When bad weather hits, a trip to a museum can be a great cure for cabin fever. With winter upon us, it's time to check out a few local gems that offer kids hands-on art and science exploration. At these northern New Jersey museums, kids can study the stars at a planetarium, learn about dinosaurs that once roamed modern-day New Jersey, create their own works of art, meet animals, make music, and much more. They're guaranteed to learn something—and get nice and tired in the process. Read on for five of our favorite spots in northern New Jersey, and be sure to check out our roundup of museums in central and southern New Jersey, too.
The Infinity Climber is a suspended, multi-story play space at Liberty Science Center.
Liberty Science Center – Jersey City
It's virtually impossible to cover everything Liberty Science Center has to offer in just one day. This interactive science center and learning museum, located in Liberty State Park, boasts four floors of exhibits and experiences. Just a few include: a kids' lab where budding scientists can conduct experiments, the Infinity Climber (shown above), and—my kids' personal favorite—I Explore, where 2–5-year-olds can send balls whooshing through pneumatic tubes, build and test race cars, play with a giant light wall, and scoop and pour rice to their hearts' content. You can see a movie or laser show in LSC's IMAX and 3D theaters, catch an interactive demonstration on topics ranging from rocket science to surgery, or take a MakerLab class in 3D printing. LSC hosts birthday parties and overnight camp-ins, and its Cafe Skylines serves kid-friendly far like chicken fingers and pizza, as well as a salad bar, soup, and sandwiches. (If you'd rather eat elsewhere, there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants nearby.)
Admission ranges from $21.75 – $31.75 per adult (13+) and $17.75 – $25.75 for kids ages 2–12, depending on whether you choose basic admission or add on movie options and entrance to premium exhibits. Additional fees apply for special programs. Closed Mondays.
Imagine That!!! – Florham Park
Imagine That!!! Discovery Museum for Children specializes in preschool-age and young schoolchildren. The 16,000-square-foot space has a bit of a warehouse vibe, but it has lots to keep little ones entertained and has been an oasis for us on bad-weather days. The museum features more than 50 exhibits and experiences based on play and discovery, including an arts and crafts area, music room, a mini dance studio with mirrors and a barre, and a vehicle showroom where kids can climb on and in a car, airplane, fire truck, motorcycle, and tractor. Several themed areas that invite kids to play pretend include a grocery store and diner, doctor's office, and TV news room. Other attractions include a giant pirate ship with a slide, a soft play-scape for climbing and exploring, and an "Around the World" exhibit that showcases items from various cultures.
Admission is $10.95 for kids 1 and up, and $9.95 for adults. Imagine That!!! has five party rooms and a cafe, as well as a gift shop stocked with a variety of educational toys. Open 7 days a week.
The Newark Museum – Newark
Though not exclusively a children's museum, Newark Museum is a gem that has plenty of offerings for kids and families. Highlights include interactive galleries where visitors can explore topics ranging from plate tectonics to Tibetan life; a planetarium where you can see video from the Cassini spacecraft's ongoing exploration of Saturn's rings; and a fire museum where kids can climb into the cab of a real fire truck and learn about fire safety in the Hazard House. Special programs for kids include Creative Play, geared toward kids ages 3–5, and Family Workshops, for kids ages 5–12, which include special kids' tours, games and activities, hands-on art activities and science experiments, story times, and even concerts. And older kids will love checking out the museum's regular exhibits, which include one of the nation's oldest and most comprehensive collections of African art.
Museum admission is $15 per adult and $8 per child (2 and under free). Planetarium admission is an additional $6 per adult and $4 per children under 12. Planetarium not recommended for kids under 4. The Newark Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Mega Model Trains exhibit at The Morris Museum from December 17, 2016 – February 26, 2017.
The Morris Museum – Morris
The Morris Museum is perhaps best known for its large collection of 19th century musical dolls and machines. Viewing this ongoing exhibition, Musical Machines and Living Dolls, feels a bit like walking around inside a music box. It's magical and slightly creepy (there are some sinister-looking clowns and monkeys), and my kids and I can't get enough of it. It's but one of many kid-friendly exhibits at this beloved museum, which is small enough to see in its entirety in one visit, but always interesting and engaging. Other permanent exhibits include the Dinosaur Den, where kids can sit in a dinosaur's nest, touch a dinosaur egg, and listen to the simulated sound of a Hadrosaur; the Mammal Gallery, whose taxidermied residents include an enormous grizzly bear; and a collection of rocks and minerals that is endlessly fascinating to my preschooler. There are many special programs and events, including pop-up craft sessions, Tot Tours for kids 2–5, and art classes and workshops for older kids and teens. The museum is also home to the Bickford Theatre, which presents programming for both kids and adults. If you have a young train lover in your life, the museum's Mega Model Trains exhibit, which comes around every winter, is a must-see.
Admission is $10 per adult and $7 per child, with additional costs for special programs. On the second and third Thursdays of each month, admission is pay as you wish from 4–8 p.m. Closed Mondays.
"do it," the Montclair Art Museum's current interactive exhibition, invites visitors to participate in artist instructions. Photo by Gennadi Novash/Just Photo/courtesy of the museum
Montclair Art Museum – Montclair
The Montclair Art Museum, which recently celebrated its centennial, is a great place to introduce kids to visual arts. Its education department offers a variety of programs that help children learn about and enjoy the art in the museum's collections and exhibits. These programs include guided tours, themed art projects, story times, films, and other activities. The Family Learning Lab, in the third-floor lobby, is a place where kids and families can hang out and do interactive projects during museum hours. Other special events include Free First Thursday Nights, which take place on the first Thursday of the month from October to June, and include art activities, live music, and more.
Admission is $12 for adults and free for kids under 12. Free on the first Friday of every month from noon–5 p.m.
Top image: Create a masterpiece in a giant light wall at Liberty Science Center. Unless otherwise noted, all photos from the museums.