Spiders and Cockroaches and Snakes! Oh, My!

Photo by Alice Perry Spiders and Cockroaches and Snakes

If Dorothy, Scarecrow, and the Tin Man were transported to any number of children’s museums this weekend, they’d be likely to exclaim, “Spiders and cockroaches and snakes! Oh, my!” There are plenty of creepy crawlers on view at museums from New York to Boston and San Francisco, where kids can get an up-close look at critters and learn how cool—and important to the Earth’s ecosystem—they really are.

New York’s American Museum of Natural History spins an enormous web of an exhibit with Spiders Alive! Kids can get up close (and safely) to more than 20 species of spiders, including a Black Widow and the type of spider featured in Charlotte’s Web.

While spiders also get their moment at Arthropods: Creatures that Rule at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, in Boston, cockroaches take center stage with their own mini-exhibit at the museum. City dwellers may get freaked out at these creepy crawlers, but scientists attest that cockroaches are nurturing parents and often carry and protect their young.

If spiders and cockroaches are a little too commonplace for your kids, the staff at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco would be happy to introduce them to some exotic and colorful snakes this Saturday at Ssssnake Encounter. Kids will learn about these slithering creatures’ unique natural history, predatory behavior, and surprising special senses.

Photo courtesy of Alice Perry


Get Yer Geek On at World Maker Faire

World Maker FaireIt’s time to get yer geek on this weekend. Dubbed the “greatest show (and tell) on Earth,” the World Maker Faire takes over New York Hall of Science Sept. 20-21. This traveling circus of invention and creativity will feature hundreds of DIY makers who will showcase their fun and over-the-top creations, such as rockets, electronics, and robots.

Speaking of robots, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta hosts Grady Robotics on Saturday where Grady High School’s First Robotics Team will demonstrate some of its cool robots and other engineering feats. Kids will be able to build their own LEGO robot and operate a remote-control robot.

Over in Boston, some super smart MIT students will also be showing off their quirky inventions this weekend at the Inventions: 2014 Student Showcase at the MIT Museum. Kids will dig the futuristic creations like the tabletop interface that converts everyday objects into musical instruments.

Meanwhile at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, kids can build their own geeky gadget on Saturday at Chibitronics. At this hands-on workshop, your little inventors will learn how to create light-up LED cards using circuits and paper.

Photo courtesy of Maker Media



Nancy Rubins at Gagosian: A Heaven for Playground Equipment

If there were a heaven for abandoned playground equipment, it might look a lot like the Nancy Rubins exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery. Entitled Our Friend Fluid Metal, the show features four colossal installations made from old spring riders. This is one Chelsea gallery exhibit where your kids will definitely recognize the source material.

Gagosian underneath

All photos by Alice Perry

Defying gravity, the forgotten duckies, elephants, and ponies are tied together and suspended in the air by bridge cable wire. Kids will groove on the carnival of colors and toy animals even if they can’t touch them. They’ll love that they’re able to not only walk around the artwork but can stand underneath 20,000 pounds of metal.

Gagoisan detail 01The gymnasium-sized Gagosian gallery gives the artwork space to spread out and breathe. The largest of the group stretches 42 feet by 24 feet across the gallery, floating like a celestial body. Another of the assemblages, also made from industrial steel coils and chipped-painted animals, rises from the floor, shaped like a freeze frame of a mammoth wave that never crashes. What’s interesting about the show is that there’s no feeling of an ironic wink-wink about using old playground toys. Rubins is simply reusing and recycling the equipment in the most artistic way possible.

The free exhibit is on view until Sept. 13 at the Gagosian gallery at 522 W. 21st St., open Mon. through Fri. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.



Fringe Jr. Turns Kids On To Live Theater

The New York International Fringe Festival  isn’t just for hipster theatergoers. As part of the two-week fest, FringeNYC offers Fringe Jr., which is specifically designed for families and is a great way to turn your kids on to live theater.

The Fringe Jr. plays are recommended for kids age five to 12 (although we think younger kids would dig them as well). Most of the plays include music and lean toward the goofy end of the spectrum. The best part is that the productions respect the younger audience and never talks down to them.

