Guys. We are seriously lucky. We get to raise our kids in the same city as the best children's museum in the country http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehkj45fihl/childrens-museum-indianapolis/. It's also the biggest children's museum in the country. And that can feel a bit overwhelming for a helicopter mom with a giant stroller and a ceaseless need for Starbucks (is that just me? Oh... ok)
We're beginning our fourth year as Children's Museum members and visit about once a month. I fancy myself a pro at getting the most out of every visit. Here's how to wiggle your way around the best and biggest children's museum like the mom ninja you are.
Before you go:
There are two different schools of thought when it comes to the perfect time of day to arrive at the museum. The obvious first choice is to get there at 9:55 and open the place up. This is what most people do because it correlates with the early afternoon nap time. You know what else it correlates with? FIELD TRIPPERS. I like to go around 2:00 (when the big kids and their chaperons are long gone) and stay until closing time. This works well for me because my oldest no longer naps and I could care less what time of day my two-year-old naps (#SecondChildSyndrome).
The food from the food court is the bomb, but it's pricey. If your kids are anything like mine, they eat three bites of lunch and are ready to sprint to the Dinosphere. I always pack lunch for the kids and buy lunch for myself. (They have awesome wraps and salads, but my fave is the black bean burger.) My kids are thrilled to have their usual PBJ while I appreciate a good meal (that goes in my mouth and not in the trash).
Leave the DSLR at home. Look, photography is great and everyone wants amazing memories of their child exploring the Museum. But don't be THAT mom who is holding up the line at the TMNT pizza thrower thing because you have to take 30+ pictures (with different settings, natch) of your kid. Snap one with your iPhone and move on.
The parking garage is huge and offers tons of covered parking. The walkway is on the 3rd floor of the parking garage, so park near there if you can find a spot. If the weather is nice, go for the ground parking just north of the Museum. Taking that route gives you a cool view of the dinosaurs climbing through the entry as well as the stone sculptures of major landmarks from all over the world.
Keep your coat in your car unless the temps are crazy cold. Can't bear to walk the ramp in just a sweater? Take advantage of the lockers just east of the lobby. If you have a stroller, you can always store coats in there instead... you know, if you don't care if there is room for your kid.
Don't rush through the lobby. Aside from the massive Bumblebee and dinosaurs, there are always cool mini-exhibits that change regularly. The staff members that greet museum goers are often dressed as characters coordinating with the newest exhibit (like April from TMNT and Beauty and the Beast's Belle from the Pirates and Princesses exhibit). Museum mascot Rex is usually there giving high fives and fist bumps, too!
Grab a map. Even if you know the place inside and out, the maps are updated regularly and feature detailed info about the new and changing exhibits.
Where to start?
If you get there right at 10am, consider heading straight to the top or directly to Playscape (where there are no field trippers - whoot whoot!). Most visitors start in the Dinosphere or beeline it to whatever the newest exhibit is on the second floor. However, if you see a short line at the Chocolate Slide/Jolly Days Slide, take advantage! I repeat: TAKE ADVANTAGE! We usually skip this because the line gets so, so long and my kids just don't have the patience (and neither do I).
Don't be afraid to check out an exhibit that is geared toward bigger or littler kids (with the exception of Playscape, which is for kids five and under). My kids are five and two and they love love love ScienceWorks and Treasures of the Earth, both of which are geared toward school-age kids. All the exhibits have hands-on features and are even exciting for the parents.
The Museum staff and volunteers are amazing. They know so many cool facts and stories that you wouldn't necessarily be privy to unless you engage with them. Chat up the paleontologists working in the lab. Ask questions of the volunteers outside of ScienceWorks. Your kids will be mesmerized to talk to real-life scientists and you'll learn something, too!
The carousel (located of the fourth floor) is an absolute must. It's majestic, beautiful and an important part of Indianapolis history. It was once an attraction at Broad Ripple Park! The staff goes above and beyond to make the ride fun and engaging for the kids.
The lower level is my favorite and what you'd consider the "classic" Children's Museum exhibits. My kids would be content if the only two exhibits they saw were Dinosphere and All Aboard! They've seen them countless times and never tire of them. They've been a mainstay at the Museum for-ev-er and there's good reason for that.
Time to Split:
It's easy to run right past the gift shop to avoid the "oooooh, can I get this? How about this? But I neeeeeeed that!" from your kids. I get it. But the gift shop is actually one of the most hands on parts of the Museum! It's filled with train and activity tables that feature Magformers, Zoobs, that squishy sand stuff that claims not to make a mess, and so much more. My kids love it and I usually can get outta there without buying anything.
At the top of the ramp lies the InfoZone, which I consider my secret Museum cavern. It's part of the Indianapolis Public Library and is an easy way to drop off those overdue books and pick up new materials featuring museum subject matter (dinosaurs, trains, China, and tons more). I like to get a bag of books and take a bathroom break before heading home.
Splurge on the +2 membership, which covers everyone in your house plus two guests. All the marketing the Museum does is true. It pays for itself during the second visit.
Worried about losing your kid? Have your little ones keep one of your business cards (or a mommy card - https://www.tinyprints.com/shop/mommy--contact-cards.htm) in their pocket. My five year old knows to show the card to another mom and say, "Can you call my mom?" Thankfully, we've never had to use it, but I feel better knowing we have a plan.
Nursing at the Museum is a breeze. They have dedicated nursing rooms within Playscape that are like the Beyonce of nursing rooms (we're talking dimmer lights, glider chairs, and TVs playing Sesame Street to occupy big sibs). Two other quiet, semi-private places to nurse include the Big, Bad, and Bizarre extension of the Dinosphere and the Power of Children exhibit.
Have questions? Send a tweet to @TCMIndy. They are awesome at responding and are a wealth of knowledge.
Oh, and there's a Starbucks to your immediate left after you check in to the museum. Cheers!