Cincinnati’s Union Terminal was built in the 1920s to tame the chaos of 5 train stations and 7 railroad lines; today the Terminal lends that same sense order to some of the city’s favorite museums for young people. As the Museum Center, the historic Union Terminal is home to Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, Cincinnati History Museum, and an Omnimax Theater as well. Together they offer the convenience of one stop shopping for family educational experiences and enrichment.
The Duke Energy Children’s Museum
Since its opening in 1998, the Cincinnati Children’s Museum has been ranked one of the top 10 children’s museums in the country. The museum is located in the Cincinnati Museum Center’s lower level and offers 3 experiences in one.
- Little Sprouts Farm
The Infant Garden and Toddler Farmyard in the Little Sprouts Farm provide educational play areas for children up to age four. Children can entertain themselves with simulated activities, including farming, gardening, fishing, a fun slide through a barn and puppet shows around a Story Tree
The area contains walking and crawling spaces, and soft-sided play areas with plush toys and mirrors for the youngest visitors. There is a Parent Resource Center with private nursing accommodations and child development information for moms.
The area includes Kid’s Town, a kid-sized neighborhood with a grocery store, veterinary clinic, diner and post-office where kids can take on adult roles. Using kid’s versions of adult tools and machinery, children can be the vet who x-rays a cat, a shopper, cook or food server at a diner.
- Energy Zone
In this net enclosed area a kid can have fun setting up and participating in the works of simple machines. Using big buckets of balls and working at special stations, children analyze direction, energy and other forces that make things work.
- The Woods
It’s back to nature in The Woods, a place where children can call on imagination and physical abilities to climb rope bridges, scale climbing walls or even play in a wheelchair-accessible tree house. In the Woods, children can watch live river creatures in a pond, track animals in their natural habitats, find fossils or search for treasure. Adults are welcome to join in the fun.
Museum of Natural History and Science
While the Children’s Museum is new to Cincinnati, the Museum of Natural History and Science has its origins in the early 1800s. A few local citizens combined their artifacts for public presentation, hiring noted bird illustrator, John Audubon, as their taxidermist and first employee and a Museum of Natural History was born.
Today’s Museum of Natural History and Science has a number of exhibits to educate, interest and fascinate children, including a glacier replica, a simulated limestone cave with underground waterfalls, streams, fossils and a genuine bat colony. The cave has both an advanced trail and a beginner’s trail that is wheelchair accessible. You will also find these exhibits:
- All About You – an interactive exhibit on the workings of the human body.
- Nature’s Trading Post – an exhibit that illustrates responsible interaction with the environment.
- Clues frozen in time – an interactive experience that looks at Cincinnati during the ice age and examines the last glacier in the area.
Cincinnati History Museum
The Cincinnati History Museum offers a walk-through of the city’s history, including a Cincinnati Public Landing created as it existed in the 1850s. Children may step aboard a steamboat or a full sized 1940s street car. They may interact with a World War II Home Front exhibit or see a 1900s to 1940s scale model of the city, complete with trains, inclines and other city details.
Children can interact with a fully costumed guide in character as a 1792 river valley settler. They can book passage on a steam boat, help a crewman unload his flatboat or discuss rationing with a World War II Cincinnati housewife.
It’s not exactly a museum but the Omnimax is known for its fascinating multimedia nature presentations. Children enjoy climbing the stairs to seats high inside the Union Terminal Dome. Movies are on a large scale, with vivid colors and vibrations of surrounding sound. The Omnimax offers an experience so exciting, your children won’t realize it’s educational too.
The Museum Center is located at 1301 Western Avenue near Downtown Cincinnati. See www.cincymuseum.org for more information or call 1.800.733.2077 for information.
Prices begin at 8.50 for a single museum admission, 4.50 for toddlers. For the best bargain, ask about the 4 for 1 museum deals.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Families who want a slightly different educational experience should visit the Downtown Cincinnati museum that sits on the northern bank of the Ohio River. The Freedom center was built in this particular spot as a reminder of a time when being on the Kentucky side of the river meant you could be a slave and making it to the Ohio side meant you were free.
At the Freedom center, a family can sit inside a log slave pen while a docent explains its use as a holding structure for slaves awaiting sale. An Oprah Winfrey video introduces the runaway slave’s experience in a theater filled with artificial foliage and the sounds of rustling trees, night creatures in the woods, running waters and horse-mounted slave catchers close behind.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is not just about slavery. A hall of everyday heroes highlights modern day freedom champions. The newest exhibit, The Berlin Wall Monument, includes a permanently placed section of the Berlin Wall, a gift from the city of Berlin, Germany.
In addition to exhibits, the Freedom Center offers family programs, weeklong summer camps for 4th to 8th grade children, a teacher’s resource center and genealogy research at the FamilySearch Center.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located at 50 East Freedom Way in Downtown Cincinanti between the Reds and Bengals stadiums. Call 513.333.7500 or 877.648.4838 for more information, or visit the website at freedomcenter.org.