Years ago Parents Magazine featured an article of their top ten children’s museums in the U.S. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis ranked #1 on the list. (It’s still ranked #1 on their website.) At an impressive 365,000 square feet of gallery space, it’s also the world’s largest children’s museum, giving families plenty of space to roam, unlike other children’s museums.
We knew we had to check this place out. After all, we already been to the children’s museum in Houston, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and now Indianapolis. Plus, an Indianapolis tourist magazine mentioned the Chinese Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit was a special add-on exhibit and available for only a limited time. You know how much we love culture, so this was something had to see, unless we make a trip to China someday. Plus, with 17 exhibits on display, we knew it was going to be a long day.
Terra Cotta Warrior Exhibit
When we entered the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit, we marveled at the selection of warriors on display.
The hands-on displays made our time at the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit so fun! You can dismantle a 3D sculpture of the kneeling warrior back together again and again.
For creative folks, here is a make your own warrior face!
But our favorite had to be the Mold Your Own Warrior display.
Step 1. Mash a piece of clay together.
Step 2. Voila! Our boys made these two interesting creations.
There were hundreds of these individually made terra cotta warrior sculptures. This one caught me eye though. How can you not enjoy seeing a happy terra cotta warrior? When Chinese farmers discovered these warriors during their search for a well, the warriors were crushed and in terrible shape. It was only when scientists, artists, and others worked together rebuilding these 8,000+ sculptures did they realized each warrior had a unique face. Not one looked like the other. That was astounding to find such creativity and uniqueness in each sculpture, which was very reminiscent of these miniature clay sculptures made here.
The boys had a blast! It was very hands on with making clay models, banging on drums and bells, as well as looking at how various rocks and stones make color pigments unique to each terra cotta warrior. The exhibit also enticed young and old to learn from multimedia.
These days, I notice museums are adding more electronic media to their learning component. The Cleveland Museum of Art added an impressive social media driven, hit the like button on your favorite piece of art, screen. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was no different. Several large screens walked us through a multiple choice question to figure out which type of stone or rock was used to paint the warrior or other sculptural pieces. We learned that malachite brings out a green hue, which was something new to me.
The boys made a snapshot photo of themselves as terra cotta warriors, which you can make one at home if you like.
Unique to Indiana, a Reuben Wells steam locomotive sits at The Children’s Museum. This particular locomotive type pushed other train cars up one of the steepest section of standard gauge track in the U.S. during the mid-1800s. We’ve been reading a ton of train books, and Linus loved seeing a train larger than one seen on a 8.5″ x 11″ page book.
The Power of Children: Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, Ryan White
We stopped by this exhibit to learn about the biographical lives of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White. Anne Frank’s section was small probably due to the difficulty of acquiring artifacts from World War II. (We had visited the house where Anne Frank, her family, and others hid during Nazi occupation in Amsterdam.)
The history of Ruby Bridges was relatively new to me. Last February Piano Man learned about her personal story in class. The exhibit set a powerful scene to listen to the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of a young student.
Also, you can watch an interview of Ms. Bridges’ today. She shared her perspective of how her story influenced American history, how children can work towards open-mindedness and compassion for a better tomorrow. Personally, that was a powerful exhibit to see in light of the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.
The story of Ryan White was one that I remember well from my childhood, watching his story of AIDS awareness unfolded in current news.
It was so strange to read and view his exhibit in terms of history because in reality that was how our children was soaking up information, as a piece of American history. But as adults, watching and reading the fear, struggles, and information (also misinformation) about AIDS awareness was part of our adolescence. Do you remember seeing quilts made for Ryan White? It’s on display at The Children’s Museum.
Sometimes we don’t think about the influence people have in society, especially children. This exhibit may not have demonstrated much interest in our boys as they too young to understand some of the deeply rooted pieces of history through the eyes of children. But it’s a lesson for us parents as we walk with them and talk with them about history – to learn, to remember, and to (hopefully) positively change culture in future generations.
Fireworks of Glass
If you like glass sculptures, you’ll like this hands-on Dale Chihuly sculpture exhibit.
Having a looking from the bottom of the sculpture was amazing! The way the light hit the glass from the skylight brought a wave of warmth to the space in the basement.
Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World
If you’re into all things prehistoric, then you’ll enjoy this dinosaur exhibit. They had several mummified dinosaurs on display, such a small T-Rex, a cousin T-Rex, and I think even a triceratops.
For all those Harry Potter fans, there is a dinosaur named Dracorex hogwartsia. The paleontologist who named this species must have loved Harry Potter too. (Update: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis informed me that the kids picked this name out for this dinosaur! What a great way for the kids to have a voice!)
Kids were able to do a little digging of their own to find some hidden prehistoric pieces too.
Treasures of the Earth
We glossed over this exhibit, but here are some photos of what you can expect if you visit Treasures of the Earth.
If you think the All Aboard! exhibit is fun, so is this Flight Adventures exhibit for plane enthusiasts. They even displayed a plastic Millennium Falcon toy most popular amongst boys ages 7-12 in the 1980s.
Indy Race Car
You can sit in a life-size Indy race car and pretend you’re going at speeds of 200 miles or more! Too bad they only had this one on display. I guess you have to go to Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum to be engulfed in all things Indy 500.
You can’t compare this exhibit to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, but it does have plenty of how things work on display.
Tucked away in the back was the rock climbing wall display. Piano Man loves to rock climb, but it was closed during weekdays. Keep that in mind if you plan on making a visit.
If your child loves demolition and construction, as does ours, you can pretend and maneuver a simple bulldozer (or skid steer loader).
For kids who enjoy playing house, this is a dream escape – red, yellow, and blue child-size houses to play house, tea, or any other pretend play one can imagine.
We topped off our day at the carousel ride. I wonder when the joy of a carousel ride gets too old for them. But for now, I’ll enjoy watching them be kids, soaking in all the fun.
What more can I say about this large spacious children’s museum? It gives you the freedom to roam without feeling claustrophobic, and we know how tight a space can feel when hundreds of families are packed into a small museum space.
We liked several things about The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis:
1. In the words of Emmet in The Lego Movie, “everything is awesome, especially the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit!” (Okay, I made that last part up.) Hands-on, lots of creativity flowing, and massively large space = great fun.
2. The expansiveness of the museum was enough to get yourself lost for hours.
3. Going on a non-busy weekday day was thoroughly enjoyable. We’ve been to museums when it was free on a Monday before Christmas at the Houston’s Children’s Museum, and it was our least enjoyable experience. It didn’t matter if it was free, if you were packed in like a sardine can. It’s not fun.
4. Learning came from all different periods of time, perspectives, and ways to learn. There was something for everyone.
We missed a few other exhibits, but after staying for four hours, we were done. Thanks, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, for a wonderful fun-filled day of learning about culture and history in one spot!