You remember my friend Audrey, right? She’s the one who got all holly and jolly on the Shore Line Trolley back in December. Well, today she’s here on the blog again, covering a destination update that is loooong overdue: The NEW Imagine Nation Museum in Bristol, CT.
Now technically, the Museum itself isn’t new. In fact, Mandy wrote about this popular CT destination back in 2012. But in the past couple years it’s been completely renovated and, yes, reimagined as a true early learning center. And Audrey and “Bug” are here to give you all the details 🙂
Thank you to Imagine Nation for giving my family complimentary admission to the museum for the purpose of writing this post. All opinions are 100% my own.
As I sit here writing, cozied up at my computer in the midst of a March blizzard complete with snow, freezing rain, and winds that make outdoor play just about impossible, I am reminded why any CT parent needs to have a solid supply of quality indoor play locations to survive these winter months. Not that we could leave the house today anyway, but I digress.
We’ve taken Bug to an array of museums both in and out of state (KidCity in Middletown, The Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, The Lutz Museum in Manchester, and The Boston Children’s Museum, just to name a few favorites), but until Shawna asked me to take a trip out to the recently renovated Imagine Nation Museum Early Learning Center in Bristol this February, I’ll admit we’d never been! And truly, we were missing out. Mandy did a post about Imagine Nation in 2012 and, while several things remain the same (including parking, for which this map still applies), a lot has changed.
Imagine Nation, which happens to be a division of the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center, adopted the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning back in 2015 for both the museum and adjoining preschool. The museum’s three floors house an impressive twelve themed, interactive studios that are sure to keep your little one busy. Bug is a very curious and active three-year-old; we hung out at the museum for a good couple of hours, and we still didn’t see everything. In my opinion, the exhibits are fantastic for a wide range of ages and would be engaging for children both younger and older than my little guy.
As previously mentioned, parking remains unchanged and is still located behind the museum. There are a few one-way streets around the museum and I’ll admit we got a bit turned around trying to find the parking lot, but if you reference Mandy’s aforementioned map you shouldn’t have a problem (I, rather foolishly, didn’t pay it much mind):
Upon entering the museum you’ll find a small, diner-inspired cafe adjacent to the admission desk with some lighter fare and (fair warning) ice cream.
Food and beverages (including coffee you may or may not have procured off-premises) are not permitted in the museum itself though, so you’ll need to plan on either finishing your treats in the lobby cafe or checking out the exhibits first and then pausing to enjoy some refreshments on your way out. I did also notice some picnic tables outside of the museum, so in nicer weather you could always bring a lunch with you and soak up some sunshine while you dine.
Once we passed through the interior doors past the cafe and into the museum proper, we were greeted by the museum’s Reggio Emilia inspired mission statement and a colorfully painted cityscape.
However, Bug immediately took a hard right and went straight for the Science & Energy exhibit – the first of the twelve interactive studios we visited on our trip. He was entranced by experimenting with different materials in the “wind tunnel” and enjoyed playing with magnets too.
We then took a roundabout way to the Farm to Table studio that is also on the first floor (which could be entered more directly if you go straight when you enter the exhibit area), but we paused to “mail” a few postcards first.
Most of the animals in the Farm to Table studio are not real, but there is a very sweet bunny kids can say hello to housed directly under the flight of stairs leading to the second floor.
Bug obviously took more interest in the “Farm” portion of the “Farm to Table” studio, but it did indeed include an area just beyond the cow pictured above that was set up like a home kitchen and dining area. As someone who can be a bit of a gardening geek, I love how this exhibit’s flow reinforced the connection between farms and food!
Before heading upstairs to check out floors two and three of the museum I did what I think most toddler parents do (or at least I hope I’m not the only one) and scoped out the bathroom situation. For inquiring minds, there is a men’s room and ladies’ room on either side of the first floor (men’s room toward the left upon entering, ladies’ room to the right), and a family restroom complete with changing table. There is a second family restroom, also with changing table, in roughly the same spot on the second floor.
I make a point of telling you because, hey, I’d like to know! Upstairs Bug was immediately drawn to the Design & Engineering Studio, sponsored by GE.
Or should I say, he was drawn to the large robot immediately outside of the studio. He would later remark that this was his favorite part of the whole trip (though, admittedly, he seemed kind of intimidated at the time).
