Visiting the American Museum of Natural History

When I was an editor at Sterling, I was assigned to a lot of projects at AMNH. In fact, when I left, I was in the midst of developing a guide to the museum for children–it spurred some fun field trips. I still had some tickets left from work and so last week we took Hudson to the museum for his first time (after a requisite lunch at the Shake Shack across the street, of course).

I’m not sure I can recall his ever being so excited as he was when he spotted the first, glowing diorama. He was in heaven–running around, waving at the animals and other children, moving from spot to spot and then back again. He ran himself into the ground! (I was trying to remember the name of that bad TV show about Vicki the robot while we were there–“Small Wonder”–because it was like when she went into overdrive and went haywire.) Then, nearly instantly, and only after a few quiet sobs over being picked up, he fell asleep Aron’s chest.

The funny thing is, despite my having been there so many times for work, I had no idea what to do or see or where to go (especially to escape the crowds, who were thick and had–like us–hoped to evade the humidity and heat outside). So I asked my friend Leigh (Marvelous Kiddo–who I consider an authority–for five tips on how one should visit AMNH with children. (Thank you, Leigh! I wish I had known to head to the Astor Turret–we needed a calm space for Mr. Small Wonder.) Here they are:

1.  Babywear:  If you only have one small child or baby, I would absolutely recommend that you ditch your stroller and explore the museum with the aid of your favorite baby carrier.  I love ring slings because they are so lightweight and easy to stuff in a bag when not being worn, totally adjustable, and super-easy for popping kiddo in and out.  Soft structured carriers or mei tais are great too, and I love that you can shift to a back carry to change the weight around and give your kid a new perspective.  Every time I have taken a stroller to the museum I have ended up frustrated, having to navigate awkwardly through huge crowds and go out of my way to find ramps and elevators.  Plus, it is SO much easier to chase after a kiddo when you’re not pushing a stroller!
2.  Discovery Room:  Hands down, our favorite place in the museum.  The room is filled with hands-on activities and artifacts, and a rotating staff of very friendly, information-filled volunteers.  Because of the size of the space and the quality of the activities, time is limited to short sessions (I think around an hour?).  Depending on attendance, you may have to wait, so show up at the room early to get a free ticket and assigned time.  The room is advertised as being appropriate for ages 5-12, but I have taken my toddlers there many times, to their great delight.  Just be aware that you will need to supervise your younger kids closely.  The cabinet of natural specimens that you can explore and touch is always a hit, as is the dinosaur dig.
3.  Milstein Hall of Ocean Life:  Besides being perhaps one of the most breathtaking rooms to behold in all of NYC, this room is a must for any museum trip involving restless, rambunctious children.  Let them get their wiggles out by rolling around on the floor under the Blue Whale, and depending on the strictness of the security guards and the thickness of the crowds maybe even play a game of tag while you’re there?
4.  Fossil Halls:  My kids don’t call it the Dinosaur Museum for nothing!  These are not-to-be-missed.
5.  Astor Turret:  While you’re weaving you way though the throngs of fossil-gazers on the 4th floor, take a break in this usually amazingly calm space.  With gorgeous views of central park, plenty of seating, and a nice large stretch of floor space, the Astor Turret is a great place to rest and recharge before heading back out into the museum fray.

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