Hands-On Family Fun In Philadelphia
Interactive summer fun for all ages
Families have more reasons to visit Philadelphia this summer with new outdoor adventures, hands-on exhibits and traditional favorites.
KidZooU at the Philadelphia Zoo lets kids and their families can study wildlife like scientists, learn more about conservation and explore a brand new habitat. And when the Benjamin Franklin Museum opens its doors, children can explore the Founding Father’s life with the help of Skuggs the Squirrel and plenty of hands-on components.
Couple these adventures with a troll through the tree houses at Longwood Gardens and a shark-touching expedition at the Adventure Aquarium, and it’s easy to see that Philadelphia provides an educational playground for its youngest visitors.
Here are some of the area’s best opportunities for interactive learning and discovery:
Science & Nature
KidZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Faris Family Education Center serves as the Philadelphia Zoo’s brand new wildlife academy, a LEED-certified facility with indoor and outdoor spaces for interacting with rare goats, sheep, ducks and miniature horses; exploring a Treetop Trail; and learning about the habits of desert ants, coral-reef fish and conservation. Throughout the year, themed tours, overnight programs and rides enhance the already family-friendly zoo experience.
Everyone can be a CIA agent for a day when Spy: The Secret World of Espionage opens this May at The Franklin Institute, featuring such sleuth-inspired activities as personal disguise stations, voice alteration and laser beam field-hopping. May 4-October 6. On any given day, the museum’s permanent exhibitions and attractions such as the flight simulators, Sky Bike and Observatory offer plenty of active experiences for kids.
The year-round exhibits at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University include the ever-popular Butterflies!, Dinosaur Hall and Live Animal Center. And this June brings Glow: Living Lights, an exciting new way to learn about animals that produce their own light. The exhibit features live creatures, insect dances and the opportunity to try some firefly wings on for size. June 1-September 29.
It’s billed as America’s most touchable aquarium, and with exhibits like Touch-a-Shark, Stingray Beach Club and the newly renovated KidZone play area for children six and under, Adventure Aquarium delivers many tactile experiences for budding marine-life scholars. For wildlife with teeth, the Aquarium features the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast. Plus, this summer you can come face to face with Mighty Mike, a 14-foot-long alligator weighing more than 800 pounds!
At Morris Arboretum, the Big Bugs exhibit invites viewers to learn about the role of insects in the environment, from April 1 through August 31. The ongoing Tree Adventure, meanwhile, is designed for climbing, with 50-feet canopies over the forest, nets to scamper in and a giant bird’s nest to explore, and the expansive Garden Railway showcases model trains rolling through a natural landscape.
Family activities are abundant at Longwood Gardens, where the choices include a scavenger hunt through the Indoor Children’s Garden, a stroll through the Honeycomb Maze at the Bee-aMazed Children’s Garden and three tree houses to explore, plus Story Time and craft activities on select days.
Follow in the footsteps of General George Washington and his troops in the sprawling 3,500-acres of Valley Forge National Historical Park. Explore the restoration of Washington’s original stone headquarters, go hands-on with interactive exhibits and pay tribute to the soldiers of the American Revolution. Plus, the region features plenty of gorgeous open space for picnics, hiking, biking and more.
History & Art
The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is getting an exciting new addition this summer. The Oval, a brand-new public space, is transforming an island of asphalt and surrounding lawns at 24th Street and the Parkway into an eight-acre public space devoted to summertime fun. Families can play an oversized game of chess, listen to live music or grab a bite to eat on “The Boardwalk.”
At the soon-to-be opened Benjamin Franklin Museum, debuting in late summer 2013, the story of Benjamin Franklin’s life begins with Skuggs the Squirrel, the chipper host that leads the littlest visitors through the exhibits, many of which have hands-on components that teach about daily life in the 18th century.
The creative family programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) feature drawing classes and Wednesday night story times, with special events and tours tied to themed exhibitions. On the first Sunday of the month, Family Studio invites kids and their parents to create original artworks of their own.
Located across the street from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Perelman Building will be transformed into a family destination in summer 2013, with five kid-friendly exhibitions. Activities bring the art work of the exhibitions to life through engaging activities and workshops: Families pose for their own pictures in a photo booth inspired by the exhibition Family Portraits, curl up with a picture book by Jerry Pinkney or play with a giant magnetic version of Candy DePew’s wonderland from June 28-September 3.
The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts holds Family Arts Academy workshops every Sunday. The art-making activities are tailored to deepen understanding about the collection, exhibitions and art history.
Second Sundays are Family Days at the Penn Museum, with workshops designed for kids that include craft activities, gallery exploration and the opportunity to get up close with ancient artifacts.
In the midst of historic Old City, Franklin Square gives kids a place to exercise their right to play—with swings, climbing structures, a carousel and mini golf. Throughout the neighborhood, Historic Philadelphia’s storytelling benches and reenactments bring its rich history to life. For example, during the popular Military Muster, kids practice the arts of marching and musket etiquette.
On The Move
Families with children can spend the night on the historic Battleship New Jersey on weekends, where they can stow their belongings in a real sailor locker, sleep in bunks, dine in the Mess and wander through the ship’s gun turrets, Combat Engagement Center, cabins and wardrooms. On weekdays, the 90-minute Fire Power tour, a historical journey through the Battleship’s gun turrets and weapon systems, is fun for visitors of all ages.
While they may never leave the ground, kids can get behind the controls of several vintage and modern helicopters at the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center and let their imaginations fly as they learn more about aviation history and the engineering principles behind propeller aircraft.
There’s much for young mateys to see aboard the U.S. submarine Becuna and the Cruiser Olympia, the climbable ships on display at the Independence Seaport Museum, and plenty of indoor interactive exhibits for navigating the city’s maritime history.
The Fireman’s Hall Museum celebrates the proud local history of firefighting with displays of antique engines and artifacts. Little ones can participate by trying on fireman’s gear and getting behind the wheel of a fireboat.
For Kids Only
The epicenter for all-things Philly, kids and interactive, Please Touch Museum® spans two floors of play space, including a miniature cityscape, an antique carousel and a Lewis Carroll-inspired Wonderland, and offers craft times, sing-a-longs and other changing programs.
Sesame Place is the nation’s only theme park based entirely on the award-winning television show Sesame Street. Ideal for families with young children, it is the place where parents and children can share in the spirit of imagination and experience Sesame Street together through whirling rides, water slides, colorful shows and furry friends.
At the new Bucks County Children’s Museum, it’s all about pretend play: Visitors can shop, cook and ride the train in the Town Square; build their own racecar; work on an archeological dig; and much more.
Fairmount Park’s Smith: The Kids’ Play Place in the Park is a veritable utopia for kids ages 10 and under. Outdoors, there are 20 interactive play pieces and a giant slide; inside the 24,000-square-foot mansion is a miniature town, a book nook and a train, plus regular craft programs.
The fun keeps on coming at Giggleberry Fair in Peddler’s Village, where the tyke-tivities include the Giggles Discovers play areas, family-friendly arcade games and the region’s largest indoor obstacle course. peddlersvillage.com