The New York Historical Society recently opened the DiMenna Children’s History Museum on the lower level of its museum and library located at 170 Central Park West across the street from the Museum of Natural History. Being a history buff, I had to check it out.
The first thing you should know about this children’s museum is that it is not like general children’s museums. It has no toddler play areas, miniature grocery stores or pretend bakeries. The space is intended for children to have fun learning about history.
Whether your children will enjoy the museum depends entirely on them. I went with my daughter and her friend: two very silly seven year olds. They had fun giggling and playing imaginary games that had nothing to do with the exhibits…at first. They flitted from one activity to the next and then announced that they were finished and bored but then they discovered the scavenger hunt and were off again. They were history detectives with clues to find objects around the museum. The anticipated prize at the end contributed to their renewed motivation. The hunt also gives parents a chance to see the other exhibits along the way. At the end they received their prize for finding all the objects and were satisfied.
Once the hunt was complete we went down the street to the Shake Shack for sustenance followed by a quick trip to the Diana Ross playground across the street in Central Park. We went back to the museum and lo and behold the girls began to focus and engage with some of the interactive displays.
I tried to engage them in the story of the New York City orphans who were sent on the train to families in the country. It had real letters that children wrote in the late 19th century about the families they were staying with. My girls had more fun pretending they were on a train ride but that was ok with me. Next time, I would try taking my daughter alone or better yet, send her with her grandparents who have endless patience. This museum is one that will grow with the child and each time she goes back she will get a little more out of it.
TIP: Bring snacks. The snacks are very expensive–$8.71 for two milks and a small bag of chips. There is a room with tables where you can eat snacks bought there or from home. Remember hungry children cannot concentrate and hungry moms have no patience!
Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson by Eric L. Shelman. f you want to learn more about the plight of orphaned and abused children in New York City in the 19th century read this book. A fascinating and disturbing fact is that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed before the same agency was started for children.