I spent many hot summer days as a kid in the cool rooms of the Franklin Institute, either accompanied by my parents or by peers and a camp instructor. I remember making an egg cracker in an invention program and running through the giant heart. The memories are fading because they were more than twenty years ago. Now, I had a chance to return, this time with my older daughter. The Franklin Institute media team was kind enough to provide two tickets for us so that I could share our experience and help other families plan their trip. All opinions are my own. As with any attraction where tickets were given for free, I donate the cost to the Suicide Hotline.
Arriving at the Franklin Institute
If driving to the Franklin Institute, check out these instructions. The museum does have a garage that charges $20 for one day, but plenty of other parking options abound. My daughter’s playdate’s mom parked in a 3-hour spot.
I always choose the train rather than drive when I have the option, so my daughter and I took the train in. My ticket cost $6 one way, and my daughter’s ticket was 50%, so we spend a total of $18. We had a lot of fun on the train eating some snacks – pretzels and apple and pear slices that I cut up that morning – and playing a couple games. We played “I Spy” and a new game I learned from one of my patients. It goes like this: “My name is … and my brother’s name is …. . We live in …. and we sell … . “ Every blank starts with the same letter each turn, starting from A to Z. The ride passed by very quickly, and soon we arrived at the Suburban Station stop. To help orient myself, I asked a staff for help to point me in the right direction. After that, it was a pleasant 10 minute walk to the Franklin Institute, and we got settled in right away!
The Giant Heart
There are all sorts of heart displays, but the largest one is the giant heart where kids and adults can climb and follow the flow of blood through the different chambers. This is a good one to stop at when you want the kids to expend some of their energy – in the beginning to calm them down a bit for less interactive museum browsing, and at the end to wind down for the ride home. We also enjoyed the comparison of hearts between all different animals. It was fun to guess which one belonged to which one. Another station monitored our heart rate while we anticipated being scared and then actually being jolted by a loud noise.
The neuron room was a large netted climbing structure demonstrating communication between brain cells. The kids really enjoyed hopping from one level to the next. This is another very physically active room, so we employed the same strategy above, stopping by here when we thought the kids needed to burn some energy. On our first visit here, it got very crowded when a group of students joined in. On later visits, the students had left and the area was very spacious. Since the kids did not want to leave this exhibit, we issued a few warnings when time is almost up so they can get into the midnset to leave, and hopefully minimize or eliminate any tantrums. A strategy concocted on the spot as parental neurons fired away!
In the brain teasers room, we tried to solve riddles and strain our eyes on optical illusions. Most kids in our group – aged 3-6 year old – were probably still a bit young to really appreciate most of the puzzles. However, it was a good introduction to the kids on how they can think about alternative solutions and to talk about how our brain can play tricks on us. One small room had sideways furniture and decor that the kids enjoyed climbing around in. Another station had people try to match facial expressions to emotions.
Brain Teasers for Kids
Space, Earth, and the Planetarium
We watched one show in the Planetarium. It was an overview of manmade things in space such as the artificial satellites that provides our convenient wifi and google images. The seats were comfortable, but the content was still maybe a bit advanced for my six year old and yet too superficial for me. My three year old, who did not join us that day, would probably not have sat through and have been scared. For comparison sake, short 3-D movies at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ are interesting enough for my six year old to follow and for me to learn some new facts. Of note, the planetarium does not allow food and drink.
The rest of the space and earth (actually two separate areas) displays had very interactive stations. The one above describes a black hole and has tiny marble size balls for kids to throw in and watch them zoom in circular paths until they fall through the bottom. There was also a place filled with gravel and water for kids to learn about the flow of water and a wall of different rocks found on earth.
The Sports Zone was a popular area for older kids, with stations to surf, race, pitch, jump, and splash. Kids of all ages were lined up to test out their strength, agility, and balance. Other stations reviewed the importance of drinking water and staying hydrated, the kinetics of the knee, and also aerodynamics of speed and direction when skiing.
Other attractions last the Franklin Institute included the Lego wall, Flight simulator, virtual reality demonstration, machines, IMax theater and special exhibits. I was surprised at how long the kids spent at the Lego wall ( and make your own Lego station with this kit). There a was a bench next to it, so it was a nice place for parents to take a break while the kids stayed happily occupied. We did not stay in line for the virtual reality station or go the IMax theater or visit special exhibits (at the time was Vikings). The latter two require extra fees and we were exhausted after about 2.5 hours of exploring the rest of the museum.
Build a Lego station at home
Food and Snack
At lunch time, we stopped by the cafeteria to fill up on fuel. The cafeteria offered the usual pizza, chicken fingers, hotdog options, as well as some snack options. I rarely let my kids drink juice, so I let her pick out a juice box. We also shared a hotdog and chicken fingers. Other options included pizza, sandwiches, salad, snacks, and milk.
The museum also had other places to get refreshments. The lobby of the Franklin Institute included some snack options such as ice cream and popcorn. I only noticed one water bottle filling station at the museum, but there may have been others.
Final Thoughts of the Franklin Institute
We had a fun time at the Franklin Institute and I highly recommend it especially for families who live in the city. There are plenty of activity for all ages, even adults! I thought the commute from the suburbs is a bit more challenging and expensive, so a membership probably won’t be worth it for me until the kids are a little older when they can be more engaged in the educational concepts and able to tolerate and enjoy spending the rest of the day exploring in the city.
We went on a day when only some schools were off, so the crowd at the Franklin Institute was medium to light. At least two school groups were there, so when the students were at an exhibit, it got a bit crowded and noisy, but it also quickly got quiet when they left. Most of the school groups were gone by 2:30pm.
As for the museum’s amenities, the bathrooms were easy to find and fairly clean. We did not use the elevators, but we saw other families using them and they all seemed to be working. The staff were all very nice and knowledgeable.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the activities and offerings at the museum, but rather a brief overview of highlights from my own. I hope it helps families and kids plan their visit.
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Looking for more stem activities for your kids?
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