For parents of toddlers through young middle schoolers, The Children’s Museum of Atlanta has a wide variety of stimulating, educational and developmental activities to appeal to children – and parents. I even found myself scampering up and down the piano stairs a few times!
Children’s Museum of Atlanta: Your Ultimate Guide For Fun
As a lover of museums and a mom, I was thrilled when the Children’s Museum of Atlanta was built downtown. I took my daughter when she was a toddler a couple of years ago, and couldn’t wait to go back to see how the museum had changed after a major renovation in 2016. I was pleased to see that some of our favorite aspects remained, as well as some really engaging new attractions, including a lot more for toddlers.
Learning through Play at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Being a teacher and a parent, my first impression upon walking into the museum was that it was brimming with hands-on educational teaching tools. As a testament to how well the museum does its job, my four-year-old daughter had no idea she was learning and just saw tons of toys and play areas where she could explore, tinker and let her imagination run wild without fear of damaging anything, being told to quiet down, or not touch.
I could practically see the neurons rapid firing in her brain as a new concept unfolded and caused her world to make a little more sense. I heard her saying a lot of things like “This is just like how..” or “That’s why when I…” Even though the experience answered questions I didn’t even know she had, it inspired so many more in her, just as good education will do.
On the ride home she and my husband, an engineer, were able to have an animated conversation about machinery and engineering principles that made his heart flutter. Concepts he had tried to explain to her before with little success had come alive for her in the Tools To Solutions exhibit.
Our Favorite Exhibits at the Children’s Museums of Atlanta
Tools for Solutions. The first thing my daughter gravitated towards was a crane. After filling the bucket with colorful balls, she and another child were able to work together to operate the crane to dump the balls. She was thrilled to see how one machine’s movement led to another and another and she followed a few balls through the whole system then ran back to the beginning to figure out how it all worked together. She was able to take a few balls and insert them into various simple machines and move them with wheels, axels, levers, inclined planes and pulleys.
Build It Lab. In a couple of years, I look forward to taking her into the Build It Lab portion of this exhibit. Geared toward six-year-olds and up, children can use real tools and materials either on their own or in one of the woodworking or maker skills classes offered. The room was packed with eager kids finally getting to use tools they had seen, but been told not to touch.
A safe, guided environment allowed them to experiment then marvel at their own creations. I loved how this part of the exhibit was in a separate, windowed room so there was no fear of a toddler wandering in and making off with an age inappropriate tool.
Let Your Creativity Flow. The next thing that caught her eye was her favorite when she was a toddler and seemed to still be a big attraction: moon sand (kinetic sand)! This is located in the center of the museum so as she traveled between exhibits we stopped here several times. Two tables full of kinetic sand, scoops and molds was a wonderful spot for us to stop, sit and talk about the last exhibit she had just experienced – and let pregnant mommy take a load off and play too! Isn’t it easier for everyone to talk when their hands are busy?
These tables are part of the Let Your Imagination Flow exhibit and are next to a large paint wall where children can don a smock and paint to their hearts content without fear! My daughter was reticent at first as we’ve spent her whole four years of life drilling into her that walls are not her canvas. After watching another child and checking for permission she got into the idea pretty quickly.
Gateway to the World. Next to these stations is the Gateway To The World Exhibit that pulls together the idea of continents, Earth and space in a larger than life way. After playing in the sand she was able to move through play tables representing each continent then look up to discover a massive globe of the Earth. Kids can climb up a two-story vertical tunnel and exit into the center of the Earth which looks out over the museum.
They can then use their mighty kid-power to make the outer skin of the globe rotate. Like the rest of the museum, this exhibit is completely wheelchair accessible (via a ramp on the mezzanine level) and there is a toddler station to engage the littlest guests in the learning as well.
At the bottom there is a Launch Pad where children can build a rocket to launch into space. Lots of redesign is inspired as kids try to make their rockets reach planets further and further away.
Leap into Learning. After exiting the globe, my daughter found the two-story climber which provides a 360 view of the museum. From this vantage point, she spied the huge fishing pond, complete with waterfall, in the Leaping into Learning exhibit. She made a mad dash for the pond and began practicing a concept they had just learned in her preschool science class: what floats, what sinks.
She was thrilled to be able to talk to other kids about these ideas and experiment in a much bigger setting with new materials. There are also fishing poles and magnetic fish, another concept her science class had recently introduce – at which point, all my refrigerator magnets began to go missing and show up in the oddest places in the house! She loved seeing a new way to play with magnets – and in combination with water!
