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11 Awesome Museums for Kids

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Wikimedia Commons

Learning is fun. No, really. At least it can be—you just need to know where to go. These 11 awesome museums for kids are a great start. 

1. THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF PLAY

Founded in 1968, the National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York is one of the world’s only museums dedicated solely to the art of having fun. Both historically important and a rollicking good time, within the museum’s exhibition space visitors will find more than 72,000 toys (from teddy bears to train sets), more than 200 arcade games, a butterfly garden, a 1700-gallon coral reef aquarium, and the famous 123 Sesame Street stoop.

2. THE ROALD DAHL MUSEUM AND STORY CENTRE

About 40 miles northwest of London is Buckinghamshire, the charming county in which Roald Dahl lived and wrote for nearly 40 years. It's also where The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre now pays tribute to his gloriumptious career with three interactive galleries: Boy, which traces the author’s school boy days; Solo, where you’ll find his actual Writing Hut; and The Story Centre, which aims to ignite the creative spark in all who visit.

3. DINOSAUR RIDGE

Roam in the footsteps of the dinosaurs—literally—at Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Colorado. Walk the 1.5 mile Dinosaur Ridge Trail to discover hundreds of dinosaur tracks (some of them 100 million years old) and a dinosaur bone quarry. Or opt for the Triceratops Trail, which features its own collection of prehistoric tracks (that are different from Dinosaur Ridge’s), including what might be the footprints of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

4. COMPUTERSPIELEMUSEUM

Douglas Muth, Flickr

Opened in 1997, Berlin’s Computerspielemuseum is the world’s first computer game museum, but it’s not resting on its laurels. The museum’s continually evolving collection boasts more than 22,000 computer and video games, including addictive classics like Dig Dug, Tetris, and Donkey Kong (not to mention gaming-related artwork, documents, and more than 10,000 journals).

5. INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM

Budding 007-types will appreciate the undercover nature of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. As the country’s first and only public museum dedicated to the spy game, this all-ages institution asks visitors to leave their true identities at the door (like all good spies, you’ll adopt a cover identity) and immerse themselves in the tricks of the espionage trade with access to hundreds of spy gadgets, tips and tricks from actual spies, and special exhibits like “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains.” 

6. SCIENCE CENTER NEMO

Amsterdam’s Science Center NEMO is comprised of five floors of interactive exhibit space where kids can get their hands dirty and brains full. They'll learn about a wide range of fascinating topics, including the truth about puberty, the ways in which technology can combat pollution, and the secrets about extra-terrestrial life. 

7. PLEASE TOUCH CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

The name says it all: At Philadelphia’s Please Touch Children’s Museum, hands-on experimentation isn’t just encouraged, it’s expected. Founded in 1976, one of the museum’s most unique aspects is that it’s geared toward children under 7 years old. In the museum, kids can design and construct their very own neighborhoods in City Capers, use their own bodies to create the feeling of flying in Flight Fantasy, or experience the sights and sounds of the jungle at Rainforest Rhythm. Bonus: The museum has its very own carousel, which is more than 100 years old and is housed in a dedicated 9000 square foot glass pavilion. 

8. BOSTON CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

It’s hard to beat an original, and when it comes to the world collection of children’s museums, the Boston Children’s Museum is one of the first (officially, the world’s second oldest) and also one of the largest. And educating today’s youth is a key component of its staying power. Through its permanent collection and rotating exhibits, the museum addresses issues of science, math, art, literacy, health, wellness, and the environment. One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is Arthur and Friends, which puts kids smack dab in the center of Marc Brown’s beloved book series and helps them to better understand reading, emotions, and problem solving. 

9. MONTRÉAL BIODÔME

A deeper understanding of the world awaits at the Montréal Biodôme, which helps both kids and adults to more intimately experience the delicate nature of our varied ecosystems. Opened in 1992, the museum’s perfectly manicured exhibitions—including the hands-on Fossil Affair, which invites kids to learn about evolution—make it easy to turn a day of learning into a day of fun. 

