Utica Children’s Museum – Review (revise with updated info)

Grandpa has been wanting to take the boys to the Utica Children’s Museum for a while now and our visit this past weekend was the perfect opportunity to go. We had a beautiful, sunny day to drive there and it afforded us the chance to see some trains as well, since it is across the street from the train station (much to Sweet Pea’s delight!) Being regular visitors to The Strong National Museum of Play here in Rochester I wasn’t quite sure what the boys would think and was hoping it was going to be fun for them. Boy, I had nothing to worry about! They didn’t want to leave!

Now, I have to say The Strong is a fabulous children’s museum, with grand funding from a variety of sources as well as recipients of grants and therefore is the wonderful place that it is for kids. The Utica Children’s Museum doesn’t receive funding of this magnitude, if at all (I talked with the wonderfully nice woman who runs it with her husband, but cannot honestly remember if they receive outside funds, but I know she said they don’t receive anywhere near what The Strong does.*Revision: I heard from the director of Utica’s Children’s Museum and she made this comment: We don’t receive any operating funds from the City, County, State, or Federal governments, relying wholly on our visitors, field trips, and sponsors of our annual Fundraising event, held every year the 3rd week of November.) That said, you can see some of the lack of funding in the quality of some of the exhibits (which I know they are working on!) However, I hope you don’t hold that against them…this is definitely a children’s museum worth visiting! You can check here for the City of Utica says about the museum.

This entire museum is kid-friendly and just about everything is hands-on and packed with sneaky learning opportunities. Everything is at kid level and some of the experiential rooms are even built to kid-size, so watch your heads if you go into the grocery store or into the lab to learn about germs!

As you walk into the first floor you are greeted with a variety of hands-on areas. In the center of the room you’ll find a working traffic light, a gravity experiment with a ping-pong ball, a light board that works by flipping switches to create a picture and a few other things just as attractive to little hands. My boys, of course, spent a long time at the plastic Thomas train table which was located just outside of a few experiential rooms. A few of these had themes like eating healthy, set up like a small grocery store, a room with a microscope decorated with germs that teaches how to keep germs at bay and at the end of the kid-sized rooms was a plastic tube that was a little science experiment in sound. On this floor this was also a very large wooden train for the kiddos to climb all over, located near the exploration area just for beginning walkers.

The second floor housed a great musical hands-on area. There were several marimbas, including one made of 2x4s, one of pipes, and another of wrenches. Up on the stage were several pianos. I loved this area, because the kids loved just making music and checking out the instruments in a whole new light, and they loved having spectators! This floor also housed the dinosaur exploration area (see the pics above). There were a lot of toy dinosaurs set out for the kids to play with as well as a big dinosaur dig pit. In this pit were wooden fossils, each numbered for the older child to assemble a large dinosaur, but also for the little ones just to feel and explore. Cutie Pie loved guessing where the bones he found might go on a skeleton. Grandpa seemed to like the dinosaur puppet theater the most and entertained Cutie Pie by trying to put on a show for Sweet Pea and I!

The third floor had a wide open area with tables and chairs on which a couple of science experiments were taking place while we were there as well as huge tables of Legos, another train table and several bikes of different sizes set up for kids to try. (They were set up as stationary bikes.) There was also a construction pit on this floor, filled with all sort of construction toys, hard hats, safety vests and little pellets of rubber for the kids to use their imaginations! And I can’t forget to mention the nature room which the boys loved! There was a snake, several bones and skeletons which the kiddos could touch and examine with magnifying glasses as well as a turtle, gerbil and bees (in the warmer months). I think it’s important to note students from the local college were in charge of the slime and sensory experiments and they related really well to the kids and had a really good knowledge of what they were sharing with the kids.

The fourth floor won over my boys almost equally as the paleontologist exploration area. This floor housed the model train sets that were donated and recently put on display. The children can step on little gas peddles to get the engines moving and there was a small unit for the sound effects. Sweet Pea could have stayed there all day as there were many trains set aside just for display and he loves looking at trains! Plus there is a small plane that the kiddos can actually climb into and move the instruments. Cutie Pie loved this, even letting the aid close the cockpit so he could get the real experience. This plane was actually flown for 10 years and was donated to the Children’s Museum. What a neat experience!

As you can see (from the length of this post and the multitude of pictures) my children loved their visit to the Utica Children’s Museum. They had some very unique experiences there and have asked several times since for us to go back. Even if you feel your kiddos might be a little too old to visit this museum, check out their school break camps activities- they look pretty interesting! This museum is a wonderful resource for the community it is located in and I truly hope funding finds it’s way to them so they can be around for years to come. It is a museum that is worth the effort to visit for the unique experiences and the sneaky learning through fun activities! (math, science, language, fine motor, gross motor) And remember the added bonus of the train station being right across the street! More on that soon!

This post is the compilation of my family’s experience and opinions after having visited this museum. The Utica Children’s Museum has in no way compensated me for this post or influenced our opinions.
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