Take the Kids: The Newark Museum
This museum has art, science, history and more … all without trekking into New York.
The Newark Museum is a world-class museum. It's so close to home (I live in Jersey City), I can't believe this was my first time there. There is a ton to see, do and learn about art, science and history. The Newark Museum is a must-visit, with or without children.
Cost to Enter: Suggested donations to enter are $12 for adults, $7 for children, free for children 2 years old and younger.
What It Will Really Cost You: Parking in the adjacent lot is $8. Admission to the Planetarium is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 12 years old. Coat and bag check is free.
How Much Time You Need: There is a lot to see and do in this museum. You can easily spend between two and four hours here and still not get to everything.
Food Options: The food options vary. When there is a special exhibit, the cafe is open. When we visited, the cafe was closed and there were no other in-house food options. You can, however, still eat food you bring at the cafe tables.
When to Go: The best time to go with kids is on the weekends. There are family-friendly activities on Saturdays and Sundays geared towards children 3–5 and 6–12. We went on a Sunday and it was not crowded at all.
What to Bring: It's always a good idea to bring snacks, especially if you're not sure whether the cafe will be open. Do not carry a backpack-style bag, as you will be required to check it. Over-the-shoulder messenger-style bags are allowed in the museum.
Best for Ages: Though there are some activities for younger children, the museum is best for ages 6 and up.
What You Should See and Do: There is a mix of permanent and featured exhibits, including interactive activities for kids. I would strongly recommend visiting the child-centric areas last.
Start by checking out the amazing art that's on display. They have some really great exhibits to wander through, including Arts of Asia, the Americas and Global Africa, as well as American Art. You can get lost in the web of these exhibits, and I highly recommend doing so. None of the paintings are behind glass and, unless there is a sign saying not to, you are permitted to take pictures of the art. The wide variety of art, including statues, pottery, paintings of all styles, blown glass and interactive exhibits, as well as the science and history exhibits and a garden in the warmer months, make it hard to believe that this is all one museum. Not to mention, they have some really great stuff for the kids to do too. It's really got everything.
Generation Fit: Tips to a Healthier Lifestyle. Parents and kids alike can learn a ton about eating right and getting fit in this exhibit. And there are so many fun things to do, bounce on and ride. There were stationary bikes attached to monitors, allowing you to compete against your imaginary friends in exotic locations; different ways to break down your ideal diet; how smells affect our behavior, complete with artificial odors; a life-size body scan that allows you to see skeletal structure and vital organs; and a giant Fruit Ninja game! It was totally awesome and almost impossible to get my kids away from it.
Dynamic Earth: Revealing Nature's Secrets. Learn about shifts in the tectonic plates (did you know that New Jersey and Africa were once connected?) and explore the wild in this highly interactive exhibit. There's a video game about birds that I think is about finding food and migrating, but I'm not sure because my kids wouldn't give me a turn. You can also spy on and listen to the sounds of birds, mountain lions and other animals, as well as explore an artificial cave.
EmPOWERED. Kids can test the efficacy of different bio-fuels and other renewable energy sources. When we were there, volunteers were teaching children how to make their own water mill out of paper plates and cups.
Planetarium. See the night sky during the day. Explore constellations and planets in comfy seats. The tickets to the Planetarium must be purchased at the entrance of the museum. Shows begin promptly and are not recommended for children under 4 years old.
Ballantine House. Walk through two floors of this "case study" of the "ideal home," built in 1885. It's fun to get a glimpse of how a (rich) family from a century ago lived. There are beautiful stained glass windows, immaculately decorated bedrooms, a library, billiard room and other areas that would look very out of place in my (really shabby by comparison) condo. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take permanent residence in the Ballantine House, though outside some of the rooms you can test out furniture and even try on some period accessories.
Fire Museum: The firehouse is a fun way to teach children about fire safety and prevention. Housed in the century old Ward Carriage House out in the garden of the property, the Fire Museum has some high-tech interactive elements that bring history to life and make safety fun. Plus, you get to don real firemen's gear and get behind the wheel of a modified fire truck cab.
Creative Play: On weekends from October through June, there are regularly scheduled art activities for kids. On Saturdays at 1 and 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., the programs are geared toward children 3–5 years old. And on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 3 p.m., the programs are geared toward children 6–12 years old. The activities, which change every week, are based on a theme that changes monthly. My 6-year-old and 3-year-old both loved, and got a lot out of, the Creative Play time that was aimed at the younger group. When we were there, a volunteer took the parents and children to one of the galleries to learn about a painting of wedding cake. The artist used different ingredients for different textures on the cake. When we got back to the activity room, the kids were taught how to create different textures for their own cupcake painting. The program for the older children is similar, though with more autonomy.
Bonus: There is a frequent visitor card for families. After four visits, your family receives a complimentary Planetarium show. Newark residents are always free.