This beautiful museum devoted to educating kids through experiential learning is nestled adjacent to Pasadena’s world famous Rose Bowl. Museeum KIDS had a blast exploring every nook and cranny, we didn’t want to leave! We would be weekly visitors if we only lived closer, and recommend those who do to take advantage of what this gem of a place has to offer. I can foresee this museum becoming one of our favorite places to visit for years to come.
The non-profit institution believes in children discovering their own learning style. They promote “free range learning” by providing a relevant and inspiring learning space which encourages kids to learn at their own pace and focus on things that are most interesting to them. The museum started in 1979 at the California Institute of Technology and has gone through several locations, until a 2-year renovation took place in 2002 of the historic Fannie Morrison Horticultural Center at Brookside Park in the Arroyo Seco, where it is today. It features 2.2 acres of outdoor gardens and learning spaces. There are many ongoing events throughout the year, such as Free Family Nights on the first Tuesday of every month, classes, camps, performance series, and special holiday events.
From initial entry until we said our goodbyes, the museum did not cease to engage and delight. The tunnel at the main entrance is an interactive mosaic featuring various textures, colors, and plasma panels. It’s beautiful and so much fun for the kids as they walk and feel their way through everything at their eye level. The Taper Early Childhood Learning Center is for ages 3 and under, and is a safe no-shoe area for young ones to explore into nests, roll balls down tunnels, stack shapes, and crawl up and down soft objects. They offer many daily activities and programs in the space ranging from story time and music time to wonder box exploration – a true sensory experience. It’s a nice respite for parents to sit and watch their kids roam freely. Our 4-year-old, although a little old for the room, was having fun swinging in the nest and playing pretend. Our 2-year-old was busy experimenting with everything in sight.
The Greenhouse at the central courtyard was instantly intriguing for our daughter who is familiar with greenhouses from trips to the arboretum. The inside is not what you would expect to see in a traditional greenhouse. Since it is currently a testing platform for programs which will debut in the Kidspace Gardens in the spring, the space consisted of multiple stations with mini-activities such as book reading, clay table and bug habitats. The Roberts Pavilion holds the indoor exhibits of the museum, including the amazing Imagination Workshop. Filled from top to bottom with conventional and unconventional building materials such as old CDs, egg cartons, washers, fabrics, and beads, the Imagination Workshop is just a wonderland at first glance for the artistically inclined. The project of the day was a rotary chicken in a box contraption that looked remarkable but was not going to be feasible for younger kids to re-create. The thought of constructing whatever we could with the hundreds of loose materials before us made me feel giddier than probably anyone else in the room. We moved on to the next part of the museum with completed masks and make shift costumes in hands. The Nature Exchange allows kids to see and touch common natural wonders. Kids are encouraged to bring in natural samples (i.e. rocks, shells) and trade them with the staff there to earn research points based on your knowledge of the items. They also offer themed booklets for a scavenger hunt around the premises. My daughter had fun checking off each portion as we found things like the “striped seashell” and some “rough bark” among many others.
The museum’s outdoor space features a water play area with a splash park for warm days, and an area with rivers and native plants to teach about the local Arroyo Seco grounds and native plants. Trike Tracks in the Wisteria Courtyard is a small track where kids can get some exercise on tricycles, and Kirby’s Kids Corner is perfect for younger kids to play with water tables and contraptions. It may be wise to bring along an extra change of clothes. The Galvin Physics Forest is an impressive large sprawl of hands of exhibits highlighting scientific experimentation and education. My son had the most fun trying out the bottle rocket which shoots a plastic bottle into the air using water and air pressure, playing with the Roller Coaster in which parts can be put together to create a raceway for colorful balls to travel through, and a Ball Shooting area where you can load balls into an air pressure gun and shoot out into targets. He could have spent the entire afternoon on just that last exhibit.
The café operated by Modern Art Catering features a wide array of kid and adult favorites and plenty of healthy options like fruit, veggies, and salads. They also offer organic teas and coffees. The only downside is the large ice cream freezer that sits opposite the order window, which does not have any healthy options, although a sweet treat never hurts once in a while. The Busy Bee Learning store is one of those museum shops which evokes excitement and sadness at once, since you won’t be taking everything in the store home. Kids will marvel at all the amazing nature and science themed goods, and will definitely be pained while being forced to exit the store empty handed. They may have better luck next time, since it’s not a trip you will only want to make once. We love the Kidspace Museum, and wish there were more museums of this caliber everywhere.