Before we get into today’s post, I just want to wish everyone a very happy Valentine’s Day! I loved Mandy’s idea for a Valentine’s photo card, so I made one for all of our readers 🙂
Of course, while I was looking for a cute photo of Boo to use for the card, I realized that just about every picture I took of him over the past three months was of him playing in snow. That tells you something about the kind of winter we’ve been having!
I hope everyone has a wonderful day full of love, hugs, and plenty of kisses 🙂
Now, onto today’s post…
As Mandy said in her post about fun winter break ideas, this upcoming week may find us a little more stir-crazy than usual what with the being trapped indoors by 30-inch snow drifts and all. So this school vacation week may be the perfect time to explore a little bit farther from home. Perhaps cross the border into one of our neighboring states? Well, if you’re looking for such a destination, I have a suggestion for you: the Providence Children’s Museum. This museum is even a member of the reciprocal museum program so if you belong to one of our local museums that offers a reciprocal membership–and you purchased that level of membership–you can get in for free (until 4/1/13, then the reciprocal program is changing and you will receive half off admission at all ACM museums that accept the reciprocal membership).
As Ocean State natives, hubby and I frequently make the short trip back to visit our loved ones who still live there (click here for some travel tips on heading to Providence). And we’re having a wonderful time showing Boo some of the places that we loved as kids. Of course, most of these places have undergone some radical change in the quarter century since we frequented them. The Children’s Museum is no exception. This museum actually changed locations entirely! So I was particularly excited to check out the new space in downtown Providence. (I mean, how can you NOT have fun in a building with a giant dragon on top of it?!)
This new building is much bigger than the museum’s previous home. But if I had to find one negative about this location, it would have to be the parking situation. Now, we went on a Saturday morning, which is probably prime time for museum visitors. Not surprisingly, the small-ish parking lot on the side of the building was completely packed. And people were circling in it already, waiting to snatch up the next available space.
Fortunately, there is also some street parking down the road from the building. Unfortunately, it means you might have a little bit of a hike to get to the museum. The spaces are mostly metered (and yes, here you have to feed them on Saturdays) and have a two-hour time limit. Oh, and they only seem to accept quarters. I lost about five dimes before I realized it wasn’t counting those. Oops!
So as you can see, the walk was not too far for us, and that is on a busy museum day.
If you do end up walking down the street like we did, don’t be confused by this door on the street side, which looks like a front entrance. It’s only for school groups.
Instead, head around the side (toward the parking lot) for the main entrance.
Notice that little sign board out front. It has some information about strollers in the museum. Although you can bring a stroller into the museum, they ask that you not bring a large stroller. You’ll see why once we go in. Don’t worry if you only packed your giant jogging stroller though. The museum will provide you with a compact umbrella stroller to use during your visit. If you plan to use one of the provided strollers, make sure to leave yours in the car as there really isn’t any place to stash a stroller inside.
As soon as you walk in, you’ll see the ticket desk where you can purchase your admission tickets. If you are taking advantage of the reciprocal program, make sure to bring your membership documentation from the museum that issued it, as well as a valid ID.
There is no food or drink allowed in the exhibits. I know that might cause some alarm, especially amongst those of you with toddlers (toddlers always seem to want a snack, don’t they?). But I promise you, they will be so busy once they get inside that they will not even remember that food exists 🙂
You won’t find any printed maps at the ticket desk, but there is a large map of each floor posted on a wall right where you enter the museum. If you want to brush up before you go, you can read more about the exhibits here.
You’ll find an unattended coat room past the ticket desk (it’s sort of straight back and around a corner after you enter the museum, so you probably won’t see it unless you are actively looking for it).
Here are the umbrella strollers that are available for use. You’ll find them hanging in the coat room.
Now, the first floor contains a giant water table exhibit (I’ll show you that later). I’m telling you this because you may want to navigate your little one right up to the second floor so that you can experience all the dry activities before they start splashing in the Water Ways exhibit. If you quickly head right and toward the ramps to the second floor, your little one won’t even know you’ve bypassed it.
Up on the second floor there are so many things to explore. I found it really difficult to capture them all because the space is not huge and there were so many people milling about that day. I’ll try to give you an idea of all the activities. First, there is this long row filled with little nooks, each with its own activity.
