The average family doesn’t have a high-powered microscope at the kitchen table or a walk-in kaleidoscope in the backyard.
Lucky for us, top science museums make such world-class resources—as well as educators who know how to break down abstract concepts in a way that everyone (even parents) can understand—available to the public.
Here are ten spot-on science museums in cities across the United States:
Museum of Science Boston
Imagine a child standing still, watching a precisely tuned contraption in perpetual motion. The giant Rube Goldberg machine stocked with colorful pool balls is a centerpiece of this renowned museum in west Boston. It has a great wing dedicated to the science of engineering, engaging visitors in the problem-solving activities key to innovation.
San Francisco offers “the museum of science, art, and human perception.” Check ahead on reservations for the famous “Tactile Dome,” an all-dark exhibit in which visitors must “see” with the sense of touch (it’s busiest in summer months). Make time for the “MIND” exhibits—exploring the cognitive sciences of emotion, perception, learning, and communication—and a stop at the toilet-bowl drinking fountain.
Science Museum of Minnesota
St. Paul‘s innovative museum is built into bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The river flows just outside its windows and past ten acres of outdoor exhibits and programming space. Family favorites: nine holes of mini golf exploring changing landscapes, a Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery (with a Diplodocus skeleton discovered by high school students), and hands-on activities in the Experiments Gallery.
National Air and Space Museum
The Smithsonian Institution’s most visited museum is home to the Wright 1903 FlyerWright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, and moon rock that you can touch. A second facility is just outside Washington, D.C.: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center displays the Enola Gay and a Lockheed Blackbird.
Hands-On! Regional Museum
This small museum in Johnson City, Tennesee, is scaled especially for children’s interest and abilities. Kids love to switch on the flashing light of a police motorcycle, play giant chimes, create enormous bubbles, and conduct real experiments in the Eastman Discover Lab.
Rat basketball is one of the most popular activities at Charlotte‘s fun science museum—including great information on the brain science involved in learning new skills. A satellite facility for very young children is located in nearby Huntersville, North Carolina.
Museum of Science and Industry
This famous Chicago museum’s mission is to “inspire the inventive genius in everyone.” Check out the six-foot floating globe programmed with constantly changing images of Earth’s actual weather patterns, ocean currents, and geological forces at work. The “Networld” exhibit allows you to create a digital image of yourself and explore the inner workings of the Internet.
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
From a replica of a dinosaur dig site to displays on the importance of the cattle industry, this Texas museum hosts a range of hands-on educational exhibits related to science and energy. Really five museums combined under one large roof, highlights here include the Fort Worth Children’s Museum, a place for kids under eight to get excited about the world, and an on-site planetarium and IMAX theater.
The Franklin Institute
Save a whole day to explore this renowned museum in Philadelphia. For young children, the “KidScience” exhibit is an especially memorable experience—an introduction to the basic elements of science through storytelling, fictional characters, and compelling superhero tableau. “Sir Isaac’s Loft” combines art and physics with irresistible hands-on experimentation.
Tech Museum of Innovation
Be a Silicon Valley inventor for a day at this museum in San Jose, California. Check out the “Virtual Test Zone,” where real-life science is illustrated using virtual world technology. Get inside the mind of a painter, or explore a stage that shows how digital music works. Changing exhibits are created by leaders and innovators in digital imagery.
This piece was adapted from the National Geographic book, The 10 Best of Everything: Families.