If you haven’t made a trip to the Thinkery yet it’s a definite on the to-do list with kids.
The new Austin children’s museum, which opened December 7th in the Mueller Town Center District, replaces the previous downtown museum. It’s bigger, better and full of interesting, educational and fun activities for kids of all ages.
I love the new location. We had no problems parking on a nearby street, but free parking is also available at the nearby Mueller Town Center parking garage.
The modern, state-of-the-art building sits next to an open field with ample outdoor space, including a small pond and really cool outdoor playground.
The playground, with its unique swings and play structures, enticed my kids before we even got to the museum entrance. They were having so much fun they didn’t want to stop to go inside! But of course that all changed once we set foot in the door.
The two-story museum provides 40,000 square feet for kids to explore, learn, create and play. The overall focus on “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) is evident throughout the building.
Downstairs, the large Innovators’ Workshop provides materials and opportunities for kids to invent and problem solve. The Spark Shop, targeted toward older kids, provides opportunities that are “too messy for the average family garage.” I love that!
Upstairs you’ll find the Fresh! Farmer’s Market, where kids can gather and weigh fruits and veggies, a small café area and even a replica chicken coop with chickens and eggs.
Nearby is a garden-themed area designed for babies and toddlers, with soft mats and room for crawlers to move around safely. There’s also an inviting story nook, where the museum hosts regular story times.
Another upstairs favorite is the water exhibit called Currents. Warning — you will get wet! They do offer smocks and Crocs for kids, but I strongly suggest you bring a change of clothes if your children plan to participate. There’s a good chance you’ll need it! But it’s worth a minor hassle of changing to watch them splashing and playing in the water. This area is a big hit with the little ones.
My daughter’s favorite exhibit was The Kitchen Lab. The facilitated activities change regularly, and the day we were there the activity was making clay. The tables held ingredients and simple directions so kids could measure and make their own. Museum workers were on hand to assist and explain things such as the difference between 1 cup and 1 tbsp.
Once the clay was ready, the kids got to shape it into an ornament or other small object and the employee baked it the nearby oven for them to take home. It was a great hands-on learning experience and neat for the kids to see a project from start (separate ingredients) to finish (a completed ornament).
Back downstairs there’s an area that hosts rotating exhibits. I especially loved the Light Lab, probably because the large pegs on a giant black screen reminded me of my childhood Lite-Brite and I got a bit nostalgic. They also have lighted blocks that look like legos, and an area where you pose and a camera takes a picture of your shadow. The kids did this over and over and got a kick out of seeing their shadow shapes on the wall.
Next door, the En mi familia is a neat exhibit inspired by the art of Carmen Lomas Garza. This was one of my favorite areas because I loved seeing the depiction of life in the 1950’s south Texas brought to life in 3-D form.
Another highlight of the Thinkery is the large outdoor area.
Our Backyard consists of a unique climbing structure that is fun and different. The benches and tables provide the perfect spot to stop for a drink or a snack. Just a tip — there is a vending machine nearby, but visitors are also welcome to bring their own food. I suggest doing that, because there is so much to do you could stay for hours and with kids someone is bound to get hungry.
At the Thinkery, there is truly something interesting to see and experience around every turn, including the pig statues near the front entrance. It’s nearly impossible for kids to walk by without sitting on them. And that’s the idea. Every single detail is well-thought-out and planned for kids to not only learn, but have fun while doing it.
Though technically targeted to infants through 11 years old, I think it’s safe to say people of any age will enjoy a visit to the Thinkery. I know I did.
In fact, they have an upcoming event on Jan 9th from 7pm-9pm specifically for adults called Thinkery21. It’s an evening series for adults 21 and older to grab a drink and see live demonstrations, hands-on activities and more. After all, you’re never too old to learn and experience new things. If you miss out this time, you can always go next month—Thinkery21 occurs on the second Thursday of each month. Visit the website for more info or to register.
The Meredith Learning Lab
1830 Simond Ave Austin, TX 78723 (map)
Hours + Admission
Regular hours are Tuesday – Friday: 10am-5pm; Saturday and Sunday: 10am-6pm; Community Night, Wednesday: 4pm-8pm
Admission is $10 with free admission for children 0-23 months.
The Thinkery also offers senior and military discounts, check the website for details.