Culture Club: Travel the World at These NYC Museums

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If jet-setting to Zimbabwe or climbing Machu Picchu is out of the question this spring break, follow this guide to stir up your routine and explore a new world at these local cultural exhibits around the city. Draw Japanese anime, listen to Nordic folklore stories, sing traditional Native American songs, or try the art of hair braiding as you learn about the history and present day life of people from around the globe. This crop of destinations proves that in NYC, it’s pretty easy to show your kids a few awesome new places — no passport required. cmom_culture

photo: Children’s Museum of Manhattan

Hello From Japan! Exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan
Trust us, skip the first three floors and beam yourself to the lower level to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan’s Hello from Japan! exhibit. It’s there that the fun begins — sing some karaoke, draw Japanese anime characters, and dress up in Tokyo street fashion. Be transported to the streets of Tokyo as your tiny tourists work on potholes, take selfies in a photo booth, and serve up a Japanese meal. Then explore the serene countryside as you walk through a pretend bamboo forest and make a wish at a wishing tree. Open now through May 17. Check out the Spring Break Festival taking place April 4 – 12 with traditional Japanese puppetry, draw your own manga comic, and more.

Inside tip: On the first Friday of every month admission is free from 5-8 p.m., thanks to Target. Leave your stroller at home to avoid the stroller check line and get straight to the fun!

Through May 17
Tickets: $11/adults and children; free/children under 12 months
Hours:  Sun. & Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
212 West 83rd St.
Upper West Side


Photo: Joshua Stevens courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian
What do basket weaving, corn grinding and beaded bracelet making have in common? They are all common practices of the Native people of the Americas. Let your kids get in on the action at the National Museum of the American Indian. Plus, the museum hosts music and dance performances, storytelling, and films teaching the history and past and present lifestyles of American Indians.

Inside tip: Drop in every Wednesday morning for Toddler Music with Irka and learn about Taino culture through stories, song, movement and hands-on activities. Or visit every Thursday for “Especially for Kids,” daily screenings of live action shorts and animations.

Tickets: free
Hours: Fri.-Wed. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, One Bowling Green
Financial District


photo: Scandinavia House/The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 2014

Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center at Scandinavia House
What’s so awesome about the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden? For starters, Nordic folklore rocks! Imagine stories about giants, trolls, elves, sea nymphs, and even princes and princesses. You’ll find these stories and more cool activities at the Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center at Scandinavia House. Learn about the culture of Scandinavia in a reading theater, sensory tunnel, custom Lego corner, landscaped Brio train table, indoor climbing corner, mushroom house, a “please touch” wall, light landscape, and other cool imported Scandinavian educational elements.

Inside tip: Become a member of the American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) at Scandinavia House so your tots can take part in weekly workshops featuring Nordic themes in arts and crafts, books and games. Members can also enjoy Thursday Puppet Playtime, Saturday Morning Storytelling with the Hans Christian Andersen Storytellers, and Scandinavian Sing-Alongs.

Tickets: $15/child; free/members
General Public: Sat., noon-5 p.m.; Members Only: Tues.-Fri. noon-5 p.m.
58 Park Ave. at 38th St.
Murray Hill

studioharlem_culturephoto: Kathrine Rivera courtesy of Studio Museum

Studio Museum
You won’t find centuries-old boring pastel landscapes here. The Studio Museum in Harlem is a nexus for local, national and international artists of African descent and for modern day artwork inspired and influenced by black culture. Check out the museum’s Family & Kids programs that introduce both toddlers and older children to the artwork in the collection through activities such as a braiding tutorial workshop exploring hair as art and creating masks with mixed mediums.

Inside tip: Admission, tours, and special programs for the whole family are free on Sundays, thanks to sposorship by Target.

$7/adults (suggested donation); free/children under 12
Thurs.-Fri., noon–9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sun., noon–6 p.m.
144 West 125th St. between Lenox Ave. (Malcolm X Blvd.) and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. (7th Ave.)

jewishheritage_culturephoto: Melanie Einzig courtesy of Museum of Jewish Heritage

Museum of Jewish Heritage
Step back in time at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Pick up a free Family Guide for visitors ages 7-11 and become a museum detective searching for Jewish artifacts. Learn about Jewish history and traditions through photos, documents and videos on the first and third floor of the museum. (Warning: the second floor exhibit is best for children in 6th grade and up).  In the Voices of Liberty exhibit, visitors can listen to a soundscape of diverse voices sharing personal stories of leaving their homes and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time!

MJH offers special kid events like arts and crafts and mini-gallery tours. “New Families, New Traditions,” is a free series for tots ages 0-3 that includes free drop-in events like musical puppet shows and story times based around Jewish life, holidays and traditions. MJH Kids offers educational events for children ages 3-10 that includes crafts, stories, music and food.

Inside Tip: The museum offers admission every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

$12/adults;free/children 12
Sun.-Tues. & Thurs., 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.;  Wed., 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
36 Battery Pl.
Battery Park


photo: El Museo del Barrio

El Museo del Barrio
If you’ve never traveled above East 96th St., it’s time to learn about “Del Barrio” or “the neighborhood” comprising Spanish Harlem. At El Museo del Barrio, children can learn the history of stickball (every kid in del Barrio played it), talk about Mexican social issues, celebrate Carnival and view artwork of everyday life in Puerto Rico. Plus, special ArteXplorers Activity Cards from the Museum help families identify and learn about the artworks in the galleries.

Inside tip: Super Sabado  (Free Third Saturdays) teaches the vibrancy and diversity of Latino Culture through free art-making workshops, storytelling, concerts, and more.

Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
$9/adults; free/children under 12
1230 Fifth Ave.
Upper East Side


photo: via Brooklyn Children’s Museum Facebook page

World Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum
A trip to Brooklyn becomes a trip around the world in the new World Brooklyn exhibit at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Play in a kid-size cityscape filled with shops with pretend food, music, and dress from Mexico to Italy to Russia and beyond. In the Chinese Stationery Store, you can step inside a traditional lion costume to make it leap and dance. In the Mexican Bakery, you can shape your own pretend dough. In the West African Import Store, you can “shop” for African health products, groceries, instruments, and more.

Inside tip: Walk through the photography exhibit “ONE” featuring portraits of children from around the world by photographer Tom Wool. The work gives kids the opportunity to see the unique dress, hairstyles, and physical appearance of children from Nepal to Tanzania to Bolivia and beyond.

$9/person; free/children under one; free/Thurs. 3-5 p.m.; free/every third Thurs. 3-7 p.m.
Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
145 Brooklyn Ave. at St. Marks Ave.
Crown Heights

Where do you go to soak up another culture in NYC? Tell us in the comments below!

—Ashly Grzyb