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The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is the world’s largest and, we would argue, its best. It’s now even better if you happen to live with someone who is a dinosaur lover! The museum has updated and expanded its Dinosphere exhibit, but it’s just one reason to visit the museum. There also are great pretend play spaces for little ones, a moving exploration of racism and prejudice for older kids and an outdoor sports complex where families can play together. Here are all of the reasons why every family should visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
With more than 130,000 exhibits, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is about much more than just play. Opportunities for learning, exploring – and yes, playing – are around every corner, both inside and out. Even better, it’s just as much fun for adults as it is for kids.
Here you can read about our favorite exhibits at the museum and learn why you must see them.
Reimagined Dinosphere at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is famous for its dinosaurs. In fact, the first thing you see as you drive up to the museum are the dinos crashing out of the building while others are breaking in.
The Dinosphere has been refreshed and expanded to include the Giants of the Jurassic, Creatures of the Cretaceous and Monsters of the Mesozoic Seas. From the small bird-like Bambiraptor to the fearsome Gorgosaur and, of course, the world-famous Tyrannosaurus rex, each section features impressive dino skeletons with cool plaques showing which of the bones are real fossils and which are cast reproductions.
The space is dotted with interactive opportunities — I was particularly taken with the Fred Flintstone-style information kiosks — where families can learn more about these majestic creatures. Or you can ask one of the docents who revel in sharing all they know about the dinosaurs who once walked the Earth. At the media preview, the docents were at least as excited to have the dinos back as the kids were!
Keep wandering and you’ll find a kid favorite: a video showing how dinosaurs digested plants that ends where you would expect, with a big brown poop.
Hands On Fun
The hands-on opportunities aren’t all about learning. There’s plenty of fun too. A girl at a kiosk in the Mesozoic area was creating her own ancient animals and watching as they swam across the screen.
Plan to spend an extra hour or so in the exhibit so the kids can visit the Art Lab. That’s where they can color a dinosaur then load it into a projector and watch as it joins other colorful dinos walking across a wall-sized screen.
If your kids are paleontologist-wannabes, don’t miss a stop at the Paleo Prep Lab to watch the real paleontologists as they painstakingly work to uncover fossils from huge rocks dug up at the museum’s dig site in Wyoming. The scientists are happy to answer kids’ questions while they work.
TravelingMom Tip: The Indy Attraction Pass allows you to experience a wide variety of Indianapolis attractions with easy mobile ticketing and free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.
Teach Older Kids about the Power of Children
Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize winner who was shot by the Taliban as a child because she was a girl who wanted to go to school, is the fourth child to be featured in the moving exhibit called the Power of Children: Making a Difference..
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- Ryan White, a young boy with hemophilia who was expelled from school because he had AIDS during the early years of the disease when it was still misunderstood and feared
- Rudy Bridges, one of the first black students to integrate the white school system in New Orleans in 1960
- Anne Frank, the Jewish girl whose diary told the world what it was like to hide from the Nazis during the Holocaust
This exhibit is recommended for kids ages 8 and up, although I would not recommend taking a sensitive 8-year-old. It tells some harrowing stories, including Malala’s experience as a Muslim girl in Taliban-held territory who was shot just because she wanted to go to school and the threats against 6-year-old Ruby who stared down racism to integrate a white school.
The moving exhibit tells the children’s stories, shows the homes where they lived and depicts the threats they faced. It is equal parts tragic and uplifting.
Marvel at a Chihuly Sculpture
You can’t miss this exhibit; it rises 43 feet over all four stories, right in the center of the building. Created by artist Dale Chihuly, the sculpture contains more than 3,200 colorful pieces of blown glass. Head down to the lowest level of the museum to see the sculpture from beneath.
Then let your kids put together their own masterpieces using plastic pieces that look just like the glass ones.
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Share Your American Pop Memories
American Pop is the exhibit that lets parents share their weird, wacky and wonderful childhood memories with the kids. From the TV shows we watched to the toys we played with, the music we loved and the clothes we wore, this exhibit celebrates everything about American pop culture.
