A trip to a museum is one of parenting’s great gambles. Choose unwisely and your child will find themselves in the throes of unquenchable boredom. No kid wants to spend their Saturday in the presence of verbose audio guides, wordy displays and the hollow silence that unfolds as middle-aged museum-goers stroll around with their hands held behind their backs.
But find somewhere with bold displays and interactive content and suddenly they can’t get enough. What’s more, when children are learning and having fun, they tend to think they’re just doing the latter.
I know only too well. As a dinosaur-obsessed child, seeing the 32m-long cast of a diplodocus skeleton standing guard in the main hall of London’s Natural History Museum was enough to make me feel like I wasn’t learning at all. But then I also remember a grueling trip to an exhibition featuring different types of garden gate, from which I absorbed absolutely no information about horticultural fittings.
So if you want to get your kids excited about learning this weekend, here’s our choice of some child-friendly museums with that little something extra.
Chinese Aviation Museum
It may lie quite far from the city, but the Aviation Museum needs all the space it can get to host Asia’s largest display of aircraft. The English signs aren’t too extensive but the mainly military collection flies you through the history of 20th Century China, with specimens from the 1940s through to modern airliner production. Would-be pilots can also take a seat in a fighter jet and kids are bound to enjoy the flight simulator and a play area with an “anti-aircraft artillery” theme.
A slightly closer option is the Military Museum in Haidian. While it may have far fewer planes, it certainly makes up for them with tanks, boats and other military gear.
Beijing Natural History Museum
Not all of the exhibitions at the Beijing Natural History Museum are worth visiting and some of the displays are a little run-down. But there is one reason why kids will love this place – dinosaurs. As well as your usual array of life-sized replicas you can also find some bona fide fossils, including a 26m-long Mamenchisaurus jingyanebsis, the fabled Tyrannosaurus rex and a Lunfengosaurus, the first dinosaur to be found in China.
Then move forward in time, past the (frankly scary-looking) taxidermy and towards the 4D cinema where you can see educational films from moving seats (the fourth dimension, apparently). Call in advance to book tickets for screenings.
One small warning: Unless your kids enjoy gore and have a sturdy stomach, it’s probably best to avoid the exhibitions featuring human body parts in jars.
Magic Bean House Children’s Museum
The Magic Bean House treads the line between fun and education perfectly. A museum in one sense and a play center in another, this is hands-on learning for younger children. What better way to explore planetary orbits than using toy balls in the interactive solar system? Why grapple with the basics of physics in a notepad when you can take it to the water play area? There are also plenty of opportunities to develop social skills and practice role-playing at the miniature supermarket and mechanic’s garage.
China National Science and Technology Museum
Sadly, this is another example of a Beijing museum that’s suffered from neglect over the years, as a number of the displays are prone to not working at any given time. Nonetheless, given the Science and Technology Museum’s size there will still plenty to keep the kids entertained, with interactive displays throughout the main exhibitions bringing concepts such as gravity and electricity to life.
The museum is arguably better for inquisitive youngsters than adult science enthusiasts and a visit will see kids working with water pulley systems, marveling at future technologies and making human-sized bubbles.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons and The Magic Bean House