Begin your hands-on adventure at the Oakes Museum at Messiah College. This specialty museum is devoted to natural history and contains exhibits that take you back thousands of years to America and Africa. The museum has 75 full mounts, including a zebra, elephant, giraffe, and ostrich. The African Floor features a large collection of grazing animals from the African grasslands; predators such as lions and hyenas; and the African Watering Hole exhibit with a breathtaking evening diorama of the wilds of Kenya overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro into Tanzania.
The North American Floor includes a bear area, Sheep Mountain, Deer of North America, a Susquehanna Backyard exhibit, and a Birds, Eggs, and Nests exhibit. In the small Chesapeake Bay Gallery, visitors can learn about the connection between the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay and view an array of shells, sponges, and mollusks from the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean regions.
Children can enjoy some hands-on exploration in the Sensory Discover Room. Here they can browse through books about animals in the museum or use microscopes to zoom in on rocks, minerals, shells, reptiles, and amphibians. Each Saturday at 2 pm features storytime and a craft for children ages 3 to 8 (included in the admission price). TIP: Only open on Saturdays from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Extend your day of discovery at the Army Heritage Trail at the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle. This premier facility for U.S. Army research also includes a mile-long outdoor trail complete with military equipment and interactive exhibits for children of all ages. Kids can spend an afternoon exploring individual exhibits including a helicopter, tank, and World War I trench system.
Before you leave, head inside for The Soldier Experience exhibit. Kids and adults can pick up a dog tag and are guided through the U.S. Army experience starting with the Spanish American War and culminating in current operations. Older kids will love the interactive exhibits, which include a simulated shooting range, parachute drop, and Korean War night attack. This exhibit features hundreds of artifacts, smartphone interaction and the opportunity to write a letter to a soldier currently serving in operations.
After exploring military equipment, let your creative juices flow at Create-a-Palooza. The paint-your-own studio is perfect for children and adults of all ages. TIP: After crafting your piece of art, you will need to pick up the finished product a few days later.
Make it a Weekend
Make a weekend out of uncovering all the unique museums and attractions that highlight hands-on discovery for children in the region.
Start at Planted in Play in Mechanicsburg. This indoor location has five different interactive play areas where children ages 2 to 10 can explore and play at their own pace, either independently or with others. Daily admission allows you to stay as long as you like. Seating for parents and wi-fi are available.
If you have a little one who loves cars, head to Hershey to visit the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum. This museum features over 100 cars, buses, and motorcycles. All auto displays are surrounded by period settings with special themed exhibits. In the activity room, children can do a crayon rubbing of an antique license plate and engage in a number of other hands-on projects and activities. At the Photo Stop, kids of all ages can dress up in period clothing and have their picture taken sitting a vintage vehicle. In addition, children will enjoy pushing the dozens of buttons in the “Roads to Rails” model train room and watching each scene of the display come alive with interactive elements.
For an interactive history of the state, visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. This museum tells Pennsylvania's story from Native American beginnings through the industrial age. The museum also features a Curiosity Connection area that includes PA-themed hands-on exhibits for children ages 1 to 5. Zones include Living Forest, Industry, Transportation, Farmland, Construction, Art Wall, and a special area for infants.
While in downtown Harrisburg, continue your adventure at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts. This facility features a theater with central Pennsylvania's biggest screen, performance theaters, and a science center. Children of all ages can enjoy the three-floor science center with engaging exhibits that allow visitors to explore science, perform experiments and discover our planet. KidsPlace is ideal for children under 5 and includes a cityscape and other interactive play areas. Older children will love the Forces of Nature exhibit that focuses on how weather affects the planet. They can even get inside a hurricane!
Enjoy lunch or dinner as a family at The Game Table Cafe, which promises hours of fun with an expansive library of board games. Their menu includes sandwiches, soups, bakery items, and a nice selection of caffeinated beverages.
For a special treat that you create yourself visit Bamboo Frozen Yogurt Café in Mechanicsburg. This delicious spot features 12 flavors of frozen yogurt to choose from. After selecting your favorite flavor... or two, you can add as many toppings as you want from the toppings bar. Kids will enjoy their frozen treat in the Panda Pad kids' lounge with furnishings sized just for them and hands-on activities to keep them busy while you enjoy your own yummy creation.
If you plan your trip on the right day, stop by The Kitchen Shoppe and Cooking School for a special cooking class for children or sign up for a decorate-it-yourself workshop at Jubilee Cake Studio. Spend an afternoon whipping up a special meal you can share together.