The pond is seriously big and chalked full of hands-on learning opportunities. In our experience, a water table is always a favorite playtime experience and this pond takes it to a whole new level. Besides floatation and magnets (and teaching kids that fish do not come from the cooler in the grocery store), children can see how the flow of water works and use materials to manipulate the flow’s direction or dam it up.
Kid Sized Treehouse. Directly beside the pond is every kids’ dream treehouse with multiple levels, a bridge, slide and lots of climbing. I love the adorable infant and toddler area of this exhibit with its play house and car! The museum takes care to included the little bittys at every turn and truly make it a great destination for the whole family.
Fundamentally Food. Next she discovered, to her delight, a child’s size version of her very favorite restaurant, Waffle House. We ended up experiencing the Fundamentally Food exhibit in reverse, but I actually think it might have been for the best. We live in a moderately large suburb that was a rural farming community just a few years ago. She sees restaurants, grocery stores and shopping centers in town then passes fully functioning farms and pastures dotted with cows, sheep and goats on the way home. We even have neighbors who still keep chickens and ducks because that’s the life they have always known, despite the fact that they live in a neighborhood of 400+ homes now.
We have used these examples to talk about the process of how food comes to our table, but I know for a fact that all the connections were not being made for her and it bothered me immensely that she believed vegetables grew in grocery stores despite my best efforts.
The Diner. In the diner, she found toy food and began “cooking” and “serving” the “patrons” (parents) at the counter. Before she could snatch a bottle of milk from another “chef” I pointed to the adjacent grocery store where she could grab a tiny cart and go shopping for ingredients then purchase them with play money at a cash register. Thus the first light bulb went off in her head.
As she was shopping, she saw other children unloading boxes of produce from a delivery truck and sending them down a conveyor belt (more engineering!) to be stocked in the store. And another light bulb visibly turned on! From the delivery truck she saw what turned out to be her favorite part of the whole museum, Buttercup the milk cow, just over in the farm.
Milking Buttercup. Surrounded by chickens laying eggs, a corn field and John Deere tractor, Buttercup moos as children kneel down and actually milk her. THIS was the biggest, brightest light bulb of all! She has seen nursing mothers and I have tried my best to use that to explain how her favorite chocolate milk that comes in a box with a straw actually comes from the teats of a cow to no avail. She simply did not believe me until I showed her how to squeeze and out came milk! We walked back through and talked about the farm to table concept and the connections were finally made.
Giant Player Piano. The most significant change from the recent renovations is the new mezzanine level. Accessing this level might be the best change too! The stairs leading up to the mezzanine not only look like black and white piano keys, but you discover that they play the notes as well!
I had heard about this feature, but had not mentioned it to my daughter and I am so glad I didn’t. After running up a few steps she turned back with a look like she had discovered buried treasure. It took us a few minutes to actually ascend to the mezzanine while she, and admittedly I too, played on the stairs.
Step Up to Science. However, as soon as we made it up, the right side of her brain started revving up as she darted from one science exhibit to another in the Step Up To Science exhibit. She loved the futuristic robot she could control from an iPad-like display and spent more time and energy than I anticipated figuring out how to make a robotic arm pick up a ball.
This is where will you find the Science Bar and be able to participate in hands-on science experiments with Professor Labcoat. Be sure to check with the museum for the times of these demonstrations as you cannot hear them beginning from the main level of the museum.
Daily Programming at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
As my daughter was milking Buttercup for the fourth time, she heard one of the Daily Programs beginning and ran to grab a front row seat. It happened to be a mini musical number from a couple of cowboys. Looking around, all of the kids of various ages were captivated. The quality was excellent and on par with performances we have attended at children’s theaters. The performance was short and sweet and included an interactive opportunity, that was thankfully low-pressure as my daughter is shy in those situations. Mercifully parent participation was NOT required.
We ended up seeing a few of the daily programs throughout our time at the museum, so if you miss one, no need to fret, you’ll definitely catch another before you leave. They are loud enough to where you notice they are happening from any place in the museum, but not to the point that you are distracted or irritated.
Besides the mini musicals, you can expect to see science demonstrations, story times, “Meet the Holidays” featuring holidays from around the word, cooking demonstrations and music and movement classes.
Classes at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
In addition, Daily Programing also has classes offered in the Build It Lab and Arts Studio. Check with the museum prior to your visit or as you are entering to see if you need to sign up for a Build or Arts class. Also be aware that these classes conclude an hour before museum closing and you will want to plan your time accordingly.
