New York Family’s 2013 Museums Guide

The Children's Museum of Manhattan; photo by Aoommiephotography.com

What’s more quintessentially New York than spending the afternoon at a history museum, walking through an art gallery, or exploring an interactive science exhibit? The metropolitan area’s myriad museums are increasingly focusing on family-friendly programming and events, taking our appetite for art and culture to new levels.

American Museum of Natural History

More than just home to the giant T-Rex dinosaur bones, AMNH boasts a range of programs and exhibits, from rainforest tours to huge IMAX presentations about space and wildlife. Be sure to check out its newest exhibit, Frogs: A Chorus of Colors. amnh.org

Brooklyn Children’s Museum

At BCM, the original children’s museum and the first LEED certified green museum, children experience the world at exactly their level. BCM offers kids a myriad of things to do, whether it’s crawling inside a pond aquarium or learning about their neighbors in World Brooklyn. Kids with special needs should also check out the Sensory Room, which offers activities that stimulate different senses. brooklynkids.org

Brooklyn Museum

Introduce your child to the rich heritage of world cultures at one of the largest art museums in the country. It offers something for everyone: Meet the Museum is a program for toddlers, Arty Facts is catered to kids 4-7, and older kids and their parentscan take classes in the Gallery/ Studio Program. brooklynmuseum.org

Children’s Museum of the Arts

With its state-of-the-art Media Lab & Sound Booth, Clay Bar, and Fine Art Studio, CMA is dedicated to extending the benefits of art to all children. The museum has exhibits meant to delight and inspire kids and offers a wide range of classes—including one for physically disabled children and their siblings. cmany.org

Children’s Museum of Manhattan

CMOM is committed to healthy living by presenting interactive exhibits that let kids learn and play at the same time. Explore its Monkey King exhibit to learn about Chinese culture, the EatPlaySleep exhibit for improving everyday health, and the new Red Grooms’ exhibit to celebrate urban living. cmom.org

DiMenna Children’s History Museum at the New York Historical Society

At the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, your budding historian can learn about the history of the city and the people in it. Check out the new Swing Time exhibit to learn about life in the 1930s or visit the Portraits of the City exhibit for breathtaking views of local monuments and skyscrapers. nyhistory.org/childrens-museum

El Museo Del Barrio

Visit New York’s leading Latino cultural institution and see the exhibit El Museo’s Bienal, which features paintings from local artists – all of whom live in the NYC metropolitan area. Bring the kids for a day of culture, art, and family programs geared toward community awareness and growth. elmuseo.org


Internationally renowned for modern and contemporary art, the Guggenheim offers Family Sundays with tours led by museum educators, intended to engage children ages 3-10. Or go anytime and borrow their family activity pack with suggested activities and games. For those who enjoy abstract lights, colors, and spaces, be sure to check out James Turrell’s exhibit. guggenheim.org

Liberty Science Center

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Come aboard one of the most successful ships in US history. The Exploreum exhibit is designed for children of all ages to learn about water, space, air, and life at sea. Future pilots can blast off in flight simulators, and daredevils will love the all-new 4D Motion Ride Theater. intrepidmuseum.org

Japan Society

Dedicated to deepening mutual understanding between the US and Japan, family programming is organized around some of Japan’s annual festivities and allows children to learn about Japanese history and culture through storytelling, crafts, and celebrations. japansociety.org

The Jewish Museum

Children will experience Jewish art and culture through projects, tours, classes, and the archeology zone, where they gain hands-on experience with ancient artifacts. Be sure to visit the Jack Goldstein exhibit and learn about the history of film art and sound. thejewishmuseum.org

Liberty Science Center

Worth the trip to New Jersey, the Liberty Science Center is home to the nation’s largest IMAX dome theater, tornado- and hurricane-force wind simulators, a pitch-black crawl-through Touch Tunnel, and the BASF Kids’ Lab (where ages 6-12 can get their hands dirty with science experiments). If you decide to make the trip, don’t miss the new Grossology exhibit where kids can learn about their own anatomy. lsc.org

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Storytime in Nolen Library, Sunday Studio, and Start with Art at the Met are just a few of this museum’s kid-friendly programs. It also offers a program for families with children who are blind or partially sighted, plus one for children over 6 who have learning or developmental disabilities. metmuseum.org

The Morgan Library & Museum

Originally the private library of Pierpont Morgan, the Morgan Library & Museum now houses all forms of manuscripts, early books, and prints. Keep an eye out for family-friendly events like the Spring Family Fair or Mr. Morgan’s sensory workshop. themorgan.org

Museum of Arts & Design

MAD explores the intersection of art, design, and craft. Kids will be especially interested in the Studio Sunday programs and the Sarah and Seth Glickenhaus Education Center—an open studio where visitors of all ages can watch artists at work and participate in the creative process. madmuseum.org

Museum of Chinese in America

MOCA is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and culture of Chinese Americans. Take your mini divas and fashion followers to the Front Row exhibit, which showcases famous Chinese American fashion designers. While there, check out the many performances, book readings, and games that are meant to entertain multi-generational families. mocanyc.org

Museum of the City of New York

Showcasing the city’s unique past and diverse heritage, the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center offers programs that teach children about NYC. Permanent collections at the museum include Activist New York — which teaches children and adults about social activism in the city. mcny.org

