Best Children’s Museums in Virginia

Top 10 Favorite Museums for Kids Twelve and Under

Learn & play at these kid-friendly Virginia children’s museums! Living in Charlottesville, we are perfectly placed to explore fun, interactive and educational museums without having to drive too far. Here in our guide to Virginia Children’s Museums are some of the best children’s museums in Virginia you don’t want to miss with your adventurous kids. Whether your little ones want a hands-on art experience or the chance to get up close and personal with insects, Virginia has tons of museums that are perfect for kids. By visiting these wonderful children’s museums, you can also help your child develop social skills through play. Nurture your child’s curiosity at these top destinations with hands-on exhibits and new experiences. So, load up the car to touch, taste, hear, smell and see as you explore these children’s museums perfect for toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children!

1. Children’s Museum of Richmond

(1–2 hour drive from Charlottesville)

The beloved Children’s Museum of Richmond (CMoR) has 18 interactive exhibits. From the multi-level living tree house to the well-known limestone cave, CMoR offers plenty of opportunities for your preschooler to explore! Special exhibits geared towards toddlers, such as the farm area with an enclosed crawler patch, ensures that children can connect with and learn from their environment. Tots can pick apples at the Apple Tree or “milk” a life-sized cow at the Dairy Barn to practice hand-eye coordination, and stop by the Wegmans exhibit to learn more about healthy eating and nutrition. Children can travel back in time with the Silver Diner, or practice car repair at the CarMax service station. Aspiring mechanics can even change tires and fasten on license plates at the Service Station. Have a future doctor on your hands? He or she can experience the museum’s ambulance with all its buttons, levers and steering wheel, and they can care for patients in their doctor’s office, exploring toys that mimic some of the tools they may experience at their own pediatrician’s office. Explore, create, draw and paint in the art studio; its many diverse materials make it a fun stop for all ages! For the older kids, be sure to visit the News Studio, where they can report the day’s news in front of the camera and learn about the media. Admission for the museum is good for the entire day, so your family can explore Richmond over lunch, or perhaps visit the neighboring Science Museum of Richmond. The CMoR shop offers an array of educational toys, projects, books, musical instruments and more to take home for continuing learning. CMoR is only open four days a week, from Thursday to Sunday, so plan accordingly. Mask use is mandatory, and guests are encouraged to register for tickets in advance of their visit. 804-474-7062, c-mor.org.

2. Amazement Square in Lynchburg

(1–2 hour drive from Charlottesville)

Just over one hour southwest of Charlottesville, Lynchburg is an easy drive for families wanting to adventure at Amazement Square. This four-story, hands-on museum is sure to spark imagination, creativity and curiosity with so many places for your preschooler to learn firsthand. Allow them to scramble up and down Amazement Tower, one of the tallest climbing structures in the nation, filled with slides, ladders, tunnels and even a zip-line. Or, they can step into a unique glass-wall paint box and fulfill their wish of painting on the walls. Learn about livestock at the Big Red Barn by helping milk a life-sized cow, collecting different crops and greeting an array of animals. These fun exhibits allow children to learn more about their region. Kids 36 months and under will enjoy the Shipwreck Cove exhibit where they can explore a pirate ship play structure and meet new friends. The “Bee in the Know” exhibit is great for older kids to learn about the importance of bees in our daily lives, the role beekeepers play in preserving the bee population and the impressive way that bees work together as a team to keep their hive running. The museum also offers multiple weekly programs, including Art Expeditions and Pop-up Programs. During Pop-up Programs, instructors lead demonstrations and hands-on exploration with fun science experiments that focus on electricity, air cannons, rocketry and more! These programs are all free with admission. 434-845-1888, amazementsquare.org.