Vagabonds 02One of the four plays in rotation for Fringe Jr., Vagabond$ tells the story of a friendship between two travelers who speak different languages​​ but learn to communicate through their love of music and pizza. Presented by the bilingual ExtraTeatro, the one-hour show traces their rags to riches and back to rags journey using lots of physical comedy (one of the actors has Harpo Marx’s moves down pat). Although it may rehash the old adage that money can’t buy happiness, it does it in a fresh and entertaining way that will get the kids (and you too) laughing.

Other shows include Alienne: The Musical Adventures of My Little Martian, which transports Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid into a wacky world of outer space; And Then Came Tango, inspired by the true story of male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raised a baby fledgling and caused a public outcry; and My Monster Friend about a lonely doctor who creates a friend in his lab with a mail-ordered brain.

All shows are performed at the Theater at the 14th Street Y and cost $13 per person.


Free Storytime at Central Park Conservatory’s Sandbox Series

The Central Park Conservatory may sound very serious and officious, but its Sandbox series is a lot of fun with large doses of silliness. Taking place in different Central Park playgrounds, the weekday summer program includes storytime, music, dance, and puppet shows. (And they’re all free.)

Sandbox stories Central Park Conservatory storytime

At a recent Sandbox Stories at the Safari Playground at W. 91st St., seasoned storyteller Brennan Lowery regaled the under five set with a Brother Grimm-style legend about a ravenous little girl who ate everything in sight (including family members). Besides telling tall tales, Lowery read from a storybook and got the kids dancing. Throughout the session, he recruited the kids to help bring the stories alive by asking questions and having them make lots of silly animal noises and sound effects.

The best part of the Sandbox program is that it’s outside at a playground. In the fresh air and under a canopy of trees, a Sandbox event makes a visit to the playground extra special. It also gives you a short break as well (but don’t be surprised if you find yourself joining in on the fun as well).


Museum of Jewish Heritage Gets Techie to Teach History

The Museum of Jewish Heritage knows how to get kids to pay attention to history. Just get techie and give ’em an Ipod and a stunning view.

MJH Voices 01At the museum’s Voices of Liberty exhibit, kids are handed a sensor-activated Ipod. When they stand in one of the themed spots in the room, they’ll hear a voice of a Holocaust survivor, refugee, and others talk about his or her immigrant journey to the U.S.

The extra cool thing about this exhibit is that the New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island provide a very real, spectacular backdrop to the soundscape of stories. As kids listen to a first-person account about seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, they can look out from the floor-to-ceiling windows and see the real thing.

MJH Gardens of Stone 1At the start of the show, be sure to check out Timekeeper, another exhibit that incorporates technology and the very real to convey history. This interactive exhibit uses a time-lapse camera to record changes to the Andy Goldsworthy’s Garden of Stones sculpture. At the interactive station, kids spin a dial to flashback to the sculpture’s beginning. Afterwards, they can visit and walk through the peaceful park outside just a few floors below.



Met Museum’s Roof Garden Installation: A Magical Spot

The Met Museum’s new roof garden installation is a magical spot for you and the kids to explore art, eat lunch, and take in spectacular views of Central Park and the NYC skyline.

Met Rooftop installation

All photos by Alice Perry

Designed by Dan Graham with Günther Vogt, the commission’s centerpiece is a structure made with curved, reflective glass between two hedge rows. Graham calls the artwork a “two-way mirror hedge labyrinth walkabout,” and although that’s a mouthful, that description basically sums it up. Kids will dig walking into the patio structure and following the S-curved glass, which reflects the skyline and your image in funhouse proportions.

The rooftop itself is covered with synthetic grass so soft that when you sit down you may absented-mindedly Met Rooftop looking overpull on a “blade” like you do with the real stuff. Walk over to the terrace’s edge and drink in the amazing one-of-a-kind views of Central Park. The rooftop area feels like it’s floating and hovering just over the treetops like a magic carpet ride.

While you’re enjoying the view, buy a bite to eat at the Roof Garden Café, which serves tasty sandwiches, salads, and sweets, and take a seat under the shady pergola. And if you’re with some friends and a bit thirsty, try one of the fun specialty drinks like “The Ramble” (sweet tea and lemonade with bourbon) or “The Meadow” (basil syrup and cucumber juice with gin).



