Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Children's Musuems

We've been to a lot of children's museums around the country, thanks to our reciprocal membership from the Austin Children's Museum.  I thought it would make sense to rank them in order, and include some pictures, highlights, and areas for improvement for each of them.

1. Children's Museum of Houston

Wow - where to begin?  It's huge, has a real city with working ATM machines that give pretend money, a crime lab, police car, ambulance, vet office, restaurant and grocery store. It also has areas where kids can color and paint, and a huge outdoor water area where you can pump water through pipes.  Outside, they have real baby chickens and turtles, and a playground.  Here's a post from one of our visits.  One time we went and spent almost the entire day in a floor just for arts and crafts and building things from Legos and similar building materials.

Cons: Can't see it all in one day. 

2. Mississippi Children's Museum

Who would've guessed such a great, new children's museum would be in Jackson, Mississippi?  But I'm telling you, it's totally worth the drive.  Our favorite thing here is an actual car next to a gas pump that lets you pretend to fill it up.  On the bottom floor they have a huge larger-than-life-sized digestive track that you can crawl through, starting in the mouth and ending in a toilet!  I went through it backwards, of course.  They also have a neat build-it-yourself house, a good arts and crafts room and a decent grocery store.

They even have fountains in the front, that create a mini-splash pad.  It's also next to a fantastic park.  We've been here several times on our way to and from Atlanta.  Here's a post from one of our visits.

Cons: Like many children's museums, they are closed on Mondays.  Also, one of their playscapes dumps kids into a locked area that leaves them stuck if they are too little to climb out.  Dad had to get a museum employee to unlock it to get Hazel out, and the guy said it happens at least once a day.

3. McWane Science Center (Birmingham, AL)

Here's a post about one of our trips there.  They have  pretty good area for everyone to run around in, a bed of nails to lay on, a fun house (see left), and a really good water section.  But the highlight is the bubble room where you can make tons of giant bubbles and even stand inside a bubble.  They have a nice room downstairs for eating, a dinosaur section complete with a sand pit you can dig in.  There is also a great aquarium where you can touch sharks and see lots of different kinds of fish.

Cons: Surprisingly, this museum does not have a grocery store.  This seems to be a staple of children's museums, but not here.  Also, they have free parking for members, but not for reciprocal membership holders.

4. San Antonio Children's Museum

Since San Antonio is only about an hour away, we go to this one a LOT.  It's a pretty good museum.  When you first walk in, there is a train to sit in.  After climbing the first flight of stairs, there a very cool airplane that you can climb in with a very realistic cockpit.  Dad likes the air traffic control tower.  Hazel likes sitting on the luggage conveyor belt.  They have a reasonably nice reading room with a little house to climb around in.  On the bottom floor is a great area for eating, a cow you can milk ,some other farm animals, and the best grocery store of any children's museum.  It's sponsored by HEB, and has a really great collection of different foods.

There is lots of Spanish here too.

Cons: There's a big section at the front that's pretty lame.  It has construction things that pick up and dump balls - you see them at a lot of children's museums, but its not very well done here. 

5. Children's Museum Tucson

There are some pretty novel things in this museum.  In the first room they have a firetruck and a motorcycle that you can ride on, along with uniforms you can wear.  The next room has a Lego table where I spent a lot of time building things. They also have a neat room where you can write with light pens on the walls. This is very cool, and Hazel spent a lot of time doing that when we visited this museum. Then she went over to another room to draw on chalkboards. The last room we went in had fruit and vegetables you could pick from trees, shopping carts, and a kitchen with blenders.  I made Mom and Dad some smoothies.  I wish every museum had a kitchen like this.  Here's a post from our visit there.

Cons: They aren't 100% on the reciprocation plan, even though the children's museum association's website claims they are. We had to talk them into letting us in with our membership.

6. The Discovery Science Place (Tyler, TX)

Another surprising discovery, this great children's museum is in downtown Tyler, Texas.  Dad noticed it had great Yelp! reviews, and we all agree that the great reviews are well-deserved.

The museum is deceptively large, with several different rooms.  They also have some things we didn't see anywhere else.  In the picture to the right, you can see the human puzzle that Hazel and I liked to work together on.  They also have an ambulance you can climb in - too late for this guy though!  The museum has a fun restaurant and kitchen area, grocery store, hospital and vet office. 

Turner really appreciated the toddler area where he could crawl around freely and play with various toddler toys.  There is a rock climbing wall, which Hazel and I liked to use as a pretend bounce house.  There is a pretty cool science center that features a cave, a giant boat, and an area where you can play with golf balls and see the effects of gravity when the balls go over roller coasters and through spirals and other fun shapes.