At the far end is a room filled with giant cushy blocks. Boo loved this room.
Over this way you’ll also find this slightly creepy but much beloved giant doll.
This is the same doll that spent decades in the old Children’s Museum. How do I know? Because I have pictures of me with her when I was about 8 (my mom looked really hard for the pictures but she hasn’t been able to find any; if one ever surfaces, I’ll definitely include it in this post 🙂 ) Understandably, Boo was rather terrified of her. But lots of kids love her and parents love snapping pics of their little ones on her lap. (Pay close attention as you walk past or you may end up in someone’s family photo by mistake!)
Across from the doll is a super cute area called Little Woods.
This separate space is for kids ages 4 and under (and a caregiver–you can’t just drop off your kid in here). It is completely gated, and has lots of fun activities for toddlers. (Please excuse all the glare in my pictures; the sun was at a terrible angle for photography and my skills are questionable to begin with!)
Boo’s favorite activity in Little Woods was–surprise, surprise–the slide.
There’s even a “Baby Nest”, a padded, fully-enclosed (it’s hard to tell from the photo, but there is plexiglass all the way around), playpen-type thing where you can let your littlest one stretch out safely.
Very important. Right across from Little Woods you’ll find the second floor restrooms. There are three individual bathrooms, and one (the middle one, yellow door) is marked as having a baby changing station (which it does).
On the second level you’ll also find a reading area.
And a cute area with all kinds of vehicles for the kids to play with or climb on.
The kids can even dress up in construction gear.
But my favorite part of the second floor, and perhaps the whole museum, was this time travel tunnel detailing the history of my home state.
This exhibit is a long tunnel with different rooms that chronicle the history of Rhode Island with interactive pretend play and true stories about real kids from each era.
You can explore a 17th century ship.
An industrial mill building.
In here we found a peg board with all kinds of interlocking gears. I don’t know who had more fun with this one, Boo or his engineer daddy 🙂
There is also an old farmhouse.
And an old-fashioned general store.
And all along the way you’ll find descriptive plaques chronicling the history and the stories.
We probably could have spent the whole visit upstairs with all these awesome activities, but I was really excited to show Boo the water table room. I was so sure he was going to love it. So we headed back down the ramp (very stroller friendly, I might add), and went to explore the first floor. You can’t miss these fun animal puzzles. How cute!
As a side note, the restrooms on the first floor are located right behind these puzzles. Same deal as upstairs.
The two main exhibits on this floor are Play Power and Water Ways. Play Power has some more sophisticated activities than the foam blocks and bead mazes we found upstairs.
There is a giant pipe that really plays when you pull the knobs.
A maze of vacuum tubes that suck up and spit out colorful scarves and lightweight balls.
Boo was totally mesmerized by this. He had to check it out from every angle 🙂
The main area of this exhibit has all kinds of neat things to explore, like a geometric jungle gym, an oversized “Lite-Brite” (am I dating myself with that toy reference?), a wall of fish tanks, and so many other things.
Even hubby found another mechanical-type activity to enjoy. Here’s the shot where he’s telling me that absolutely, under no circumstances am I to include this picture on the blog. Whoops 🙂
So at long last we were ready to bring Boo to the Water Ways exhibit.
I was so excited. I was sure he was going to love it. And he might have. Except for the fact that he refused to put on one of these smocks available in various sizes near the entrance to the exhibit. (There is also a hand dryer here in case you need to do a little drying off post water play.)
Now, I don’t think the smocks are required or anything, but let’s just say your little one will be soaked through in two seconds flat if you don’t have them wear a smock. Hubby thought this would be a good time to take a stand against Boo’s arbitrary refusal to wear certain clothing items (like socks, shoes, coats, hats), and it didn’t go well. There was an embarrassing scene involving kicking and screaming. Turns out the allure of water toys was not enough to convince my stubborn Boo to don a smock. I didn’t understand it. How could a 2-year-old pass all this up?
Sigh. Just a reminder that the only thing predictable about toddlers is that they will be unpredictable.