I was impressed by this studio too and I’d imagine this area would be very engaging for older children in particular.
I mean, come on, they have a 3D printer and a laser cutter!
Like the sign says, the 3D printer and laser cutter are not currently available for public use, but the museum staff do create projects to assemble with pieces printed and cut by the equipment. On the day we were at the museum there were cardboard “pine cones” to assemble.
While I was interested in trying it out, Bug was more interested in the flashy Light & Reflection studio just beyond the project table.
Nearby, there were also the Multicultural and Wellness studios.
I swear my husband doesn’t really hold infants that way. Bug particularly enjoyed pretending to be a doctor, checking on the babies and giving Mommy an exam in the full-sized dental chair that is part of the studio.
Where he spent the longest concentrated period of time playing, though, was probably in the room just beyond the Wellness studio…the “Blue Block” room.
I love play areas like this. Bug loves to build and we certainly don’t have blocks this big at home, so it’s always fun!
There was also a gorgeous Art studio on the second floor and a small, toasty Wildlife studio with some cold-blooded creatures to check out…
…but because Bug is three and knows what he does and definitely does not want to do, he pretty much breezed by these areas and went straight for the Water studio.
Thanks to one of the provided raincoats, Bug did remain fairly dry even during his water play. This studio is also home to the giant bubble ring pictured on the museum’s website, but I could not get it to work for the life of me.
Others had more luck than I did and, in hindsight, I think speed may be the key to making a decent bubble. I was trying too hard to very slowly and carefully lift the ring and that just didn’t work.
Last, but certainly not least, we visited the third floor which houses the Imagine Nation Playbox Theater. This was probably one of my personal favorite areas of the museum and it is relatively new.
I didn’t get a ton of quality photos, but it’s mostly because I was enjoying the exhibit with my son! The tiny black box style theater is set up with props and costumes for a fairy tale story; the day we were there it was Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but I was told different stories will cycle through. There was also a copy of the story on a shelf in the studio that you could read while your child acted out the parts if they chose to do so and a working “light board” that kids could use to control the “stage” and “house” lights. Too fun!
By the time we finished our journey through all three floors of the museum we were all pretty tired and hungry so we headed back downstairs to gather our coats and make the trip home. However, it’s also worth noting Imagine Nation does have a very cute fenced-in playground behind the museum!
The outdoor play area is shared with the in-house preschool, so it is only open to museum patrons when it is not being used by the school, but that still leaves plenty of time for the public to enjoy the area.
Obviously there is a lot to do and see at Imagine Nation so we didn’t get to spend a ton of time in each studio, but I really look forward to going back and exploring things further! Next time it may even be warm enough to enjoy the playground too. A girl can dream, right? 😉
More about Audrey: Audrey Beatty is a work-at-home mom and proud CT native. Before becoming a mother, Audrey made her career working in marketing and development capacities at various notable nonprofits including The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network. Audrey now works from home assisting with grant writing for CPBN. Additionally, she manages a direct sales business as a consultant for Norwex, helping create safe havens by sharing practical, cost-effective cleaning and personal care products that reduce household chemicals and waste. She also volunteers doing fundraising and volunteer recruitment for local arts-for-youth organization, Epoch Arts. In her (incredibly precious) spare time, she loves birding with her husband, painting, and playing outside with her son.
Imagine Nation Museum, A Museum Early Learning Center
Phone: (860) 314-1400
Sunday: 11am-5pm (Closed on Sundays starting April 2nd)
$10.00 per visitor
Stroller Friendly: YES
Coffee Mug Friendly: NO (with the exception of the lobby cafe; food and drinks are not allowed inside the museum exhibit area)
Baby Changing Station: YES
Food for Sale: YES. See the cafe menu here.
Outside Food Allowed: YES
Cash Required: NO
Dress Code: Dress for play! The museum is highly interactive and there are a couple of exhibits where kids could potentially get wet or messy.
Age Recommendation: We think this museum is great for toddlers through age 8 (and their grownups will find it entertaining as well!).
Evening/Weekend Hours: YES
Birthday Party Venue: YES. More info here.
Discounts: Year Long Family Membership is available for $140.00. Imagine Nation is also an ACM reciprocal program participant. You can also check your local library for 50% admission passes, though special events are not included.
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