Cons: No water area.  No great place for eating - we wound up sitting in a hallway by trash cans.  Also, limited parking available.

7. The Children's Museum of Atlanta

There are a lot of fun things to do in the Atlanta Children's Museum.

They have one section which is basically a giant whiteboard for paint.  You can paint it as much as you want, and when you're done, they have a special water device that cleans it off.

There is also a great sand area and a pretty large water area to play in.  They have a first class grocery area where the food moves from farm to grocery to kitchen.  I'm always impressed with the conveyor belt where you can load the farm food and groceries on an off a truck.  Here's a post about one of our visits there.

Cons: They have a neat theater section, but it's usually too loud.  It scared all of us.  Also, for a city the size of Atlanta, it's kind of small.

8.  Dallas Children's Museum

I have to be honest, we've only been here once, and I don't remember a lot about it.  It was at the end of a pretty long drive.  I remember it being fun, but not out-of-this-world fun like the museums above it on this list.  We'll put it here for now, and I'll update this next time we're up in Dallas.

9. Kids on the Fly (Chicago O'Hare Aiport)

Yes, this children's museum is actually located inside the Chicago airport.  This is an absolutely wonderful way to spend a layover.  Here is a post about one of our visits there, along with some reviews and pictures from TripAdvisor.  This museum is completely air-travel themed, with a helicopter, plane, control tower, and even a cargo bay.  We liked moving the cargo around and generally just running around between our flights.

Cons: Anything I say would be nit-picking, given that its inside an airport and completely free.  I guess, just don't expect a full-sized children's museum.

10. Austin Children's Museum

Obviously, this is the children's museum we've been to the most.  Given that, it's probably natural for us to be a bit more picky about it.

I'll start with the good.  The reciprocal membership we have with the ACM got us into all these other museums. What a great deal, and we could do it in a way that supports our own city!

The museum is pretty easy to get to, and the parking is pretty cheap after validation.  They have a great toddler area that is large, closed off, and has fun things to climb on.  They also rotate through special exhibits.  Some of the special exhibits have been great - the transportation exhibit featured a train we could climb on and the dinosaur exhibit had a pit we could dig in for fossils and dinosaurs we could climb on.

The museum is spread out over three floors, and I do love riding on the elevators.  They are just a little too easy to get to for Mom and Dad's taste, as we spend an awful lot of our time here riding up and down elevators.

They have a pretty good construction area, where you can sort shapes and build things.  They also have an electric train that travels around the museum.

Cons: Way, way too crowded.  Everything is smashed together, and some of the staircases feel downright dangerous.  The whole place is pretty small. I hear they are looking at moving to a different location, which may help alleviate the space issues. The electric train is usually broken. Some of the things in the toddler area also do not work. This museum feels a little bit dirtier than most.  And there is not water area, sand area, or arts and crafts area to speak of.

11. Insights El Paso Science Center

Mom says it isn't really fair to put this at the bottom, since its not really a children's museum, but we ranked other science centers, so I wanted to at least mention it.  I guess what I would say is that if you are stuck in El Paso due to a snowstorm, there are worst places you could go.  They did have an area where you could build with blocks and crawl around on mats, but it wasn't blocked off, so it wasn't great for a toddler area.  Most of the rest of the stuff there is probably geared toward older kids.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sensitive Mitch

Last week, it was one of my favorite teacher’s last day of school. We went in to say goodbye to her, and she told Mom this story:

“Mitchell came up to me and said I looked sad. I told him I was kind of sad, and he patted my back and told me it’s going to be okay.”

Mom and Dad are really proud that I am such a tuned-in, sensitive and kind little guy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Turner's on the Move

Turner’s making a lot of progress toward walking. He’s really been walking a lot with the help of his walking toy. Once in a while he takes a step or two after he’s been walking while holding the couch, and he walked while holding Dad’s hand at the park. Wednesday he let go of his walking toy and took three big steps to Mom!

Turner still really likes playing with vehicles (he even makes a zzzzzz noise when he makes his cars, trains and busses go across the floor or furniture) and balls. He’s been throwing things a lot, especially his food, and we think he has a future as a pitcher.

In other big Turner news, he’s getting his fourth front bottom tooth, which we were waiting for. We’re glad he seems to have all his teeth.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Don't steal Hazel

Hazel is very charismatic, and she likes to talk a lot. She has a good sense of humor, is creative and has a good imagination.