Turns out it was lunch time anyway, and our 2-hour meter was about to expire as well. Since there is no food available at the museum, we knew we would have to head out anyway. (UPDATE: I did not know this at the time, but I have since learned through a reader comment that there is a lunchroom in the museum where you can enjoy your own snack or lunch that you bring with you.) Side note: you can leave the museum and come back as many times as you want in one day; just keep your receipt for proof that you already purchased admission. It might also be a good idea to mention that you are leaving and coming back to one of the nice folks at the ticket desk, just so you can be sure there won’t be any confusion when you return.
Of course, we couldn’t keep Boo’s Grandy out of the gift shop. Heaven forbid she leave without finding him a little present 🙂
We found this fun, oversized coloring book filled with lots of animals and these neat crayons that can fit over little fingers (or are just easier for little hands to grasp).
Look at my little Picasso!
After we finished up in the gift shop, we just headed back to my mom’s house, but if you want to do some exploring in Providence, pick up one of these free maps available at the gift shop counter.
There are lots of other fun things to do in this city. Check out this website for more ideas including the Roger Williams Park Zoo, shopping destinations, and dining suggestions. There’s even an ice skating rink downtown during the winter months. You can also visit this website for even more family-friendly activities.
Providence Children’s Museum
100 South Street, Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401) 273-5437
Get directions here:
(See Travel Tips below for additional information)
Hours & Admission:
September to March:
- Open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
- Open select Friday evenings until 8:00 PM.
- Closed Mondays except holidays and public school vacations.
- Closed Thanksgiving Day and December 24 & 25.
- Open daily, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and select Friday evenings until 8:00 PM.
- The museum is designed for kids ages 1 to 11, but I would say that the younger end of that spectrum will enjoy it the most. There are definitely tons of things that toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school kids will adore.
- I would recommend that you wait until your child is walking (early walkers are fine) before visiting this museum. Most of the exhibits require that the kids be able to move around by themselves.
- There is a small-ish (free) parking lot adjacent to the museum and additional metered street parking nearby. Bring quarters (just quarters) in case you need to park at a meter. There is a two-hour time limit on the meters.
- The museum is made up of pretty tight spaces. Although you are allowed to bring in a stroller, make sure it’s not a big one (for your sake and everyone else’s).
- Compact umbrella strollers are available (no charge) for use inside the museum. You’ll find them hanging in the coat room. They are either lightish green or grey (so if you see a bright red one, chances are that belongs to someone else).
- There are long smocks available, but nonetheless you may want to bring an extra set of clothes for your little one in case things get a little out of hand at the water tables 🙂
- No food or drink is served anywhere inside the museum. There is a lunchroom where you can enjoy your own lunch or snack that you bring with you (no food or drink is allowed in the exhibits). Also, you can feel free to leave the museum for lunch and then come back later in the day. Just be sure to save your receipt when you purchase admission and tell someone at the ticket desk that you are leaving but plan to come back.
- Click here to read more about the exhibits.
- There are also some great outdoor exhibits but unfortunately it was too cold for us to be able to see any of those. Next visit!
- The Route: We’ve made the drive from the Hartford area to Providence so many times I couldn’t even count. By far, the best, least stressful, quickest and most enjoyable way to get there is by taking CT-2 East to I-395 North to US-6 East (and then follow signs for I-95 into Providence from there). It will take you between an hour and 15 minutes and an hour and a half. When consulting Google Maps or GPS, you may find other routes (like taking US-6 all the way) are shorter in terms of mileage, but due to the nature of the road, they will not get you there faster.
- The Rest Area: Another perk to taking the above route is that there is a pair of newly renovated rest areas on I-395 situated just about where it meets up with US-6 (in both directions). This happens to be almost the mid-point of the trip (what a perfect location!) It has a gas station, very clean restrooms (which I am almost positive have a baby changing station–I’ll double-check on my next trip), a Dunkin Donuts, plus a large convenience market with beverages and snacks.
- The Disclaimer: For Rhode Islanders, a running inside joke is that we all give directions based on landmarks that used to be there (i.e. turn right at the light where the Dunkin Donuts used to be; turn left at the corner where the McDonald’s was; go straight past the old bank building; etc.). The thing is, there is a lot of truth in that. Something is always under construction. Some road or intersection or highway entrance ramp is always closed. So I would suggest consulting the Providence Children’s Museum’s website to get the most accurate directions to the museum once you arrive in the area. Those are updated regularly and will account for road closures and construction detours that your GPS may not have information about.
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