Instead of a night at the museum, how about spending the day? A FREE day at that, since none of the following museums charge an admission fee. I know museums don’t always seem kid-friendly, but learning about historic treasures, having the opportunity to ask questions and explore and see artifacts first hand can spark curiosity and interest in your little explorers. With a little preparation and the right attitude, it can be a fun experience for everyone in the family.
Des Moines Art Center (4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines) brings world-class art and exhibits to Des Moines, which provides us with firsthand arts experiences without the price of travel fare. We try to make it to the Art Center once or twice a year. Before we go into the center, we review the rules: you can look, but no touching; no running; and use inside voices. The Art Center does not allow food or drink, so make sure everybody is fueled up and ready to go.
The photography guidelines have always been a bit confusing to me. My understanding is that, as long as you’re not a professional and you don’t use a flash you can snap away. Which is good, since one of the things my kids love to do while we’re there, is pose like the art and have their pics taken. Some exhibits are more family-friendly than others, so be prepared to move quickly and skip around if you need to.
Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center (75 E Army Post Road, Des Moines, (515) 282-8060) recently underwent a renovation and reopened on Veteran’s Day of last year. The museum highlights the history of the Des Moines post where racial and gender barriers were broken by being the first black officer’s training school and the Women’s Army Corps. The museum does not allow food or drink and there is no food sold on site.
It took us about an hour to get through most of the displays. If you go when it is warm out, allow time for touring the grounds and the reflection pool at the entrance. When you walk in to the museum, you will be asked to sign in and then the curator will lead you upstairs and give a 15 minute overvew of the history of the fort and the grounds. Once they are done you can tour the museum displays at your leisure.
Iowa Aviation Heritage Museum (3704 SE Convenience Boulevard, Ankeny) is located at the Ankeny Regional Airport and is open Tuedays and Thursdays 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and Saturdays 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. You can also call and schedule an appointment. Since the museum is staffed by volunteers, I highly recommend calling before you visit. I’ve made visits during the designated times and the museum has been closed.
The museum chronicles Iowa’s military aviation and general aviation history from pre WWII to present day through restored airplanes, artifacts and newspaper clippings. This is a small museum, but if you’re kids are interested in airplanes, at all, they will love it. There are no amenities, such as a snack shop, so you will need to bring your own supplies.
The volunteers that staff the museum are more than accommodating and are a wealth of information. Before you take-off for the museum, read up on airplanes and study the names of the different parts. Once you’re at the museum the kids can be your tour guide.
State of Iowa Historical Museum (600 E Locust Street, Des Moines) is an exciting place for families to learn about the growth and development of the state. Located just west of the capitol building, the museum consists of three levels of interactive exhibits, historic artifacts and documents that take visitors back in time. While the museum is open daily for self- guided walking tours, families may enjoy a Saturday Museum Trek when a guide provides interesting facts and participants get a closer look at the artifacts on display.
There is a restaurant located on the property, which is open 11:00 am to 2:00 pm Monday – Saturday. There are also water fountains available. Food is allowed in the museum’s atrium, which is a great place to take a little break. Before you go check out the Museum Education web page, which includes educational resources and scavenger hunts you can print out and take with you when you visit. The last time I went, with four nine year old boys, the scavenger hunt was great. It kept the boys engaged and moving through the exhibits, without a lot of coaxing.
Even though these museums do not charge admission, donations are always appreciated.
What is your favorite FREE museum in Des Moines? Tell us in the Comments section below.