If you're looking for a fun and educational way to spend a few hours with your children once the winter weather begins to set in, the New Jersey Children's Museum,
just across the border in Paramus, offers dozens of hands-on ways for kids to learn and to be entertained at the same time.
The museum has over 30 different exhibits in a 15,000 square foot space, and, each is designed for a specific age group. But judging by our visit on a recent Saturday, there was plenty of mixing it up; older kids were still getting a kick out of play areas right alongside the younger ones. And nearly everything in the museum is designed to be touched, sat on, ridden, played with or held. There are very few exhibits which are off-limits and those are clearly marked.
If your kids like to get their hands dirty, they can start out in the Architecture and Construction Room, where they can play in a large sandbox, sit at the controls of a backhoe or look into a periscope. Then it's on to the Fire Truck, where children can steer and ring the bell, dressed up in real fire gear. Next, it's on to outer space, with all kinds of fun ways to teach kids about the planets. There's a hyperbolic funnel, where kids can drop in coins, learning about Kepler's Law of Planetary Motion and contributing to charity all at the same time! This exhibit also features New Jersey's largest kaleidoscope, as well as a space rocket with computers. We came back down to earth with a stop at the Aviation display, where kids can sit at the controls of a helicopter and pretend to be an air traffic controller.
Next were three very popular spots all in a row: A Fantasy Castle, where they can dress up as knights or kings and queens. Beyond that is The Hospital, where the two boys I was with had a blast pretending to drive the ambulance and then being the patient in the back. And then there's the skeleton, Moveable Mike, which the kids can manipulate by pulling strings attached to his bones. As an added bonus for us, Mike was wearing a Yankee jersey! We looked at X-rays and played with the stethoscopes. Then we moved on to the TV studio, where kids can sit at the news desk and watch themselves on television and play with microphones.
The Grocery Store, Pizza Parlor and Post Office are some of the exhibits which attract a wide range of ages. Older kids seemed to like sitting at the cash register collecting money, and the pre-schoolers were happy taking orders and serving Mom and Dad play pizza and coffee. (It also gives parents a chance to sit down for a minute). Nearby is a nicely furnished Baby Nook, which provides a place for even the smallest of museum visitors.
Probably the highlight of our visit was the music room, where my two young museum-goers spent many minutes banging on the drums, playing a walk-on piano, and the synthesizer. So often instruments like these are off-limits to kids; you could see they thoroughly enjoyed the chance to make as much noise as possible. "I really liked playing the drums and seeing how I could make different noises depending on the way the drum was made," one of the boys explained. Speaking of noise, the museum environment is very, very noisy, especially so on crowded Saturdays. It's the noise of kids having a good time, but, parent caution… it can be very loud.
Starting at the end of this month, the museum is going to offer, for the first time, babysitting services for parents who need to do holiday shopping. And since it's located in the retail Mecca of Route 17 between the Fashion Center Mall and the Paramus Park Mall, I can only imagine this is going to be a very popular service. They also have special events all through the year, and they host birthday parties and school trips.
There were two other exhibits which were very popular with the children who accompanied me: The Wild West, where they could play inside an Indian tipi, see a real bison head, and play in the jail. They also liked Dinosaurs and Fossils, where they played inside a prehistoric cave.
There's so much to see and do at the Museum, I'd recommend taking a walk-through just to see what's there and then letting the kids pick which areas they want to go back to. That way, no one is going to feel rushed. For planning purposes, allow at least two hours, but you could easily spend an afternoon. The Museum does not allow strollers.The New Jersey Children's Museum is open 7 days a week from 10am-6pm on weekdays, 10-6pm on winter weekends. Admission is $10 plus tax for adults and children. Infants under age one are free. It’s located at 599 Valley Health Plaza, Paramus, N.J. Take the BWB to Route 4 West. Go 10 miles to Route 17 North. The Ridgewood Avenue exit is 3.5 miles from Route 4. Info: (201) 262-5151; www.njcm.com.