3. Virginia Discovery Museum in Charlottesville

(0–1 hour drive from Charlottesville)

The Virginia Discovery Museum (VDM), located on Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall, is a local favorite, providing community-based exhibits and activities to help your children learn and grow. After checking in, you are free to wander from exhibit to exhibit, letting your little one’s curiosity lead the way. Push your creativity with engineering activities like building structures in the Construction Zone. Celebrate Virginia heritage at the Showalter Cabin, an authentic child-sized log cabin, where your child can cook with cast iron cookware, play porch games, and visit a chicken coop. In the Sound & Music Studio, children are exposed to more hands-on learning, where they can play with instruments, compose their own music, and see and manipulate their own sound waves. In the spacious back gallery, learn about the local community and different careers by sorting mail at the Post Office or checking in patients at the UVA Hospital. There is also a Bank, Citizen Cafe, and Discovery Outdoors (which includes a farm component and a Shenandoah Park component) and more, allowing your child to re-imagine and explore the spaces in their community in an approachable and fun setting. While there, explore the STEM lab’s magnetic wall and automoblox ramp with your older kids. 434-977-1025, vadm.org.

4. Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester

(2–3 hour drive from Charlottesville)

The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester features a unique variety of interactive exhibits that encourages learning through hands-on play. With 14 exhibitions, a rotating menu of weekly programs, four levels of exhibits and 19,000 square feet, your little explorer won’t run out of entertainment. The museum’s programs, both virtual and on-site, encompass a wide range of topics, from activities teaching the five senses and investigating insects to dinosaurs and music, movement and me activities that allow your child to choose from frogs, caterpillars and butterflies, turtles and fish. The museum has also loaded up some activities for at home on their website that touch on the arts, community, healthy living, nature and the world around us, STEM/STEAM activities, and sensory-friendly activities and STEAM storytimes. Admission is free on the first Friday of each month between 5–7 p.m. 540-722-2020, discoverymuseum.net.

5. The Explore More Discovery Museum in Harrisonburg

(1–2 hour drive from Charlottesville)

This intimate Shenandoah Valley museum understands that children learn by exploring their surroundings. The museum’s appreciation for a child’s broad spectrum of learning inspires each little one’s visual, auditory and tactile exhibits with which he or she can engage his/her minds and bodies. The adventure begins with construction and building toys in the hands-on museum. Next, guests are invited to check out the TV studio, garage service center, farm and farmers markets exhibits, as well as the art center, the science area where kids can use the microscope and the theater—complete with curtains, costumes and lighting that pint-sized stagehands can manage. Currently opened with reduced capacity, Explore More packs a lot of learning and fun into its cozy confines. 540-442-8900, iexploremore.com.

All of these attractions offer activities that will stimulate preschool-aged children to think, learn and play in diverse environments. From problem solving to creative thinking, kids are sure to walk away with more than just fun memories. Find more family-friendly daytrip ideas on our Family Fun page, and keep up-to-date on upcoming events on our Local Events Calendar

6. National Children’s Museum

(2-3 hour drive from Charlottesville)

The National Children’s Museum, new in 2020, welcomes guests with its Dream Machine, a three-level jungle gym complete with climbing places and massive slides, as well as large-scale, cloud-like balls illuminated with bright LEDs. It is so easy to spend a full day here! The National Children’s Museum piques young children’s interest in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) as they create professional goals. Visit the National Children’s Museum and enter a world of wonder. Through permanent and rotating exhibits, including a new exhibit climate change heroes, the museum is shaping young minds and inspiring them to dream big. There is a special “Little Dreamers” for babies and toddlers as well as a truly unique dance party pod where you can wiggle and giggle! Powered by Spotify, this new pod experience allows Dreamers to explore new genres of sound while discovering how different music inspires different movements. Museum tickets are not required to enter the dance party pod. Be sure to visit the Art and Tech wing (presented by Nickelodeon), which offers hands-on activity stations featuring engaging characters from popular shows like SpongeBob and Paw Patrol. 202-844-2486, nationalchildrensmuseum.org.