10. PRETEND CITY CHILDREN’S MUSEUM

Playing make-believe is many a kid’s favorite pastime. And at the Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine, California, they’ve constructed a teeny tiny city within a city to let kids while away the day moving among the museum’s 17 interactive exhibits, which include a beach, amphitheater, construction site, post office, and grocery store (all of which teach young’uns such essential skills as critical thinking, problem solving, organization, and teamwork).

11. NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM

Kids who love trains will relish the opportunity to descend into one of New York City’s late, great subway stations (it was decommissioned in the 1920s) and immerse themselves in all things train at the New York Transit Museum. Opened in 1976 for the country’s Bicentennial celebration, the museum has managed to maintain the public’s interest for nearly 40 years now, thanks in large part (no doubt) to such cool collection pieces as a 12-seat bus, a child-sized trolley, and a refurbished 1960s “Fishbowl” bus cab.

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Design
A Cut Above the Rest: How Finland's Orange-Handled Scissors Inspired a Design Revolution
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By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Finland is home to brands like Marimekko and Artek, and has produced architects and designers like Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. But you don’t need to go shopping or visit Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, to fully appreciate the nation’s design legacy. All you likely have to do is open a kitchen drawer, office closet, or garage toolbox and pull out a pair of orange, plastic-handled scissors.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize the maker—Fiskars Corporation, the Finnish consumer goods company—you’ve likely used these lightweight shears at least once while sewing, gardening, or wrapping presents. More than 1 billion pairs have been sold since they first hit the market in 1967, and in Finland, the word “Fiskars” is even synonymous with scissors. Their ubiquity, though, isn’t without reason: As the world’s first plastic-handled scissors, they’re considered a game-changer in the field of industrial design.

Scissors are likely thousands of years old, and were used by everyone from the ancient Egyptians to members of China’s Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 CE). Fiskars itself—which was founded in 1649, in Fiskars Village, Finland—has manufactured the tools for centuries. The brand was once known for forging quality metal scissors that were used in tailoring clothes and upholstering furniture. But these tools were “quite, quite heavy,” and cumbersome to use, Jay Gillespie, the company’s vice president of marketing, tells Mental Floss.

Olof Bäckström, the Finnish industrial designer who created Fiskar's famous orange-handled scissors.
Olof Bäckström, the Finnish industrial designer who created Fiskars's famous orange-handled scissors.
Courtesy of Fiskars

This changed in the 1960s, as plastic was just starting to become a popular material. Fiskars began using the light, strong compound to make tabletops and dishes, but one of the company's industrial designers, Olof Bäckström, sensed an opportunity to completely reinvent one of the company’s signature goods. Using plastic, he created a lighter scissor handle that was curved to fit the hand, thus making them easier to hold. Ultimately, this tweak also helped make the scissors easier to manufacture, helping them become affordable to the masses.

With a single prototype, “we completely redefined a product,” Gillespie says. “Today it’s very hard to find scissors that don’t have plastic handles.”

Bäckström didn’t technically invent the concept of ergonomically designed scissors, as Fiskars had been casting similar designs in metal for years, Gillespie says. However, the designer “probably took it to the next level,” he concludes, as he “solved the problem of weight and fit.”

Fiskars scissors over the ages
Fiskars scissors over the ages
Courtesy of Fiskars

Bäckström originally wanted his scissors to be black. But at the time, Fiskars was making orange juicers from—you guessed it—orange plastic. The first prototype for plastic-handled scissors was created with plastic from a juicer that was left in a machine. Fiskars employees ended up liking this original look so much that they ultimately voted to stick with it.