One of our friends told Dad that if they were ever going to steal one of their friends’ kids, it would be Hazel. We found that pretty funny. We’re really proud of her

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hair and There

The day Oma left, Mom said it was time for Hazel and me to get a haircut. We headed to the mall and JC Penney, who’s offering free haircuts for kids in August.

Hazel was pretty scared when we first got there, but when she got in the chair and saw all the mirrors, she relaxed and thought it was fun. She really surprised the lady who cut her hair. When she learned Hazel was three, she didn’t think it would work out. But it did!

Hazel had been complaining about her hair in her face and Mom thought Hazel looked hot. So Mom told the hair lady to take it off her face. Hazel ended up with a pretty short haircut. She really likes it. She said it feels good. Mom and Dad say she looks like a pixie and that it looks like a cool summer haircut.

I was very brave about the whole thing. I asked the lady lots of questions. Before we went to the salon, I told Mom I wanted to keep my long, wild hair. Afterward, I told her I like it better short.

Click here for photos of us with our new haircuts and fun with a sprinkler ball Bubbe got Mitch for his birthday.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Visit from Oma

We've been really busy wrapping up summer.

Two days after we returned from Atlanta, we had another visitor -- Oma!

Friday morning, we went to the airport to pick her up. She greeted us with fun Red Sox hats!

After a nice lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, EZ's, we headed to Sandy's Shoes to pick up Turner's first pairs of shoes.

Turner picked out two pairs of sandals, one navy blue and one red. They're really cute on his little feet. At first he tried to pull and chew them off, but he seems to like them now. We also found some fun toys while we were at Sandy's. I got a letter magnet chalkboard and Hazel picked out a ballerina puzzle.

We chilled out at home and our park that afternoon and evening, but hit the splash pad Saturday morning. Hot and tired, we had lunch at another favorite, Taco Cabana. Oma said it wouldn't be a trip to Austin without hitting TC. After everyone napped, we grocery shopped at Costco, then had a fun dinner at Five Guys with dessert from Amy's Ice Cream. I was super excited because I ate my ice cream on a cow!

Sunday was the last day of Oma's quick trip, so we made the most of it and headed down to San Antonio. On the way down, we had to stop for diapers so Oma took us to a commissary on a military base. I've never been on a military base before! Once we got to San Antonio we had a fun Tex-Mex lunch, then went on a riverboat tour on the Riverwalk. Turner really liked the ducks. Mom had to hold on to him so he wouldn't jump out of the boat after them. Hazel and I decided boats are a fun way to travel. Oma and Mom thought it was hot.

Next we visited the San Antonio Children's Museum and almost closed it down before heading home to Austin. We had dinner at one of Mom's favorites, a Mexican place in South Austin called Polvo's. Then we said goodbye to Oma and went to bed. When we woke up the next morning, she was gone!

We're glad Oma could visit! It was a lot of fun.

For pictures of our fun visit, click here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pictures from Early July

Remember Hazel's day out with Will and Avi back in early July? Well, we finally got the pictures, and there are some great ones.  As you can see from this picture, Hazel is already giving Dad a heart attack about the thought of her driving!  Here's a link to the pictures.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The long drive home

We grew a lot on this trip.  Dad shrunk too.
We were very sad to leave Atlanta and especially Bubbe, but Dad told us that we were still in for an exciting couple of days on the road.  Boy was he right!  We took a few days to get back to Austin, enjoying all that the road had to offer.

Monday morning we made it out of the house earlier than Mom and Dad anticipated, which was a great start to the day.  The weather was perfect, as it had been on all of our driving days.  Before Hazel and I could even truly settle in, we were at the Birmingham Children's Museum.  This is definitely one of the nicer children's museums we've been to.

At the entrance, they have a bed of nails.  We all took turns lying on it.  It was surprisingly comfortable.

Hazel was super excited about the Bubble Room, so we went there next.  Dad helped us make giant bubbles around ourselves.  I watched Mom and Dad make some big bubbles, and then I figured out how to do it myself!  It was pretty cool.  After that, we found a giant play area where all of us could run around.  Turner was happy to have some space to crawl around in, and kept crawling in big circles around the place.  He was laughing a lot.  Hazel and I climbed up and down the playscape - we were pretty brave.  Mom thinks our new book Chico the Brave has made us much braver about things lately.

After that, we moved on to the water area.  We all donned our smocks - even Turner! - and played in the water for a while.  Turner stood the entire time, grabbing things as they floated by.  Its neat that he can play the same things as us more often.  Once we tired of the water area, we moved downstairs to the "World of Water"  This area featured a lot of the same things as the Atlanta Aquarium.  They had a shark and ray tank where you could reach in and touch the sharks.  Hazel actually did touched one!  She's really taking a lot of lessons from Chico the Brave.