7. Wonder Universe, Christiansburg’s Children’s Museum

(3 hour drive from Charlottesville)

Wonder Universe is a nonprofit children’s museum located in Christiansburg, Virginia. Wonder Universe, with the support of community partners, provides a creative and playful learning environment that inspires children, caregivers and educators to discover and learn side-by-side in our 15,000-square-foot, 18-exhibit museum. Designed with the youngest guests in mind, the The Meadow exhibit provides an engaging and safe play space for children ages 0-3 and their caregivers. Explore climbing structures and ride-ons for gross motor skills, as well as supportive manipulatives to aid young children through their developmental growth. The Farm to Table exhibit allows kids to plant, harvest, and buy or sell produce, then prepare a fresh meal in the farm kitchen. Woodland Wonder is a therapeutic sensory environment that’s designed to be a safe space for exploration and de-escalation. You can even relax and read a book by the fire in a log cabin! Come play with airways at the Amazing Airplay Exhibit! See how things move through tubes and our bodies, like the circulatory system, the digestive system, and the respiratory system. Other great fun can be had at the Motor Mile Raceway, Build It Toolbox, Energy in Motion, Dentist Office, Fire Station, Vet Clinic, the Global Express Train, Fossil Tales, Appalachian Trail Stage and the Imagination Playground.

540-200-8231, wonderuniverse.org

8. Kids Square in Roanoke

(2-3 hour drive from Charlottesville)

Kids Square Museum, a highlight of Roanoke’s innovative Center in the Square, is a fun and engaging environment for children to explore and grow makes us a must-see for both families and educators. Kids Square is a leading location where families can explore, play, and learn in a STEM-enriched, educational, hands-on learning environment. They are so much more than an indoor playground! Professional educators and designers have thoughtfully developed a space where children can learn through play. With nine creative learning stations for hands on fun, there are lots of opportunities for children to explore at the museum. After checking in, children can easily explore the various exhibits on their own or with an accompanying adult. Children can immerse themselves in a variety of play environments, such as working at a bank, a veterinarian’s office, or a hospital. With so many pretend play options available, their imaginations will go wild. The innovative Kids Square Museum In Roanoke is filled with hands-on fun for exploring.

540-342-5777, kidssquare.org

All of these attractions offer activities that will stimulate preschoolers and school-aged children to think, learn and play in diverse environments. From problem-solving to creative thinking, kids are sure to walk away with more than just fun memories. Find more family-friendly daytrip ideas on our Family Fun page, and keep up-to-date on upcoming events on our Local Events Calendar. Some family favorites include hikes with kids, children’s museums, science day trips, historic attractions, active adventures, daytrips with planes, trains & hot wheels, interactive fun for the wee ones and more.

9. Portsmouth’s Children’s Museum of Virginia

(0–1 hour drive from Charlottesville)

The Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth is a place where families and caregivers with children ages 1-11 are encouraged to imagine, explore, and discover together through play. Virginia’s largest children’s museum, kids step inside a world where bubbles grow bigger than they are, where the forces of energy electrify and spark their imagination, where they can be a farmer, a banker, a scientist, a stargazer and more. The imaginative museum features a planetarium and two floors of displays. Its antique toy and model train collection is among the greatest on the East Coast. The museum’s highlights include a life-size tug boat and house, a real Hampton Roads Transit bus, the cab of a real fire engine from the Portsmouth Fire Department, and a real motorcycle from the Portsmouth Police Department. The first floor features a large interactive space (My City) where children can explore a street (Beazley Way) with multiple themed exhibits such as a port, market, bank, library, and museum, which houses traveling exhibits as well as a movie theater (Beazley Planetarium) that shows different shows each month. The first floor also houses the iconic Bubbles exhibit. The second level features three huge thematic displays that delve into art (CreARTivity), science (Dr. Forces Traveling Energy Extravaganza), and nature (My Backyard and Beyond). 757-393-5258, childrensmuseumvirginia.com

10. Children’s Science Center Lab in Fairfax

(2 drive from Charlottesville)

Northern Virginia Science CenterNorthern Virginia’s first interactive Children’s Museum, the Children’s Science Center Lab in Fairfax provides fun, interactive exhibits, activities, and programs for children, families and school groups to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) hands-on learning. It is the perfect way to get your kids excited about STEM!

Visit the Children’s Science Center Lab to discover, create, and be inspired! With four galleries filled with hands-on activities and experiments, your child may improve their problem-solving abilities, develop critical thinking skills, pique their interest, and more!

All visitors are urged to buy their tickets in advance. The Lab is intended for children ages 2 to 12 and their families. Children must have at least one engaged adult accompany them to the Lab. 703-648-3130, childsci.org

 

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