When you wonder what to do with house-bound kids or grandkids during winter’s rainy months, take them to a children’s museum. Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia each have a dedicated children’s museum with creative exhibits and hands-on activities designed to encourage both play and learning.
These non-profit museums cater to toddlers up to 12-year-olds. While admission is usually charged, some museums also offer reduced admission once a week, a free time each month, or a “pay as you will” policy.
Imagine Children’s Museum in downtown Everett is the most convenient for Edmonds residents. It features playful learning to build kids’ thinking, language, physical, social, emotional and creative skills. Hands-on, indoor exhibits range from the Monte Cristo Railroad to the always-favorite Treehouse, Imagine Theatre to the multisensory adventure of Recollections Room, and make-believe restaurant Piccolo CafÃ© to On Par Mini Golf.
Kids can try Thinker Linkers to create with interlocking wood pieces and experience the newly renovated Imagine-Air plane, where they can play pilots, passengers, flight attendants and cargo handlers — as well as launch a flight from the “control tower.” At the Wildlife Clinic, kids can see real x-rays and listen for heartbeats with a stethoscope to learn about caring for sick or injured pets or wild animals. The Rise and Shine Farm simulates riding a horse, milking a cow, driving a real 1952 McCormick Farmall Cub tractor and collecting chickens’ eggs.
Plus kids can learn about air movement in the interactive Air-Mazing Laboratory, examine the physical properties of water in Imagine WaterWorks and create with unusual materials in the Art Studio. For little ones ages 1-3, the Early Childhood area features The SeaShore where they can climb, slide and crawl through colorful sea creatures including an orca, sea lion and octopus.
If it’s not raining, also go up to the outdoor Tall Timbers Rooftop Adventure. Here kids can play paleontologists, explorers and musicians with a 30-foot Stegosaurus skeleton, fossil dig area, look-out tower/climbing structure, musical stage and play area.
Imagine Children’s Museum is open daily year-round except Mondays and holidays; times vary by day. On Thursdays from 3-5 p.m., admission is half-price; see website for admission prices and hours.
Seattle Children’s Museum is located in Seattle Center’s Armory building and offers exhibits that involve creative, hands-on exploration for children and their families. Designed for kids ages 10 months to 10 years, the museum also features daily educational programs or activities that are free with the cost of admission.
Current exhibits range from Cog City (highlighting the science behind motion, velocity, gravity, and balance) to Fort Adventure (build your own fort, clubhouse or tent). Kids can create art in in the Imagination Studio, act in the Bijou Theatre and experience the cultures of Ghana, Philippines and Japan at the Global Village. There are also exhibits with partners Sound Transit, Metropolitan Market and Optometric Physicians of Washington.
Seattle Children’s Museum is open daily except major holidays: Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Find free and reduced admission opportunities at https://thechildrensmuseum.org/visit/prices/free-or-reduced-admission/
Children’s Museum of Tacoma features five “playscapes” offering hands-on exploration. Designed for crawlers to kids age 8, the museum focuses on the areas of creativity, social and emotional skills, cognitive and critical thinking skills, gross and fine motor development, and early literacy learning.
The five playscapes include Woods, Water, Voyager, Invention and Becka’s Studio, which fosters open-ended creative art making, experimental tinkering and expressive endeavors. Woods, for example, lets kids enter by crawling through a log pile, build a fort or find a cozy nook for reading and quiet discovery. A crawler and toddler area encourages early sensory exploration and age-appropriate gross motor play.
Children’s Museum of Tacoma takes an unusual Pay as You Will admission approach to ensure every child and family can come there to play. Visitors are asked to make an admission donation based on what they can afford. The Museum has offered Pay As You Will since 2012, supported by KeyBank.
Children’s Museum of Tacoma is open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and stays open until 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. It also hosts Tuesday Play Days for children with special needs 10-11:30 a.m.
Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia features more than 150 hands-on exhibits in nine galleries with Pacific Northwest settings. They include Arts & Parts Studio, Build It, Emergency, Fabulous Forest, Good for You, Move It, Tides to Trees Climber, Puget Sound and Outdoor Discovery Center.
This Outdoor Discovery Center is the first one connected with a children’s museum in Washington State. Its current exhibits range from Puget Sound Beach Replica and Driftwood Fort Construction Area to Trike-and-Hike Loop, Rain Garden, Naturalist Cabin and Chicken Coop among the 11 exhibits total. Coming soon are Art Fence, Lighthouse Lookout and Ferry Boat.
Hands On Children’s Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday-Monday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The Outdoor Discovery Center closes at 4 p.m. or during inclement weather. On the first Friday of each month, the museum is also open 5-9 p.m. with free admission then.
Imagine Children’s Museum
1502 Wall St.
Everett, WA 98201
Seattle Children’s Museum
305 Harrison Street
Seattle, WA 98109
Children’s Museum of Tacoma
1501 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Hands On Children’s Museum
414 Jefferson St. N.E
Olympia, WA 98501
Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.