Once the kids get done laughing at the way you used to dress, the whole family can become superheroes — and be immortalized on the cover of a comic book.
Beyond Spaceship Earth
Ever wonder what life is like on the International Space Station? Wander through this immersive exhibit and you’ll see for yourself. Kids can check out how astronauts eat, sleep, work and play in space in this interactive area.
Artifacts from Astronaut David Wolf are on display.
Treasures of the Earth teaches kids about archaeology and how we study civilizations of the past. The area focuses on three archaeological sites:
- the Terra Cotta warriors of China
- the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I
- Captain Kidd’s shipwreck in the Caribbean
Kids can reconstruct a Terra Cotta Warrior, decipher hieroglyphics to identify a royal mummy and look for clues to figure out whether the shipwreck belongs to the notorious pirate, Captain William Kidd.
Just as kids can watch archeologists uncover dinosaur bones in the Dinosphere’s Paleo Prep Lab, kids can watch and interact with real archaeologists at work in their lab working in Treasures of the Earth.
All Aboard a Train
What kid doesn’t love trains? Mine certainly did — and he would have loved the Reuben Wells, a 35-foot-long, 55-ton steam engine. Back in the 1890s, it was the most powerful locomotive in the US. The locomotive is at the museum, along with other train experiences that let kids operate lights, switches, and signals on the track, crawl inside a tunnel to see miniature trains in action, sell tickets at the station and race trains on a computer.
Ride a Carousel
This carousel was salvaged from a ride that operated in Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis in the early 1900s. Tigers, lions and giraffes join the beautifully restored carousel horses and other animals. Rides cost $1 for non-members.
The area has lots more carnival fun — a mirror maze, life-sized kaleidoscope, arcade and treehouse. Kids can serve pretend treats in a retro ice cream parlor.
This is the museum space reserved for the littlest explorers, ages 5 and under. It offers areas for creating art, a water table and giant building blocks.
Outdoors at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience
Editor’s note: This section was written by Deb Steenhagen
When my kids were small, we chose to put them in soccer. Mainly because I had played soccer myself, and knew how the game worked. As they grew older, my oldest tried softball, and my middle daughter played middle and high school tennis. But by that age, she was competing against kids who had played the sport for years.
What we really needed was the outdoor sports experience available at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.
Things to do at the Sports Legend Experience
This family-friendly sportsplex highlights 12 different sports. This gives kids of all ages and skill levels the opportunity to try out any or all of them at their own pace and comfort level.
Have a little one who loves football? The football experience offers a miniature grid iron with goalposts of varying sizes so even younger kids can feel the thrill of kicking a field goal.
Each sports area works that way, from basketball hoops of all different heights to a pedal car racetrack. Explore football, soccer, baseball, drag racing, fitness, basketball, golf, track racing, tennis, hockey and more.
A short (1/3 of a mile) fitness track winds through the outdoor area and provides several fitness stations where kids can stretch and exercise different muscle groups.
There is also a Tree of Sports that kids (and adults) can climb up and slide down.
The crown jewel is the Pete and Alice Dye Golf Experience, a unique, 9-hole putting golf course you play with special putters. The golf legends designed the course to replicate some of the most famous holes in the world, including water hazards and varying turf heights.
What I Love about the Sports Legends Experience
I love that kids can try a sport with no pressure and no competitiveness. Equipment is provided, so there’s no need to buy a tennis racket or baseball glove just to see what your kid thinks of the sport. Each area is staffed with ‘coaches’ who can help kids get started, teach some of the basics or get a short pick-up game going.
I visited during the morning when the Sports Legends Experience wasn’t very crowded, but I expect that crowd levels later in the day are probably much higher. With so much space and so many sports, I don’t see crowds being a huge problem, but there may be a wait for some equipment. These outdoor experiences also may close during inclement weather. This area is closed during the wintertime as well.