Museum of Math

MoMath is brand new to the museum scene and offers kids great opportunities to learn about the world from a mathematical perspective. With interactive exhibits and programs, kids can banish their fear of numbers and shapes and embrace math and its many mysteries. momath.org

Museum of the Moving Image

Kids love all things digital, so check out a weekend screening of family-friendly films. Workshops in which kids can learn about and create moving images make this museum a rainy day hit. Be sure to check out DVD Dead Drop and bring a piece of the museum home to your TV. movingimage.us

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

We all know that MoMA has interactive workshops (like MoMA Labs) and gallery talks for families, but you may be surprised to discover that the museum also offers free screenings of new and classic family films, complete with a discussion led by MoMA educators. moma.org

National Museum of the American Indian

Learn about the original inhabitants of New York at this museum in Bowling Green. Available by appointment, tours of the Haudenosaunee Discovery Room teach kids about traditional and modern American Indian life through hands-on activities. nmai.si.edu

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

New Museum

As New York’s only museum dedicated to contemporary art, the New Museum offers First Saturdays with Families—a chance for families to explore the exhibits and learn about contemporary art. The museum also hosts a Block Party in the summer that features live performances and fun activities. newmuseum.org

New York City Fire Museum

Aspiring firefighters will enjoy seeing truck and squad gear of the past and present. The museum features five permanent exhibits, including Tools and Uniforms, Romance of Firefighting, and a tribute to the 343 members of New York City’s Bravest who lost their lives on 9/11. nycfiremuseum.org

New York City Police Museum

The Junior Officers Discovery Zone allows children 3-10 to learn all about Police men and women in a fun setting. With activities for younger kids, including opportunities to wash a real Police car, as well as for older kids (crime scene observation activities), children will walk away with a greater appreciation for New York City’s defenders of the peace. nycpolicemuseum.org

New York Hall of Science

This hotspot located in Queens satisfies both children’s and adults’ curious streaks. Family workshops allow the whole family to experiment together while Preschool Place is an exciting, multi-sensory destination for little ones. While you’re there be sure to check out its touring exhibit, Wild Minds – What Animals Really Think. nysci.org

New York Transit Museum 

Subway and train fans will learn how New York’s great transportation system was created and enjoy weekend programs that incorporate science, art, and books. With a regular story hour for tots and an afterschool program for kids on the autism spectrum, this Brooklyn Heights museum is a must for all city children. mta.info

Queens County Farm Museum

New York City’s only maintained farm is both historical and a museum that’s open year-round. With events such as the Annual Queens County Fair in September, a pumpkin patch in October, and Wildlife Weekends in November, there’s always something exciting going on at the farm. queensfarm.org

Rubin Museum of Art

Art from the Himalayas may not be what first comes to mind when thinking about kids, but the Rubin Museum makes family programming a priority. Drop-in workshops, family art labs, and family days and festivals will introduce your kid to the joys of art, yaks, and yurts! rmanyc.org

Scandinavian Museum

Dedicated to preserving the history of Scandinavians who settled on the East Coast, this museum hosts a variety of programming, from an annual essay contest for 4th to 6th graders to the Danish Mardi Gras in February to Viking Fest in May. scandinavian-museum.org

Skyscraper Museum

Celebrate our vertical city with a trip to the Skyscraper Museum. Educators engage kids on topics like urbanism, architecture, and engineering through family programs such as Sidewalk Art, Skyscraper Physics, and Trash Factory. Be sure to check out its World Trade Center Dossier exhibit to learn about the events of 9/11. skyscraper.org

South Street Seaport Museum

As an extension of the Museum of the City of New York, the South Street Seaport Museum offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the city, the sea, and the seaport neighborhood. Families can participate in various activities – from making and decorating model boats, to knot-tying workshops. Come take an interactive look at NYC maps. seany.org

Staten Island Children’s Museum

Whether you enjoy playing chess with life-sized pieces or watching the birth of butterflies, the exhibits in the Staten Island Children’s Museum are sure to amaze. On weekends, families can participate in the Up4Art series, create holiday crafts, or assist museum staff as they feed and care for bugs, fish, guinea pigs, and other fine-feathered friends. statenislandkids.org

Tenement Museum

Home to more than 7,000 working class immigrants in 1863, the Tenement Museum provides visitors a unique way to appreciate the Lower East Side’s great history. With walking tours of the neighborhood and themed tours within the building (including one from an impersonated 14-year-old past resident), your family will be sure to get a good dose of exercise and knowledge. tenement.org

The Toy Museum of NY

After attending an interactive show at Queen Marlene’s Toy Theatre, tour the museum’s collection of dolls and toys of the past. Queen Marlene’s Birthday Party show invites little ones to come in costume, join the party, and, of course, have cake afterward. Come hungry! toymuseumny.org

The Whitney Museum of American Art

“Crying babies welcome!” is the tagline of Stroller Tours at the Whitney, offered for new moms and dads on select Fridays when the museum is closed to the public. Art making workshops geared toward children of various ages are also available to engage your little ones in the artistic process. whitney.org

For our piece on the city’s best museum gift shops for kids, click here.