It was so hot Hazel's eyes turned white
We looked at a lot more fish and then headed upstairs to look at dinosaurs.  Hazel liked this area because she could dig in the sand.  Mom took the opportunity to run back to the car and grab our lunch.  She and Dad had packed a ton of delicious and healthy food for the trip.  We had salads, fruit, sandwiches, and left the museum feeling very full. We were all quietly content for the next part of the drive.

Outlaws: We broke into this park to play on the playscape.
When we got to Jackson, Mississippi, we went back to Le Fleur's Bluff State Park. The great thing about this park is that it has a giant playscape. However, the restrooms were under construction, and there wasn't a ton of shade, and it was HOT. Mom made the best of it though, and we found a small shady spot on the playground to eat our yummy dinner. While we were walking out, a park range came driving up to us on the sidewalk. I asked her why she was driving on the sidewalk. She said the park was closed, and we shouldn't be here! Oops! We told her we were on our wait out and quickly walked back to the car, packed up, and left. Mom and Dad made a few jokes about being outlaws.

We stayed at the same Holiday Inn Express in Clinton that we did on our way to Atlanta.  This hotel was great.  They gave us a giant suite, which really helped since all of us were in the same room.  Since we got in relatively early, we headed down to the pool for a night-time swim.  Hazel especially thought it was really cool swimming at night.  She did a great job putting her face under and practicing swimming.  I found I could walk in the 3 foot depth in the shallow end and really liked that.  It did remind all of us that we're ready to get back to our swim lessons later this week.  There was another kid in the hotel pool the same time as us, and he was really great at swimming.  He was 6 years old.  I hope I'm that good at swimming next year.  After the swim, we were all pretty tired, so we took a quick bath and went to bed at a reasonable time.  That allowed us to get up early the next morning, and get a great jump on our second travel day.

Because of the way the trip was structured, our second day was a bit longer than our first day.  We drove about four hours to the Texas border and stopped at a Rest Area for lunch.  It was really nice to sit outside and eat al fresco, but Mom said she could definitely feel the difference in temperature as we headed back to Austin.  Even in the shade, it was pretty hot.  The rest area also had a tourist information building, so we went in there and all got giant "Don't Mess with Texas" stickers.

Back to the human puzzle.  This time with
our "Don't  Mess with Texas" stickers.
We drove for a couple more hours until we got to the Tyler Children's Museum.  This was the highlight of the second driving day.  We did a lot of the same things as last time.  Hazel and I played with the human body puzzle and spent a lot of time in the pretend restaurant. Turner went back to the toddler area and took advantage of the opportunity to crawl around.  He also waved and talked to everyone that went by.  Hazel ran around the "bounce house" (a mat at the bottom of a climbing wall) and I played with the gravity golf balls for a while.  After a couple of hours at the Museum, Dad said we had to get going again.  I think at this point, we were all getting pretty tired of being in the car, but we were excited about being able to sleep in our own bed.

After the children's museum, we drove for a few hours before everyone started getting hungry for dinner.  Unfortunately, the next few rest areas were either closed, didn't have restrooms, or didn't have shade.  So, Mom and Dad decided to be outlaws again.  We stopped at a random Holiday Inn Express along the highway, pulled out all of our dinner stuff from the car, and we walked through the lobby straight into the dining room and had a nice air-conditioned dinner.  We got a few curious looks from the front desk, but they just assumed we were staying at the hotel.  Dad even grabbed a couple of cookies for me and Hazel.

We got in pretty late on Tuesday night and all three of us went to bed without much fuss, dreaming of our next road trip, whenever that may be...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Fun-Filled Four Days

We have been having a blast in Atlanta.

On Thursday, we woke up early to go visit Bubbe at work and get our teeth cleaned. I was super excited about it and hopped up on the dentist chair right away. I picked cookie dough and marshmallow flavored toothpaste - yum! The dentist said my teeth looked great. Hazel was a little more cautious and Dad had to take her outside to calm her down. She got nervous when she saw people wearing masks. When she came back in, no one was wearing a mask and she did great too. The dentist even checked Turner's teeth. We had to pull his thumb out of his mouth long enough for the dentist to check them. Afterwards, we all picked out stickers and prizes and headed back to Bubbe's house for lunch. It was a fun checkup. Dad was proud at how well we all did at the dentist, and was happy that our oral care passed muster.

After a nice lunch and a nap for Hazel and Turner, we went to a yummy restaurant for dinner with Aunt Laurie and Uncle Jonathan. We were sure excited to see them again.

