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A day at the museum – Why the Natural History Museum is the best day with kids ever

Weekend days with twins in the midst of terrible twos is never easy. Staying at home for two whole days tends to be a recipe for stress, anxiety, and tears; sometimes even from the children. Getting out of the house is a good way to stay entertained and limit tantrums and fights over weekends that should be time for families. Finding the right way to spend a weekend with the kids can make or break a weekend for parents, so when we discovered how perfect New York’s Museum of Natural History was for our kids, we were thrilled.

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Everyone probably knows at least half of what the museum has on exhibit from the Night at the Museum movies. There are dinosaurs, nearly every animal, and of course, Theodore Roosevelt just roams around all the time. Ok maybe not, but as one of the original benefactors of the museum, his presence is definitely widely felt. There are also exhibits on space and tons of fossils. There’s so much to keep kids interested all around that it can occupy an entire afternoon.

At two years old, it’s debatable how educational a visit to the museum really is, but I think at least it builds up a curiosity and interest in the natural world that may lead to more interest in the sciences later on. An early introduction to animals, science, and nature can help foster an interest in STEM later on that can translate to greater scientific aptitude.

From the entrance of the museum on, there’s plenty to explore. I highly suggest a membership if you’re going to go more than once since it pays off, gives access to paid exhibits for free, and allows you to skip the often horrendous lines that wrap the block. From the members’ entrance, there are numerous displays on the solar system, good for a quick introduction to the planets for intrepid little scientists and engineers. While some of the information might be a bit over the heads of younger visitors, there are some interactive displays like telescopes that are sure to get their attention.

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One of the biggest draws of the museum is the wide display of animals throughout multiple floors. One floor holds the collection of North American mammals. Here you’ll find bison, elk, moose, mountain lions, and mountain goats. There are even three species of bear on display; perfect for kids who love the song “bear hunt” as much as mine. The full wealth of the diversity of animals is on display here and even as one of the smaller animal exhibits, it can take quite a while to go all the way through. It’s the easiest way to see all of the continent’s large mammals without taking trip to the west and Canada.

At two full floors, the exhibit of African mammals dwarfs the other parts. With a display of an entire family of African elephants in the middle, kids are sure to love seeing animals they otherwise have probably only read about. And unlike a zoo, kids can get right up next to the animals here. There are also giraffes, zebras, crocodiles, hippos, ostriches, rhinos, and tons of species of gazelle and antelope. You wouldn’t even see this many different types of animal on a safari. The entire trip out was made worth it when my boys started making the same pose as the gorillas.

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The biggest – pun intended – reason to visit the museum has to be the full sized blue whale on display along with other aquatic animals. Along with penguins, seals, walruses, dolphins, and sharks, there is the display that always gave me nightmares as a kid; the giant squid and sperm whale locked in eternal combat. The polar bear eating a seal might not be any less terrifying, so it’s good to maybe spend more time with the happy looking sea lions.

No trip to the museum is complete without a visit to the dinosaurs. Even more than the animals, it’s probably what makes the museum most famous. The skeletons in the main entrance hall evoke Jurassic Park and certainly bring life to the ancient creatures. The main exhibits are even more evoking with a huge variety of not only dinosaurs, but tons of prehistoric and ancient fossilized species unlike anything still alive today. Though the scale of time is difficult to grasp since it’s so long ago, it’s incredible to see how different species evolved through the eons and slowly became more recognizable.

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The biggest attractions have to be the huge skeletons of the familiar late Cretaceous dinosaurs including triceratops and t-rex. There are a number of other familiar species like stegosaurs, brontosaurs, and the armored ankylosaur, but nothing stands out as much as these huge examples of the height of dinosaur power on the Earth. Standing next to a massive Tyrannosaur tooth puts things in perspective.

There’s also the dedicated hall for the relatively new addition to the museum, the Titanosaur. The largest dinosaur and land animal of the museum, it’s so big it’s neck and head don’t even fit in the exhibit hall. Getting the fossils into the museum itself was a hugely difficult undertaking. The massive herbivore really gives scale to just how massive some species of dinosaur grew.

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One of the best reasons to go to the museum may be the brand new exhibit featuring T rex. Thanks to recent discoveries around the world, a lot more is being learned about T rex, probably the best example of the height of dinosaur evolution and unquestionably the apex predator of the entire North American continent for millions of years. It’s possible nothing would have stood in its way of dominance – including our ancestors – if the massive meteor hadn’t come along. The new exhibit traces the family tree of T rex including smaller ancestors and cousins as well as relations from around the globe. It also shows what scientists are increasingly in agreement about the dinosaurs, a much more birdlike appearance and stance, complete with feathers. A full skeleton and a full size life-like rendition of the monstrous dinosaur are highlights of the exhibit. Parents with an interest will find tons of information and facts they may not have learned as kids and kids will love seeing the huge dino and can even chase around a virtual depiction of one.

The Museum of Natural History in New York City is the perfect place to spend a day with kids. There’s no other place children can learn about animals from around the world, get up close with dinosaurs, and discover our place in the solar system. For a rainy day, cold one, or even just a hot summer day, it’s great to get inside and have something that can occupy an entire morning or afternoon. Parents may even find they learn something along the way too.