All Aboard: A NYC Kids Cruise that Doesn’t Feel Touristy

Circle Cruise view

All photos by Alice Perry

C’mon, admit it. You’ve always wanted to go on one of those NY Harbor cruises with your kids, but you thought they just seemed too (that dreaded word) “touristy.” Well, have no fear. The Circle Line NYC Kids Cruise is a blast for everyone in the whole family and doesn’t feel touristy at all.

Circle Cruise musicDeparting from Pier 83 at W. 42nd St., the two-tiered boat is large enough to provide a smooth ride and to allow kids to roam around, but it’s also small enough not to be overwhelming.

Throughout the 75-minute cruise (just the right amount of time), kids are entertained with a roving magician, face-painting or a balloon artist on the top deck, and a musical performance on the lower level. Despite all the goings-on, the fun feels loose and not regimented or overly organized.

Oh, and did we mention the views? Yes, your kids will be occupied with silly songs and onboard entertainers, but it’s really the sights of lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty that will most captivate your kids (and you too). Thankfully, a tour guide’s loudspeaker facts are kept to a minimum, so that your family can take in NY Harbor’s majesty on your own terms. Even if you do feel a teeny tiny bit like a tourist, you’ll love every minute of the voyage.

Circle Line’s next kids cruise departs this Sat., July 26.



El Museo del Barrio’s “Starter Kit”: A Good Place to Start

El Museo del Barrio’s new show “Museum Starter Kit: Open With Care” pulls back the curtain on the museum’s history and its artistic founder as well as ushering in new standard-bearers of this Puerto Rican and Caribbean art-focused institution.

El Museo Ortiz Maya Zemi

All photos by Alice Perry

Starting the show off with a bang is a huge painting of artist and founder Raphael Montañez Ortiz smashing a piano with an ax, symbolizing both destruction and reconstruction. Kids will dig a number of the exhibit’s art installations, beginning with Ortiz’s Maya Zemí I and Maya Zemí II. Covered in yellow, red, and blue feathers, these sideways pyramids jut out of the wall, begging to be petted (but try not to touch). Interestingly, the concept for this artwork came to the artist in a dream, reminding us that it’s OK to let our kids zone out and daydream and fantasize for at least a little while.

El Museo Brolab Stack and RackDeeper within the exhibit, kids are invited to climb on and explore Stack & Rack. Created by the artist collective BroLab, these 16 plywood cubes are meant to be a public sculpture in the truest sense of the word, one that can be moved around and readjusted. So go on: climb away (or at least take a seat).  Another fun piece is Romy Scheroder’s Skin, which is a gutted wingback chair covered with hundreds of rubber bands.

While you’re at the museum, check out “Presencia: Works from El Museo’s Permanent Collection” across the hall from the main exhibit. Benvenuto Chavajay’s Suave Chapina wins the award for most summer appropriate artwork. The wall installation is made entirely of blue and green latex flip-flops, sure to get you and the kids in the summer mood.

El Museo Suave Chapina  Benvenuto Chavajay

To find more fun at El Museo del Barrio or elsewhere around the city, download our FREE app for iPhone/iPad or Android.






Go East: Rubin Museum’s Chelsea Block Party This Sunday

Sometimes Eastern art can seem a bit intimidating for us westerners. You may wonder if the art’s Eastern precepts will fly over your kids’ heads and if they’ll “get it.” On Sunday, you and the family can test the waters and dip your toes into the Himalayan pond at the Rubin Museum of Art’s Chelsea Block Party.

Rubin Museum Sand Mandala Artist_Losar Family Day

All photos courtesy of The Rubin Museum of Art

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Rubin Museum, which is home to a massive Himalayan art collection, is swinging open its doors with all-day free admission and hosting an outdoor street fair from 1 to 4 p.m.

Rubin Museum Dance 01 IMGP2278At 1:30, Buddhist monks will kick off the event with a blessing. Outside performances will take place throughout the day, including traditional dances by the Dance Theater of Nepal. Kids can get henna tattoos, create and design amulets and masks, and draw their own masterpieces with sidewalk chalk. Inside, you and the kids can watch Buddhist monks create an intricate sand mandala and listen to live classical Himalayan music.

The Rubin Museum is also introducing its new Family Sundays, which take place every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. The museum proclaims that “Sundays are for families” and rolls out the red carpet for families with kid-friendly tours and art activities like creating woodprints and making animal masks.

To find more fun at the Rubin Museum or elsewhere around the city, download our FREE app for iPhone/iPad or Android.