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Whether you're stuck inside because of inclement weather or you're looking for something particularly kid-friendly to do on a family vacation, a comprehensive, well-balanced and creative children's museum can go a long way in curing a case of pent-up energy.
Many towns throughout the United States have something that passes as a children's museum, but here are 10 that get an extra thumbs-up and might even be worth scheduling a vacation around.
1. Madison Children's Museum (Madison, Wisconsin)
The focus is on nature and environmental awareness at this Wisconsin-based kids' museum. Activities include collecting eggs from chicken coops, planting in a garden and learning about the natural world with a scavenger hunt using a reusable treasure map.
2. Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, New York)
Combined with the National Toy Hall of Fame and the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, this collections-based museum is designed for hands-on play. Among the highlights are a huge comic collection, lots of oversize board games, a working carousal and a life-size pop-up book. There is also a butterfly garden on site.
Located on the waterfront, San Francisco's Exploratorium tackles the mysteries of science with interesting exhibits that help explain how everything from skateboarding to the human body works. Other hands-on activities include an experimental laboratory and a scientific funhouse.
4. Children's Museum Indianapolis (Indianapolis)
The world's largest children's museum sits on 29 acres and is packed with hands-on exhibits. Perhaps the most impressive thing about it are the 120,000 artifacts and specimens also on display. As you wander through the grounds, keep an eye open for retro Barbie dolls, authentic dinosaur fossils and a samurai suit of armor.
5. Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia)
We couldn't have named this two-story building any better if we'd tried. The Flight Fantasy room is perfect for the mini-astronaut in your life, and older kids will enjoy having tea in the themed "Alice of Wonderland" area. The Please Touch Museum is located in Fairmount Park, so after the children' museum, you won't have to travel far for the local zoo or a playground.
6. Boston Children's Museum (Boston)
This eco-friendly museum encourages kids to embrace anything that entices their imagination with exhibits dedicated to art, music, science and more. The Construction Zone is a particularly popular area where kids can build to their hearts' content — and even ride in a real Bobcat.
7. Minnesota Children's Museum (St. Paul)
Kids are encouraged to learn about four recreated local habitats (pond, forest, prairie and caves) as they crawl through the Habitot at the Minnesota Children's Museum. In the World Works exhibit, the little ones are immersed in a water-centric world, where they can race boats and even make their own paper. Spend time at the four-story climber if your explorers still need to run off energy.
Combining play with educational opportunities, this museum gives kids the opportunities to decipher hieroglyphics while searching for Pharaoh's lost tomb, and learn about life on a farm by planting seeds, milking cows and brushing a horse. One of the highlights is the three-story KidWorks area, which has zip lines, tunnels and slides.
9. City Museum (St. Louis)
The City Museum is unlike any other children's museum you've ever seen and is almost as fun and fascinating for parents as it is for kids. This innovative playspace is a piece of artwork in and of itself made from repurposed objects such as old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes and even two abandoned airplanes. Kids are welcome to play and explore on everything. Make sure your kids are wearing closed-toe shoes and pants when you visit.
10. Center of Science and Industry (Columbus, Ohio)
This science center encourages questioning and experimentation with more than 300 hands-on experiments in 10 permanent exhibits about space, oceans, the human body and more. An on-site planetarium is likely to be of interest to parents as well as children.