The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world and often called the best, is literally a feast of color, sound and flavors for both children and their grownups.
Sitting on a 29-acre campus are a 489,000-square-foot, five-story indoor museum and a 7.5-acre outdoor “Sports Legends Experience” — all with a mission to “create extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families.”
I could hardly wait to go, but my 15-year-old grandson, Ryan, who was visiting from Los Angeles, was a little bit skeptical.
He had been to children’s museums before and was often bored by activities that were too young for his age group.
But as we approached the building his eyes began to widen, just as mine did.
A couple of huge dinosaurs crashed through the side of the building, astronauts hovered over the spacecraft they appeared to be repairing and we were able to walk through the Seven Wonders of the World Garden, where the Great Wall of China, the Sphinx, the Taj Mahal and others are represented in miniature.
With rain threatening, we decided to go outdoors to the sports complex first.
Here kids can practice their skills in football, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis and baseball in areas designed in collaboration with experts and some sponsored by local sports teams such as the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers.
They can also drive a race car or choose to exercise on the Run-Walk Track and the Fitness Path, with smaller pieces of workout equipment for them alongside the regular ones for their parents.
Since neither of us was up for hockey or football, we opted instead for a couple of rounds of miniature golf on replicas of famous golf courses around the world.
When the rain began in earnest, we headed inside to the National Art Museum of Sport and the World of Sport, where we learned how a pit crew maintains a race car, how athletes train and how announcers broadcast a ballgame.
Then it was on to the main event.
Once we arrived inside the museum, we realized that we couldn’t get to everything we wanted to do in one day, so we took a break to consult the map and prioritize.
It seemed logical to start at the top and work down, so that’s what we did.
On the fourth level we found children in lab coats watching demonstrations and taking part in experiments at the Dow STEMLab. Beyond that were a carousel and a playhouse that once belonged to the Eli Lilly family.
But Ryan was especially interested in the next level down, where “The Power of Children” quickly became his favorite experience.
This exhibit highlights the lives of Anne Frank, with the Amsterdam apartment where she and her parents hid replicated in detail; Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate her Louisiana elementary school; and Ryan White, a child who contracted AIDS through a contaminated blood treatment. Here also are suggestions for ways today’s young people can make a difference in the world.
My favorite was one floor down at “Take Me There.”
This is a large space with a mock airliner parked at the entrance.
Visitors go inside and watch a video that shows them landing in another country, and when they leave from the other side, there they are.
We “landed” in Beijing, where we were able to experience the food, customs and art of China. We also took part in a calligraphy lesson and learned a few Mandarin characters.
This exhibit changes every few years, and China has now gone the way of Egypt before it, but starting in June 2019 the country will be Greece, where a juxtaposition of ancient and modern experiences will help visitors learn about mythology and the origins of the Olympics as well as visit a modern home, make their own food in a restaurant, dress up for cultural performances and learn the Greek alphabet.
Also on this floor are the Galleries for American Arts and Popular Culture, with clothing, music, movies, TV programs and artifacts from different eras of modern U.S. life, as well as a gallery of “Big, Bad and Bizarre” dinosaurs.
Level One brought us to Dinosphere, formerly a domed theater where now the Cretaceous period is re-created, complete with Leonardo: The Mummified Dinosaur.
Said to be one of the most significant dinosaurs ever discovered, he was found by researchers in Montana in 2002.
Here the light changes to create sunrises and sunsets and thunder, and lightning boom and crackle overhead.
Spiraling right down through the middle of the building is a colorful 43-foot-tall sculpture by Dale Chihuly titled “Fireworks of Glass,” but the real fun was when we reached the Lower Level, where we could look up at the sculpture through a transparent ceiling and see its reflection beneath us on the floor. There was a lot more down here, too.
National Geographic Treasures of the Earth was a three-part experience that took us through the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh; rows of Terra Cotta Warriors from Xi’an, China; and a shipwreck in the Caribbean.
Here children of different ages and abilities can see what it’s like to be an archaeologist.
Equally fun was the International Space Station, where kids can try on gear and see how astronauts live and work in space.
Adults who visit are expected to be in the company of a child. I’m looking forward to going again, but I’ll have to wait until Ryan comes back to visit.