10 best children’s museums in America offer online programs

Learn at home with America’s best children’s museums — Photo courtesy of iStock / Ulza

Earlier this year, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite children’s museums as part of our ongoing Readers’ Choice contests.

Shortly after announcing the winners, these museums had to close their doors to help protect their communities from the spread of COVID-19. But they also pivoted, bringing some of their programming online, so families across the country (and the world) can experience a bit of what makes them winners.

Note: If you’d like to support these museums while they’re closed, consider making a donation or signing up for an annual membership.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis | Indiana

Rex, the dinosaur mascot of this museum (voted best in the U.S. in 2020) is lending a hand with a wide variety of digital programming that includes multiple events each day on Facebook Live. Get exercising with a morning warmup, join science discussions, learn about experiments you can do at home or attend a live story time.

City Museum | St. Louis, Missouri

While the City Museum is closed to visitors, the museum staff, crew, artists and historians have launched City Museum on Air. This series takes place each weekday with an eclectic lineup of programming – everything from free art classes, storytelling sessions, museum tours and sneak peaks at upcoming exhibits.

The Magic House | St. Louis, Missouri

The folks at The Magic House in St. Louis are sharing their expertise through their Magic at Home! series. Each edition features a project that kids and their parents can do with household materials, like making a banjo or animal figures from toilet paper rolls, Oobleck (a favorite ooey gooey substance from the museum’s science lab) from cornstarch and water, or paper sculptures.

Kohl Children’s Museum | Glenview, Illinois

This winning children’s museum calls itself “The place where awesome lives,” and would-be visitors can bring that awesome into the home through its library of online teaching resources, story time sessions (in Spanish and English) and “Home Zone” projects.

Kids can learn how to fold paper airplanes, learn about the physics of wheels or make their own recycled paper.

Children’s Museum of Houston | Texas

The Children’s Museum of Houston is bringing a full daily lineup of virtual learning options to both Facebook and Instagram. Regular events include English and bilingual story time, Educator Moments learning videos, virtual workshops, toddler sing-alongs and” O Wow Moments” demos and experiments with Mr. O.

Museum of Discovery | Little Rock, Arkansas

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Here is an eggscellent “At Home Discoveries” chemistry activity! Make egg geodes! Materials: Eggs (each egg makes up to two geodes) Food coloring 4 cups of boiling water 1 ¾ cups of Borax Wide-mouthed containers (such as Mason jars) Directions: 1. Break an egg lengthwise by gently tapping it around the edge of a bowl. Empty contents of egg and thoroughly rinse the shell. Gently pat the shell dry. (Use a half shell per container of food coloring. If you’re using 4 colors, break 2 eggs and use the 4 halves.) 2. Boil 4 cups of water in large sauce pan. 3. Add the Borax powder to boiling water, stir until dissolved (there should be some residual powder at bottom of pan.) 4. Pour ¾ cup of Borax water to a wide-mouthed mason jar (or another wide opening glass container) and add a food coloring. Stir. 5. Add another ¾ cup of Borax water to another glass container, add another color, then stir. Repeat until you use all the colors you want. 6. Use a spoon to gently submerge the egg shell into the jar of colored, hot Borax water with the inside of egg shell facing up. The water must be hot for the egg to crystallize. 7. Do not move the container! Let it sit and settle overnight or even two. When you see enough crystal growth, remove egg from mixture and allow it to dry on a paper towel. Why did crystals form on the egg? You made a saturated solution when you mixed more powder than the liquid could actually hold. But when the water was hot, its molecules were moving apart which allowed the Borax powder to dissolve. But as the mixture cooled down, the molecules moved back together forcing the particles from the Borax to settle on the eggshell and form into crystals. When one crystal formed, more of the settling solution bonded to it to form even larger crystals.

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The Museum of Discovery is bringing At Home Discoveries to computer screens across the country. Virtual visitors can learn what happens when you microwave a Peep (and why), how to make geodes out of eggs and the best techniques for building a cardboard castle.

Visitors can also follow along as some of the museum’s animals take tours of the closed campus.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh | Pennsylvania

Among the many Museum At Home projects from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is the New Ways to Say “Hi” Challenge, which tasks kids with coming up with new and creative ways to greet each other during times of social distancing. Other lessons include how to make yarn from an old T-shirt, net making and folding origami hearts.

Children’s Museum of Denver | Colorado

The Children’s Museum of Denver is offering Museum Fun 101 programming which includes a host of screen-free activities to do at home. Options range from crafts (animal masks, printmaking) to recipes (cucumber lemonade, homemade peanut butter) to movement activities to photo quests and scavenger hunts.

The Strong Museum | Rochester, New York

The Strong Museum in Rochester knows a thing or two about play, and how to make it educational. This museum’s online programming comes at it from a unique angle, highlighting #ThrowbackToys from generations past; kids can make their own paper dolls, learn about why some toys weren’t such a hit (e.g. the Daddy Saddle) or vote in an old school toys tournament bracket (Easy Bake Oven for the win).

The museum is also offering Animal Encounters through Facebook Live.

Madison Children’s Museum | Madison, Wisconsin

MCM at Home brings all the wonder of the Madison Children’s Museum into the living room, with a special focus on learning tools for older babies through preschool-aged children. There’s something scheduled almost every day on Facebook Live, including sensory art projects, Exploration Stations, Brain Builders, music and movement activities.

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