A Museum Just For Kids (and Kids at Heart)

Albert Einstein had the right idea when he declared play to be the highest form of research. After all, what else are children doing when they chase butterflies and stack blocks?

At the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, play is a serious business. As the sole museum for kids in the wide expanse between Albany and New York City, Mid-Hudson fills a critical void in the developmental education space. Yet the organization’s journey to success was not without trials and tribulations.

Turn Around Story

Since opening its figurative doors in 1989, the museum has hopped locations, existing at one point within the South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie. In 2002, it settled into its current home on the waterfront.

“It’s been an interesting ride,” declares Lara Litchfield-Kimber, the museum’s executive director. When she joined the core team five years ago, after directing at a science museum upstate for eight years, the Poughkeepsie destination was lucky to see 20,000 people walk through its doors per year. Nowadays, it welcomes more than 73,000 visitors.

How did she manage such a turnaround?

“Relevance to the local community is essential,” she reveals. “You have one shot when you have a new director.” After surveying the community, she discovered that a return back to basics was in order in regard to the museum’s content. At the time, the space had a history and a water ecology exhibit, neither of which were age appropriate for its zero- to six-year-old audience. To make the content more engaging, Litchfield-Kimber and her team prioritized displays that would allow children to take advantage of early learning opportunities and prepare to transition into school. Subject materials like colors, shapes, and letters took centerstage in the curriculum overhaul, as did concepts like imagination and storytelling.

Screen-Free Learning

“Everything we do is grounded in childhood developmental theory,” she stresses. When designing a new exhibit or event, she and her colleagues analyze how it will address the needs of the community and foster positive development. The forethought that goes into each square inch of the space means that a trip to the museum will always be much more than just a fun outing. With each room packed to the brim with hidden opportunities for children to learn, explore, and engage, families can turn playtime into an educational experience.

Notably, Mid-Hudson is a screen-free space. You won’t find any computer monitors or televisions lurking around, since they detract from the hands-on mentality the museum fosters.

“We’ve very intentionally gone low tech,” Litchfield-Kimber assures.

Luckily, the center’s exhibits are far more entertaining than any cellphone app could be. With five galleries dedicated to little learners, a short play break can easily morph into half a day spent at the riverfront hotspot. Starting in December, Mid-Hudson will invite creative kiddos into its newest exhibit on the museum’s second floor. Aptly titled “Tell Me a Story,” the play zone will be an immersive scene in which children and their families can make believe to their hearts’ content. With everything from climbers and puppets to mastodons and pirate ships, the play area will help to foster emotional awareness and imagination.

On top of that, the museum has also made a commitment to promote healthy eating in the Hudson Valley. In addition to creating a children’s garden to educate about good-for-you fruits and vegetables, Mid-Hudson also hosts a public farmers market. The market, which operates out of the pavilion space, brings food from local farms into a region of Dutchess County that is sorely lacking on the grocery store front.

“It’s a little off the page from what you’d expect from a children’s museum,” Litchfield-Kimber observes.

It is off the page in the best way possible, it seems. The nonprofit is the recipient of a slew of awards, including “Most Loved Place to Go” in Hulafrog’s 2017 Parent Poll and the 2015 Family Entertainment Award of Distinction by Dutchess Tourism.

A Popular Destination

In other words, it is safe to say that Mid-Hudson has a lot more going for it than just birthday parties, although it is the perfect spot for those, too. The museum is a popular destination for children’s festivities, including first birthday parties, themed get-togethers, and “do it yourself” events. Of course, it is also an ideal spot for day trips. Admission is $9 per adult or child, while children under 1 are free. There are a number of membership programs available for families who plan to visit multiple times throughout the year.

Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum is open every Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The onsite museum store is stocked with one-of-a-kind kits and toys for imaginative youths. Parking in the private, gated lot is free of charge for all museum visitors.

If you have a little one in your life, do yourselves both a favor and block out a few hours to visit the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum. The minutes at the Hudson River haven will fly by as you learn about germs, pretend to be pirates, and discover how your favorite foods grow. Don’t be surprised if the closing bell creeps up on you.

Visit Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum at 75 North Water Street Poughkeepsie.

Call for information at (845) 471-0589.

Learn more at MHCM.org.