I would recommend starting your visit with PLENTY of time for exploration of the museum rather than trying to start your visit by going into a classroom and attempting to bypass all the tempting toys. Try to arrange for a time that will fit into the middle of your trip so your kids have time to get comfortable in their surroundings and see some of the exhibits. Then take a break and sit down in a class for a different experience. Since classes end an hour before closing time, the kids will still have an opportunity go back and check out anything they didn’t see before class or revisit their favorite activities no matter when you schedule your class.
Traveling Exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Another favorite exhibit of my daughter’s was the Magic Tree House, which is a traveling exhibit. The museum changes these out several times a year. Although part of the open floor plan of the museum this is slightly sectioned off and lends to idea of being in a totally different time and place.
Based on Mary Pope Osborne’s book series of the same name, you enter through a little tree house filled with children’s books about American History. You emerge on the other side in front of a chest filled with dress-up costumes to immerse kids into the experience. My daughter happens to be FASCINATED with blood, guts and the inner workings of the human body so she went straight for the Civil War nurse’s uniform and set to work driving the horse and buggy ambulance to pick up wounded patients and transport them (i.e. mommy) to the hospital tent for a check up.
Being only four, she is still working out basic concepts of time and history so she was most interested in how everyday objects like cups and bandaids could be so drastically different. Visiting the cottage kitchen of an early American settlement situated on a bay with a row boat absolutely blew her mind and she had so many questions about how the kitchen could be so different and why on earth the turkey was on a spit over the fire instead of in an oven.
The immersive quality of the whole exhibit set her imagination on fire and she spent a lot of time playing pretend with other children. I was surprised how accurate her pretend play was and that she and the other children were not trying to manipulate the scene to fit with their modern day concepts. They all seemed to be truly experiencing another time and place as only a child can.
Birthday Parties at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
While we were at the museum there was a child’s birthday in progress in one of the party rooms. Parties are available for children ages 2-8. There is an Ultimate, Deluxe or Classic party package.
Packages include museum admission for up to 20 people with the option to add additional guests for a reduced admission price (with the Ultimate you actually get admission for 15 children and all accompanying adults), party child and two accompanying adults complimentary, museum exploration for 1 hour and 45 minutes, and party host to help set-up and clean up.
With the Classic package, you set-up the party on the lunch tables on the mezzanine level which is accessible to all patrons. The Deluxe and Ultimate packages provide you with a private party room (capacity of 43), a $10 gift certificate to the museum gift store and one free museum admission pass for each paid child for a future visit. The Ultimate package also includes a make & take art or science activity for each child, led by your party host.
From our vantage point, the process seemed streamlined as guests were greeted at a separate party desk at the front rather than standing in the general public line. Their gifts and coats were taken and loaded onto carts and they were escorted to their destination. The parents were free to enjoy the party while the party host entertained, arranged and then cleaned up!
Ways to Save at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
The museum offers tons of ways to save too. Here are a few
- Educators get a $10 discount on membership
- Reduced group rates for 20+
- 50% off for members of the Association of Children’s Museum (and reciprocity to other children’s museums)
- Military personnel receive $10 membership, discounted daily admission and free entry on Memorial Day, July 4th, Veteran’s Day, Flag Day and Armed Forces Day.
- Target Free Second Tuesday is busy, but completely free from 1PM-6PM, Summer hours 1PM-7PM June and July only.
- Fulton County Days allow residents free admission plus one guest on the opening day of each feature exhibit. These are walk-in only, require ID and subject to availability so check with the museum about specific dates and arrive early.
Children’s Museum of Atlanta Memberships
Membership packages are available at various levels ranging from $85-$165 with the aforementioned discounts, a discount if you renew a previous membership and you get two additional months free if you purchase in January. Memberships include guest passes, reciprocity to nearly 200 participating children’s museums nationwide, are fully tax-deductible, provide discounts to select ticketed events, pay for themselves after the third visit and children do not have to have to be part of your household (ex. grandchildren). Check with the museum as some of the memberships and discounts require you to purchase in person at the museum, but many can be done online.
Tiny Club Mondays at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Just as the museum is careful to include toddler play areas throughout the exhibits, they also provide dedicated programming for their littlest guests. Tiny Club Mondays are geared towards 2-5 years and offer opportunities for age appropriate classes and programs.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers experience cooking, science, art and makers classes and demonstrations designed just for their developmental stage. Each precipitant receives a free passport to track their “clubs” and activities each week. Kids can collect stamps in their passports to receive grab bag prizes, even free membership extensions!