Friday morning we woke up early so we could go to the Atlanta Aquarium. It was great. We saw all kinds of different fish. Dad and Turner's favorite were the jellyfish. Hazel liked the beluga whales best. I liked the sea otters best. The penguins were really fun too. They had a room where fish swam all around us. There were giant manta rays, whale sharks, other kinds of sharks, giant groupers, and french grunts. I liked looking at the list of fish and trying to find them.  We had several snacks at the aquarium and walked around a lot. As we were leaving, Bubbe bought Hazel and me a fun orange fish. Hazel named hers Frank, which may be confusing when get back home and introduce him to our real fish Frank.

Friday night, we went to a really fun Shabbat party at the J in Atlanta.  The pool area at this J was a LOT bigger than the J in Austin.  There were water slides and a giant splash pad.  The water was so warm that even Dad jumped right in.  Hazel liked that the pool had a big area that was three feet deep where she could walk around.  Bubbe took all of us to different areas of the pool where we could swim around and show her all the new things we learned.  There was a rabbi singing Shabbat songs and playing guitar.  Aunt Laurie took us over to an arts and crafts table where we made Shabbat picture frames.  Afterward, Hazel and I played in the splash pad for a long time.  We actually closed the whole party out.  We all hope we can go back next time we in Atlanta. 
Saturday morning, we had a nice leisurely morning.  We went over to the playground at Dad's old elementary school.  The weather was beautiful.  Hazel and I climbed up ladders and down slides, then climbed up slides and down ladders.  Mom and Dad even walked on some balance beams.  It was a very relaxed and fun morning.

When we got back from the park, a babysitter came over to watch us while Mom, Dad, Aunt Laurie and Bubbe went to Great-Great Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Sam's 70th wedding anniversary party.  The sitter was very nice and played with us, read us stories and fed us lunch.  She told Mom and Dad that Hazel was quite a talker (which we all knew).  She also said that once Hazel was asleep, Turner made a lot of sounds and noises - apparently, he was just having a hard time getting a word in with Hazel around.

Saturday afternoon, Bubbe set up an alligator pool in her yard. She also put out a wacky sprinkler. We loved running around in the soft grass, playing in the pool, and running around in the sprinkler. After a while, I got Bubbe's watering pitcher and watered her flowers for her. Then I noticed she had a dirty slide, and washed that for her. I washed it thoroughly, filling the giant watering pitcher over and over, walking it across the whole yard, and scrubbing the slide. The slide was very clean once I was done with it. Hazel was thrilled with the sprinkler and kept running in circles around it until she would fall down on the soft, wet grass. Then she'd do it again. I'm sure I was never that crazy. While we were playing in the yard, Hazel ran over to a redbud tree that was planted in Papa's memory and asked where Papa is now. Dad told her Papa was watching from heaven. After that, a few relatives came over and watched us swim.

Sunday, Mom ran some errands to get ready for our return drive while we stayed home with Dad and Bubbe.  Bubbe had a special treat for us.  She made peanut butter cookies and had different color icing, and different shape sprinklers for us to decorate them with.  I made a bunch of different faces and then ate them pretty quickly.  Hazel spent a long time on each cookie, making rainbow colors on them.  They were delicious.

After we cleaned up our cookie-decorating mess, Aunt Laurie came back over to help Bubbe take Hazel and I to Build-A-Bear.  We had so much fun.  I made a bear named Brown who was actually blue.  He has a fish in his hand, just like the fish I got from the aquarium, and makes a monkey noise. Hazel made a rainbow bunny named Hazel that giggles just like she does.  We even got to go on a computer and make birth certificates for our creatures.  Thanks Bubbe for such a fun treat!

When we got back, Mom and Dad had finished getting all of the food ready for our trip back.  Turner was so excited to see us again, he celebrated by taking his very first steps!  He's been on his feet more this week, and stood in the middle of the room without holding on to anything to help him get up yesterday. Then today he was holding on to the table and Mom was a couple feet away and held her arms out and asked him to come to her. And to her surprise, Turner did it! Bubbe was very happy to be there for it.  Everyone was very happy for Turner, especially Hazel.  She ran up and hugged Turner.  Unfortunately, he's not too stable yet, and when she let go, Turner fell down and whacked his head on the edge of a table.  He has a big shiner now.  It's rough being little - I don't miss it at all.

Sunday night, Uncle Jonathan came back over for dinner.  We picked up Thai food.  Hazel and I really liked the "peanut butter noodles." 

Monday, it was time for Bubbe to go back to work and for us to start driving back to Austin.  I'll tell you about our return trip, and post a link to the pictures, in a future blog post.