularly. This season, enjoy "Lyle The Crocodile," based on Bernard Waber's classic books. Annual memberships include free guest passes, as well as discounts if you host your child's birthday party there.
This might look like a museum for adults, but there are plenty of kid-friendly options to delight little ones. From Family Saturdays to sculpture searches, this museum affords kids and parents plenty of hands-on experiences from which to choose. There is also an after-school program that teaches kids art-making and contemporary concepts. Special monthly programs are also offered for families. Daily passes and annual family memberships are available.
This nonprofit science center is located on Leeds Pond Preserve on Nassau County's North Shore. It offers enrichment workshops for children on weekdays and during school vacations. Check out after-school workshops like STEM club and Junior Scientists program. Summer camp and birthday party options are available.
Kids will thrill to the drop-in programs at the Heckscher Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the museum
Kid-Friendly Museums in Suffolk County
The Heckscher Museum of Art offers a variety of programs and resources specifically for families and children. Ongoing activities not to be missed include digital action painting. The museum offers visitors a family activity guide to help explore the facility. Summer drop-in workshops on Thursdays allow children to create works of art under the guidance of museum educators. Daily passes and annual memberships are offered. Reservations are recommended but not required.
This FINtastic destination features one of the largest all-living coral reef displays in our hemisphere, as well as a 120,000-gallon shark tank, year-round sea lion shows, African penguins, marmosets, numerous touch tanks, and more than 100 exhibits including the lavish indoor Butterfly Garden. Kids love the interactive exhibits, like getting in a cage to dive down into the “Lost City of Atlantis” shark exhibit, taking selfies with penguins or seals, and snorkeling with tropical fish or even with mermaids! With so much to do, annual memberships are a great deal. Keep the aquarium in mind for birthday outings, too; admission is free the week of your birthday!
Do some investigating at the Long Island Explorium.
The Long Island Explorium encourages science and engineering education through play. Caregivers and children can explore, play, create, and build together. The museum's exhibits combine maritime themes with STEAM-based activities. Children can build boats, learn about mass and volume with rice, send messages to friends with a pulley system, and so much more. It offers camps when school is out, birthday parties, and partnerships with the Boy and Girl Scouts.
Now open as a pop-up in Tanger Outlets after two years in nearby Rocky Point, this interactive science and natural history center offers magnetic experiments, an illumination station, construction zone, virtual-reality area, 3D coloring, and more. LISC is open seven days a week from 11 am to 5 pm. Birthday parties, special preschool workshops, and Science Saturdays are all part of the fun.
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The Vanderbilt Museum is a great educational destination for families. Photo by Molly England
This expansive property did once belong to the famous Vanderbilt dynasty. Now it houses a series of museums sure to delight young and old. Adults will love the mansion tour while kids will thrill to the planetarium, Hall of Fishes, photo gallery, and more. Exhibits include sharks, birds, and insect life. Did we mention the view? From high atop a hill, peer down to Centerport Harbor or, on a clear day, across the Sound to Connecticut. It's an ideal destination for a family picnic. The museum offers a number of school break instructional camps, but register early.
The If I Were A Whaler interactive exhibit enables kids to be part of Long Island's once-vibrant whaling industry. Kids can dress up, play, and explore in an old general store circa the 1800s. There are plenty of educational exhibits on whaling and boating, including Folk Art and a Diorama of Cold Spring Harbor c. 1850. The museum also holds holiday events throughout the year and offers summer camps.
Take a walk down "Main Street" at the Children's Museum of the East End. Photo courtesy of the museum
Kid-Friendly Museums on Long Island's East End
Even the littlest ones will enjoy this museum. On select days for an additional fee, the museum holds a Tot Spot mommy-and-me class for ages 16 months to 3 years and a baby and me class for 2 months through 16 months. Hands-on exhibits promote imagination-based play, learning, reading, building, and more. An indoor area offers play structures and soft foam gymnastic equipment. The museum even has a special play area for crawlers. An art room is ready for your little one's creations. Weekly classes for arts, crafts, cooking, and dance are offered. When the weather gets warm, head outside for some playground fun, a live performance in the half-round theater, or a round of nine-hole mini-golf. Daily passes and annual memberships are offered. Tax-deductible family memberships include free admission and discounts at local businesses.
The museum features both live and re-created exhibits of animals in their natural habitats. Wonderful murals cover the walls from floor to ceiling, adding to the aesthetic of the museum. The exhibits continue outside, with a butterfly and wildflower garden, as well as a nature walk through the Vineyard Field Preserve. There is also a marine touch tank, where brave kids can hold sea stars and urchins in the water. If you are visiting as a guest, tots 2 years old and younger are admitted for free. Memberships include free admission for your whole family.
This museum, which first opened in 1898, showcases mostly American art. It also has great children's programs including school break workshops for kids 3 and up, where little ones learn about the fundamentals of art. Annual memberships include discounts on summer camps and workshops. The Parrish requires proof of vaccination for all guests 5 and older; current guidelines can be found on its website.
A version of this article was originally posted in 2015. It was updated in February 2022.