Sensory Days at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
The Children’s Museum of Atlanta also caters to those with sensory challenges by opening early on Saturdays at 9AM for a sensory modified environment to accommodate guests on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing disorders. Special binders are available to help guide visitors through the exhibits. Admission is $5 per person for non-members and free for members Book online or call the museum as admission is limited.
Home School Programs at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Unique programming is also available to home school students on Home School Days and runs from 1PM-4PM. These programs are geared towards K-4th graders and focuses on math, science, language arts and social studies and include facilitated activities and workshops. Check the museum calendar for specific dates and call for availability. Tickets are $10 for non-member children, $5 for member children and free for accompanying adults.
10+ Tips to Plan a Trip to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
The key to a successful visit to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta is preparation. You can have a perfectly wonderful experience if you just walk in off the street, but you can get so much more with a little pre-planning. Here are 10+ tips to help you plan.
- Check the website for hours of operation as they change during the summer.
- The calendar of events is regularly updated so check it first.
- A quick phone call could also go a long way to planning a great day. You can get an inside scoop on events that are in the works during your dates, check the times of daily programming and get signed up for any special classes or workshops you might want to hit.
- The museum is located at the corner of Baker Street and Centennial Park Drive in the heart of downtown Atlanta, so there are a few things to consider. Plan for traffic, as always in Atlanta.
- There is no dedicated parking for the museum so factor in some time and money for one of the surrounding lots or parking decks. The Coca-Cola Museum, Georgia Aquarium and American Cancer Society have covered parking decks close by that have reliable rates and security. Note that Atlanta is cracking down on parking violations and booting cars. You may want to spend a few extra dollars for one of the nearby attraction parking decks, rather than risk it.
- If you’re going during nice weather, take the kids swimsuits and let them hit the Olympic Rings fountain in Centennial Park and play on the playground after your visit.
- During winter months there is an ice skating rink set-up in the park; again pre-plan for this diversion as it is ticketed and sometimes has a long line.
- Be sure to where comfortable play clothes and shoes – parents also should wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking back and forth a good bit. I would also recommend dressing in layers. Our visit was on a busy day and it did get a little warm plus my daughter got hot from all the running and climbing she did. I could see it being a bit cooler on a slower morning during the week though.
- Check out the museum shop on the way out. I’m not normally one to recommend this, but the gift shop offered some wonderful educational toys and products that I had not seen before. You can grab a memento from your trip here like some of the moon sand or waffle set like they play with in the diner. There are also lots of bilingual options available.
- With any children’s event or destination I attend, there are always two factors that concern me most: security and ease. The museum has one exit and entry area at the front that is manned by several employees at all times. This is where you purchase admission and check-in for parties. Adults are not permitted without children and children must be accompanied by an adult. It felt completely safe and the open floor plan of the museum made it easy for me to keep an eye on my child without being right next to her.
- As for ease of the process, besides the hassle of driving and parking in Atlanta, the museum itself was totally hassle-free. If you chose to purchase a Fast-Pass online, you could even bypass the line at the entrance. The staff is so courteous and helpful and they are very engaging with the children.
- Employees are always on the floor straightening up and keeping an eye on the children. The bathrooms are clean, have changing tables and there is is a family restroom as well.
- The museum welcomes you to nurse anywhere and there were several little areas I saw that would offer a quiet spot to sit down. There is also a Family Resource Room available for more privacy.
Dining around the Children’s Museum of Atlanta
There are lots of dining options around the museum, but if you plan ahead you can pack a lunch and utilize the cafeteria tables in the museum on the mezzanine level. There are also vending machines available here with some healthy options.
Your tickets are good for re-entry all day so if the weather is nice make the most of it. Take a break and get some fresh air in Centennial Park across the street, have a picnic lunch then head back for round two! Or try Googie Burger in Centennial Olympic Park for fabulous hand cut fries, burgers and milk shakes. There is also a Chick-fil-A inside the CNN Center.
Retrospectively I almost wish I had strapped a go-pro to my daughter to capture her travels through the museum. Unlike most “adult” museums that funnel and guide you through, the renovations to the Children’s museum have made it so open and inviting. Exhibits are distinct, but feed into each other and repeat concepts in different ways to stimulate learning. I saw so much happening in my daughter’s head during our visit and have heard wonderful observations and questions from her. The museum constantly offers new special exhibits so I’m really looking forward to taking her back to discover something new and delve deeper into her favorite activities.
The Children’s Museum of Atlanta
275 Centennial Olympic Park Dr. NW
Atlanta, GA 30313
Photos courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Atlanta unless otherwise noted. We were given ticket for this attraction for the purposes of this review, but our thoughts and recommendations are our own.