For most museum lovers, these institutions offer a peaceful, relaxing, and educational haven where one can learn at their own pace and with quiet reflection. Having kids can turn these visits into stressful experiences, where you are always on high alert in order to prevent your kids from damaging works of art or even just touching them. Now, imagine a museum where they not only allow your child to touch things, but actually invite them to. Sound amazing? Well, in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia, such as place does exist called Please Touch Museum.
The museum, which opened in 2008, is located in Memorial Hall–built in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition art gallery. The Beaux-Arts style building was also once home to a few other famed institutions, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Please Touch Museum has a generous three acres of space that houses about a dozen permanent exhibits. They also have a space dedicated to a visiting exhibition, usually in partnership with companies behind popular children’s characters.
Right behind the admissions desk is Hamilton Hall, where sunlight streaming through the glass dome of Memorial Hall not only makes it the perfect place for us to organize our belongings, but also to decide which zones to visit first. As New Yorkers, our kiddos find Leo Sewell’s sculpture of the Statue of Liberty’s torch (made of toys!) a welcoming piece that reminds them that home is just a couple hours drive away.
One of the first such decisions we make is determining when we will go for our spin on the Woodside Park Dentzel Carousel. The carousel is over a hundred years old and was lovingly restored after running for half a century in nearby Woodside Park. Today, the 52 animals dance under glimmering lights and provide joy to museum visitors in Memorial Hall. On our first visit in 2016, we rode a few of the carousel’s elegant horses; however, our big guy wanted to ride some of the other animals this time and selected four rabbits, four cats, two pigs and two goats.
After visiting the carousel, the next decision to make is which way to turn from Hamilton Hall. Located to the right side, the River Adventures area features amazingly large water play tables with pumps, dams, and jets that move the water, all while teaching kids about the forces affecting the water flow. Among the water wheels, float boats and rubber duckies, it is always hard to get the kids to leave Schuylkill River and move on to other exhibits.
Luckily, on the other side of the hall is Roadside Attractions, where children can practice their motor skills while trying to build cars and operate backhoe machines. The zone has many different vehicles to climb into, but we particularly love getting into the trolley for a pretend ride.
One particular part of the museum where we make a point of staying awhile is Wonderland. Yes, from the book Alice in Wonderland,and in true Alice form, kids are invited down the “rabbit hole” by way of a ramp with wondrous lighting and wall fixtures along with toys that beckon to the little ones. Here, we love to have pretend tea with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. Or rather, the kids play with adorable tea sets while mom and dad get to sit down for a few minutes. After they have had their fill, we are off to “paint” some roses, walk through fun play spots in the hedge maze, and study the optical illusions in the Hall of Mirrors.
Make sure to catch the temporary exhibit as well. This season until May 6th, your kids will find their friend Sid the Science Kid and his crew. In a collaboration between The Magic House and The Jim Henson Company, they created an almost exact replica of the playground that Sid and his friends play in on the show. With one wall playing videos of a couple of the show’s theme songs, you really feel like you walked into your TV to meet the characters. Our three-year-old loved the “breakfast time” part of Sid’s home as well, where you can continue to play with kitchen equipment and plastic food toys. They also have the Super Fab Lab, where bigger kids can investigate everyday science questions and pretend to be science kids themselves.
There is so much more of the museum to see as well, such as the Rocket Room where our son loves to assemble and launch rockets in the air, the Centennial Exploration room which is heaven for train lovers, and the blue foam blocks world of Imagination Playground. Please Touch Museum guarantees a fun time and happy worn out kids (and parents!) who have learned many new facts while playing to their heart’s content. Finally, in the words of our beloved Sid, it is an “uper-duper-ooper-schmooper good time!”