Tips for Visiting the American Museum of Natural History with Young Kids
by Anne Siller
The following are tips that will help you enjoy the American Museum of Natural History with your favorite preschoolers and young-grade-schoolers. Toddler parents may also want to take note!
Museum Admission Prices
At the American Museum of Natural History, the admission price is suggested rather than required. Click here for the current prices. Decide the night before how much you are going to pay so that you avoid confusion at the ticket counter. AMNH is a worthy cause for a full donation, but for a big family it could get pricey. Exhibits are extra, though you can buy an all-inclusive pass. The people working the counter told me that about half the guests pay full price. The others pay what they can.
You can park at the museum, but as of May 2011, the prices on the website do not match the prices listed in the garage. Our visit lasted 2 hours 15 minutes, and we paid $31 in parking. In my book, this was worth every penny, because a long haul back to a parking lot blocks away always spells trouble for a pack of hyper kids such as mine, especially when they're overtired. There are a few garages in the area, but nothing closer than a few blocks away. Check the web for coupons—just type in Museum parking, Upper West Side NYC to get a list.
Research Current Exhibits in Advance
Check out the museum website to decide what exhibits will work best for your family. It's a big place. It’s a good idea to decide beforehand what you wouldn't want to miss. The whale, for example. You have to show them the giant whale.
The AMNH does not rent strollers, but you can check a folded stroller at the coat check for $2. In my opinion, a cheapie umbrella stroller is a good investment for any family with toddlers and preschoolers. There are a lot of stairs in this museum and the elevators are slllloooowww. My kids usually derailed while we were waiting for the elevator to arrive. If I had thought to bring an umbrella stroller for my 21-month-old (instead of the behemoth double stroller we brought) I would have simply folded it up and we would have walked the stairs. Also remember that even bigger preschoolers who have literally thrown themselves out of the stroller in the past may enjoy the exhibit more while sitting and rolling. It may make the difference between staying and going.
The cafeteria looks great, but it's expensive. Better to save your money for the endless stuff they'd like to purchase in the gift store (see below). And here's another invaluable tip: Feed them in the car just before you arrive. Have breakfast before you leave home and then a snack while you are parking. Hyper is one thing, hyper and hungry is another.
In theory, I would advise that you strategically locate all the gift shops on the map so you can avoid them; however, special exhibits often feed right into their strategically placed gift shop. It's inevitable. So I recommend budgeting for it according to your own inclinations, and preparing them well. Repeat after me: No, you can't have an electron microscope! But yes, you can have that squishy, rubber tube thingy filled with floating dinosaurs. Isn't it cool?Rehearse it beforehand. I have a friend who never buys on impulse from gift shops. If her kids want to buy stuff, they must remember to bring their own money. You'd think they would have learned this by this time (they're 9 and 11), but they always beg anyway. So she gets out her "No's" in the car on the way there. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no. Got that, kids? That should take care of the first twelve times you ask me if I'll buy you stuff when we're there."
Help Them Avoid Getting Lost
Sometimes exhibits, and other areas of the museum, are dimly lit. I would suggest bright clothes so you can spot a kid in the crowd, and if you have several children, you might want to dress the in the same colors if possible, which makes them easier to spot when they are together. But it's even more important, before you set out, to note WHAT they are wearing, so that if they become lost, the guards have more information. The first time my children went to AMNH, my older son took off and we couldn't find him for about 10 minutes. The museum guards were very helpful. But we couldn't remember what he was wearing; fortunately, he has bright red hair, which helped, but we learned from our mistake. We now start the day at any such outing with a phone snapshot of all of our kids. So when they bolt, we know what to tell the security staff. (What a charmed life I lead.)
Become the Tour Guide
After you research which exhibits you'll be visiting, brush up a bit on your own. With a little research ahead of time (books, websites) you can guide your kids through the exhibit. When their attention starts to wane, you can dazzle them with your knowledge: "Did you know that scientists estimate Sauropods passed about 50 liters of gas each day! Yes! I believe that is more than Daddy!"
Ask the Tour Guide
The AMNH has many knowledgeable volunteers, all of them willing to fill you in on the details of the exhibit. Help your kids to learn what the resources are by taking advantage of these enthusiastic, knowledgeable people. Ask. Show your kids how to ask their own questions, too. Really. That's what these people live for.
Take a break
Central Park beckons right outside the door of the AMNH, and it’s a nice place to sit if you packed a lunch. The little ones can run some of the stress off (it's hard to behave for so long!) and parents can take a load off. Just remember your ticket if you want to get back in to the museum.
©Anne Siller Anne Siller is a writer based in the Hudson Valley. In addition to writing for KidsOutAndAbout.com, she edits HyperKidsTravel.com, which helps parents of very active kids navigate travel both locally and far from home. Send comments or suggestions to AnneHSiller@hotmail.com.