Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 100 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The museum includes a small exhibit on homes in Brooklyn. I liked this model townhouse showing how it evolved over the 170 years since it was built.Brownstone history at Brooklyn Children's Museum

Founded in 1899, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum claims to be the oldest children’s museum in the world. However, it hides its age well, and the casual visitor would probably have no idea. Clad in bright yellow tile, the building’s very modern (and somewhat anonymous and uninviting) facade doesn’t give much away in terms of what’s going on inside.

Rafael Viñoly Architects designed the building, an expansion that opened in 2008, making it one of two New York City children’s museums with starchitect cred. (David Adjaye’s Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling is the other.)

Brooklyn Children's Museum - Facade

Inside Out

It turns out that’s going on inside is a shrunk down, semi-educational version of what’s going on outside. A significant part of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum recreates an eclectic, idealized Brooklyn shopping street, with various hands-on activities to keep young folk engaged, while preparing them for future careers in retail.

Brooklyn Children's Museum - Streetscape

There’s an African market, a pizzeria, a Caribbean travel agency, a grocery store… all providing opportunities for roleplaying and, possibly, absorbing points about the diverse cultures that comprise the rich tapestry that is Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Children's Museum
Let’s go shopping


Fake Waterfront; Real Loud

Another section has a small display of live, bored-looking reptiles and other small critters. Continuing onward, a third part featured a fake waterfront, with a fake boat, fake pilings, and real sand.

Brooklyn Children's Museum - fake beach

Elsewhere in the museum was an exhibit called Sound Field. This boasted a ginormous and overwhelmingly cacophonous looking contraption. Never have I been happier to see a hands-on display be hands-off and closed for repairs. This museum was plenty loud even without that.

Brooklyn Children's Museum sound display
Cacophony rendered concrete

Possibly the best part of the Viñoly building is the roof, which features wide open outdoor space with a soaring canopy. It lacks the playground of the Staten Island Children’s Museum, but as a place for adults to possibly find some respite from being in close quarters with zillions of noisy little monsters, I appreciated it.

Brooklyn Children's Museum - Terrace

Should you visit the Brooklyn Children’s Museum?

Discussing this museum with friends, my joke was, “It could be a great museum, it’s just a shame there are all those kids in it.” But upon consideration, I actually think it could be a great museum, it’s just a shame there’s all that Brooklyn in it.

While its emphatic Brooklyn-ness is charming, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum feels like a missed opportunity. I think that the best kids’ museums transport their young clients to new worlds: places they have dreamed about or seen on television or never even heard of before. The museum’s website talks about a collection that encompasses “30,000 natural history and cultural objects ranging from Paleolithic to ancient to modern day, making the collection an encyclopedia of cultures across the globe.” But I didn’t see much of that. I’m guessing it’s mostly in storage for lack of alignment with contemporary Brooklyn’s cultures and values. What is on display, like the African art below, seems perfunctory and jumbled together and not particularly kid-friendly in its curation.

Brooklyn Children's Museum

That’s not to say it’s not fun. The kids I attended with had a great time, running from one storefront activity to the next. I’m not sure any of the intended diversity, tolerance, or other messages had a chance to sink in, but fun was had. However, if you want to engage and inspire the kids in your care, there are better museums in New York.

For Reference:

Address 145 Brooklyn Avenue, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Cost General Admission:  $13. Kids pay the same price as grown-ups; grandparents get to save a buck.
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