As the weather gets colder and we have fewer chances to play outdoors, I’m always thankful for the two wonderful children’s museums we have right here in the Triad. But just for a change of pace, I decided to take my 3-year-old daughter, Lily, to meet a friend and her two children at the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh.
Marbles Kids Museum is right in the heart of downtown Raleigh and is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Greensboro. Marbles provides hands-on, interactive exhibits for children of all ages to explore, discover and learn.
We arrived at the museum around noon, and there was no shortage of places to grab a bite for lunch. There’s a Roly Poly sandwich shop adjacent to the museum as well as several other options within walking distance. In warmer weather, you might want to just bring your own lunch and enjoy a picnic right across the street at Moore Square Park.
After lunch, we checked in at the museum and began our tour. One of the first stops was the Family Clubhouse, a room full of soft climbing equipment, hula hoops and a mini-trampoline that the younger kids really enjoyed. This is a nice area for parents with crawling babies and younger toddlers, and there is also another sectioned-off area for little ones right next door.
Next we made our way over to the Around Town! Gallery, which was by far Lily’s favorite part, as we spent the majority of our visit here. At age 3, her imagination is blossoming, and this exhibit had tons of opportunities for pretend play. There are various modes of transportation to play on including a bus, a fire truck, an ambulance, a car and a boat. These are all set up in individual play stations with lots of other toys. For example, Lily fished and “caught” magnetic fish off the boat, and she played doctor to the newborn babies at the hospital. There is a farm complete with oversized plush cows, pigs, horses and chickens laying eggs. Lily spent a lot of time growing vegetables in the garden, then shopping at the grocery store for produce and cooking dinner in the large play kitchen. There’s also a stage for little budding actors with plenty of fancy dress-up clothes.
I literally had to pry Lily away from all this fun, but luckily she became excited when she saw the running water in the Splash! Gallery. This is an area where kids can get wet and play with water toys in mini-pools and explore with running water (they have plastic smocks to keep them from getting too wet). Next door, there is an aquarium with fish, hermit crabs, snails and a Bamboo shark. We timed our visit perfectly as they were feeding the shark while we were there, and the kids loved seeing him eat shrimp and oysters. Also included in the Splash! Gallery is a giant pirate ship where kids can climb aboard and walk the plank.
We then headed upstairs to the Ideaworks Gallery. We did not spend a lot of time in this area as some of the components of this exhibit seemed more targeted for school-age kids. The exhibit centers around four main areas: Go Zone, where kids can see how simple machines work and move; Super Structures, basically giant Lego blocks where kids can build structures; Workbench, a hands-on construction and building area with working tools; and StudioSTYLE, where aspiring designers can design apparel, accessories and more.
Also on the second floor of the museum is the WorldTrek Gallery, divided into different locales from different continents around the world where kids can engage in hands-on exploration of commerce, culture, arts, music and more. Kids can embark on a colorful exploration of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, a bustling marketplace in Marrakech, the youth pop-culture scene in Berlin, and an icehouse at the Arctic Circle. There are opportunities for arts and crafts as well as pretend play in this area, which has something for all ages. Older kids can grab a seat at the Kids News Bureau to create their own personalized Web site to report on their trek across the world.
A third exhibit also housed upstairs is Scholastic’s special traveling exhibit, The Magic School Bus, which will be on display at Marbles through Jan. 25. Based on Scholastic’s award-winning book and television series, this action-packed exhibit features 33 interactive activities exploring weather. Again, this exhibit is probably better for school-aged kids, although Lily and my friends’ toddlers enjoyed pushing all the buttons and turning the knobs. Older children will definitely learn a lot about weather in a fun way with this group of activities.
Marbles Kids Museum also has an IMAX Theatre that shows larger-than-life movies and 3-D films. We did not visit the IMAX Theatre while we were there, but they do show daily documentary films such as “Bugs 3-D” and “Wild Ocean 3-D” as well as current releases such as “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.” There is an additional admission fee for the movies, and show times are listed at the front desk or can be found online.
If you go, definitely allow at least two hours to explore the museum and more if you plan to catch a movie at the IMAX Theatre. My daughter definitely enjoyed her time at Marbles — a sure sign for me is a child who falls asleep in the car on the ride home!
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Tuesday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday: Noon-5 p.m.
Children ages 1 and under: free
Children ages 1-11: $5