10. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
- Offers colorful family guides to the permanent collections in English, Spanish, and Chinese to gently coach parents on how to talk to children about fine art
- Hosts an amazing array of family art classes (many free with museum admission) and multi-day mini camps called the Art Adventure Club; in either, kids might design a nengajo (a Japanese New Year's card), create animal statues, or make a nature journal
- Supports an extensive Asian collection (Salem was instrumental in developing America's China trade, and the PEM is known for its vast collections -- including a 200-year-old Chinese house-and programs featuring Asian art) with inventive, kidcentric activities like an "Origami Airplane Contest" and "Japanese Dolls Day" -- just two of many free-with-admission weekend programs for families
Founded in 1799, the Peabody Essex Museum is the oldest continuously operating U.S. art museum, yet you wouldn't know it to stand in the atrium inside the modernistic main entrance. The highlight for families is the Art & Nature Center, a 2,000-square-foot hands-on area for families and elementary school groups designed to support the museum's natural history collections and to highlight the connections between art and nature -- all in the most delightful, kid-engaging ways.
"Nature is a great starting point for families -- even those who've had no previous experience with art," points out Jane Winchell, curator of natural history and director of the center. "Kids have an experience with nature in their backyards, and we use that as a springboard to look at how people from different cultures and times look at nature and create art." The space offers more than 20 hands-on play stations -- organized around phrases, such as "find form," "touch texture," and "look for details" -- plus related activity boxes and picture books.