Prototypes of Fiskars scissors in black and orange
Prototypes of Fiskars scissors in black and orange
Courtesy of Fiskars

Save for a few minor tweaks, like a more durable plastic handle and an improved angle, the scissors’s original design has remained largely unchanged since Bäckström’s initial stroke of genius. They eventually became so iconic that competitors began copying their look, forcing the Finnish company to trademark their signature “Fiskars Orange.” Today, Fiskars is the only brand in the world that’s allowed to manufacture orange-handled scissors in the U.S., Canada, and Finland, according to Gillespie.

For all these reasons—and to mark the product's 50th birthday in 2017—the Design Museum Helsinki has created an ongoing exhibition that celebrates the utilitarian household staple. The “Our Scissors” exhibition, which ends on October 29, features works by artists and designers who use (or simply appreciate) orange-handled scissors. They include contributions from fashion designer Tracy Reese, Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney, and other creative influencers, all of whom sing the praises of a tiny Finnish tool that ended up taking the world by storm.

"Our Scissors Exhibit," a special art collection inspired by the orange-handled scissors created by Fiskars, on display at the Helsinki Design Museum.
Courtesy of Fiskars
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25 Things You Should Know About Jacksonville, Florida
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Nicknamed the First Coast by some and Jax by others, Jacksonville is Florida’s largest city—and, at 875 square miles, the largest city by area in the continental United States. With its entrepreneurial spirit, this sunny, historical community in northeastern Florida has left a sizable mark on multiple industries, from fast food to the motion picture business. It’s also the home of a giant owl, a misleadingly named tree, and the world’s foremost dinosaur poop collector.

1) Friendship Fountain on the Southbank Riverwalk is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. The massive self-contained fountain can blast 3500 to 6500 gallons of water 100 feet in the air every minute, while 265 multicolored lights turn the mist into a rainbow-hued spectacle. Completed in 1965, the magnificent water feature is considered one of the largest on earth.

2) Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph grew up in Jacksonville. Randolph created the first African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925. He also pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end discrimination in hiring practices on the basis of race, color, creed, or national origin in the federal government and defense industries. Randolph was among the key organizers of the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I have a dream” speech.

3) Merian C. Cooper, a screenwriter, film producer, and director best known for creating King Kong, was born here on October 23, 1893.

4) The southernmost battle of the Revolutionary War took place within Jacksonville’s current boundary. Forces from British-held Florida surprised a group of about 100 American troops on May 17, 1777, killing or capturing 47. Another 24 American militiamen were killed by Creek Indians allied with the British. The fight known today as the Battle of Thomas Creek took place three miles north of where the Jacksonville International Airport now stands.

5) The Jacksonville farmers market, founded in 1938, is Florida’s oldest. More than 20,000 people visit the daily market each week.

6) It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this city was named in honor of our seventh U.S. president—before he assumed that office. Jacksonville started out as an intersection between the St. Johns River and a British road that extended from St. Augustine to Georgia. Known originally as Cow Ford, the crossing was renamed Jacksonville in 1822, after General Andrew Jackson had served as Florida's military commissioner the previous year.

7) During World War II, the now-defunct Jax Brewing Company might have invented the six-pack. Because it couldn't afford to keep selling beer in expensive aluminum cans (steel had been requisitioned for the war effort), it began bottling its brews in glass longnecks and selling them in sacks of six.

8) Perched outside the main branch of the Jacksonville Public Library is a 25-foot-tall bronze owl. It was cast by sculptor Larry Kirkland as an homage to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and reason, whose symbol is an owl.

9) The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour has been headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, a suburb of Jacksonville, since 1979. Every May, the Players Championship tournament takes place at TPC at Sawgrass, a nearby golf course.

10) On May 3, 1901, the third-largest urban fire in U.S. history struck Jacksonville. At 12:30 a.m., some chimney embers were blown onto flammable stuffing material at a local mattress factory, igniting an inferno that raged on for eight hours and destroyed 2368 buildings. After the smoke finally cleared, nearly 10,000 people were homeless.

11) In 1953, a restaurant called Insta-Burger opened at 7146 Beach Boulevard. Inside, a special oven called the Insta-Broiler could cook 400 patties an hour. Despite its supercharged output, business dwindled until new owners brought the restaurant and renamed it Burger King.

12) Jacksonville covers an incredible amount of real estate. How did this place get to be so expansive? In 1967, voters decided to consolidate Jacksonville with the rest of its surrounding county to increase its tax base. The resulting footprint was 20 times larger than the city's original size.

13) According to a report published by the U.S. Census Bureau in May 2016, Jacksonville is the 12th fastest-growing city in America.

14) The longest-serving mayor in Jacksonville’s history was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Democrat John T. Alsop Jr. held the city’s highest office from 1923 to 1937 and from 1941 to 1945.

15) The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the National Football League as an expansion team in the 1995 season. Since then, the team has won only five postseason games, but hope springs eternal. Their home stadium, EverBank Field, is located on the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville.

16) Completed in 1953, the distinctive Mathews Bridge was originally painted silver. Then, in 1983, it was repainted maroon to match the primary jersey color of the Jacksonville Bulls, a United States Football League club. The Bulls folded in 1985, but the bridge is still maroon.

17) Every Thanksgiving weekend, thousands of people watch the festive Jacksonville Light Boat Parade. For this holiday spectacle, a procession of boats covered in Christmas lights makes its way through the downtown area on the St. Johns River. A huge display of fireworks follows the parade.

18) New York City was the nexus of the film industry in the early 20th century, but snowy winters forced some movie studios to open outposts in Florida so they could keep shooting year-round. From 1908 to 1918, more than 30 film studios popped up in Jacksonville, earning it the nickname “The World’s Winter Film Capital.” Most had closed or relocated to California by 1920, but Jacksonville remained a popular filming location. Scenes from Cool Hand Luke (1967) and G.I. Jane (1997) were shot here.

19) You could go to EverBank Field and watch the NFL Jaguars play, or you could check out some real ones at the Jacksonville Zoo & Botanical Gardens. The most famous among the zoo's collection was a black male named Zorro. Brought to the zoo in 1967, he fathered 12 cubs, and almost all of the captive black jaguars in North America are Zorro's descendants.

20) Engraved onto the Veterans Memorial Wall in downtown Jacksonville are the names of more than 1500 veterans from all six service branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine) who lost their lives in the line of duty. Sixty-five feet long, the wall commemorates veterans from every American war since WWI.

21) In 1986, Floridians Will Fadeley Jr. and Eugene Hajtovik traveled all the way from Jacksonville to New York City on an airboat. Their 13-day, 1100-mile trip is the longest recorded voyage to be completed by such a vessel. The duo arrived in New York harbor on July 3, just in time to attend the Statue of Liberty’s centennial celebration.

22) In 1979, Dr. Frances Barnett Kinne became the first woman to serve as president of a Floridian university. She led Jacksonville University as president for 10 years and then served as its chancellor from 1989 to 1994. In 2017, she celebrated her 100th birthday.

23) Credited with pioneering the southern rock genre, the Allman Brothers Band was formed in this city in 1969. The hugely influential group put on its first live performance at the Jacksonville Armory on March 30 of that year.

24) Bad journalism rescued Jacksonville’s favorite tree, a sprawling live oak in Jessie Ball DuPont Park. Roughly 250 years old, it stands more than 60 feet tall with a trunk measuring 25 feet in circumference. In the 1930s, when developers hinted at chopping it down, local reporter Pat Moran fabricated a story about an important peace treaty between Native Americans and European settlers being signed under its branches. The story had the desired effect, and the tree, now (erroneously) called the Treaty Oak, was spared.

25) Jacksonville resident George Frandsen owns the world’s largest collection of fossilized poop. A committed coprolite enthusiast, Frandsen spent 18 years gathering 1,277 prehistoric stool samples from 15 states and eight countries. Information about the collection appears on his online museum, the Poozeum.

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