Space – Don’t tell kids they’re learning | Special Sections
About seven miles east of the Queens border, children can climb through a three-dimensional maze; don firefighters’ gear; and see an airplane owned by Charles Lindbergh, as well as the Long Island-built aircraft and machines that took men to war and to the moon and brought them back safely.
The place is Museum Row in Garden City, LI, home of the Long Island Children’s Museum, the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center and the Cradle of Aviation Museum.
They make for a great day trip. All are within walking distance of each other off Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, and the tickets combined are less than one would spend on three museums or possibly two in Manhattan.
“Family-friendly and family-friendly prices,” said Maureen Mangan, director of communication for the Children’s Museum.
The LICM is a recipient of the National Medal for Museum and Library Services. Mangan said it is fully open and both the staff and their visitors are longing to get back with each other.
“The Children’s Museum is really designed to allow everybody in the family to have fun,” Mangan said. “And the exhibits are designed with multiple ages in mind so that children can naturally grow through the museum. What they might have done as a 3-year-old toddler they can still enjoy when they’re 7 or when they’re 10 or when they’re 12.”
The museum’s most popular exhibit is “Climb It,” a maze of curved, wavy platforms suspended by wires that allows children inside to choose multiple paths to multiple levels. They must be as least 42 inches tall.
“It’s amazing as you watch kids navigate through it,” Mangan said. “They have choices to make in terms of which way to go. But it’s also one of those things where children learn ‘I can do this.’ You watch them as they help each other during the process.” Those not yet ready for Climb It can go to TotSpot, specially designed for children under age 4.
“One of the things we saw with Covid was that so many kids were inside where physical activity was limited in a lot of cases,” Mangan said. “They really, desperately wanted physical activity, so Climb It has been a huge, huge hit.”
And she said no one comes to the museum without stopping by the Bubbles exhibit. “It’s one of those galleries where kids can see their parents play and realize that ‘Oh! Mom and dad were kids once too!’”
The museum will be closed between Sept. 9 and 23 for its annual fall fix-up, when it does necessary repairs, painting and maintenance. It will reopen Sept. 24
Tickets are $14 general admission or $13 for seniors 65 and over. No adults are permitted without children. Hours and tickets are available online at licm.org.
A short stroll to the east brings people to the Firefighters Museum, where Executive Director Alana Petrocelli said fun can be a vital tool in passing on the very serious message of fire safety.
“It’s fun and kids can learn,” Petrocelli said. “We’re all about fire safety and everything in the museum is interactive. So while they’re playing they’re learning about fire safety.
“We have trucks for the kids to sit in. We have gear for them to put on. We have plenty of kids who just want to do that all day, and that’s just fine with us.”
One interactive display allows children to pretend to be firefighters putting out a blaze.
“So it’s a fun place, and we hope children walk away with something that could save their lives someday,” Petrocelli said. And, she reiterated, children are the biggest advocates for the museum’s mission of fire safety.
“Parents, unfortunately, are busy and can forget,” she said. “It gets put on the back burner. The kids are the ones who are going to go home and say, ‘Hey, mom, I saw this at the museum. Do we have an escape plan? What’s the escape plan? Do we have a meeting place? What’s the meeting place?’
“These are the things you need to know, and the kids are the ones who carry the message home,” she said. “They’re going to say ‘Mom, did we change the smoke detector batteries? Hey, dad, do we have smoke detectors in all our bedrooms?’”
Tickets are $5. Further information on the museum can be found on its website at ncfiremuseum.org or by calling (516) 572-4177.
While the Wright Brothers may have been from Ohio and launched their first fight in North Carolina, the Cradle of Aviation Museum, located next door, is appropriately named for an institution on Long Island, according to museum President Andrew Parton.
“We have 75 planes and spacecraft, cockpits for kids to crawl into, and there’s a lot to see,” Parton said. “And the thing is it’s all connected to the region. Everything here is from Long Island and the Metropolitan region. We don’t have a single aircraft that wasn’t either built here or where there wasn’t some sort of milestone here. Everything has a connection.”
The crown jewel, he said, is an actual lunar module from NASA’s Apollo moon landing program. All were built at Grumman in Bethpage, LI.
“We have one of the three that were built to go to the moon that didn’t because the program was cut after Apollo 17,” Parton said. “We have Apollo 18 here, and it’s fully loaded and on display, the only one of its kind. The other two [lunar modules] are at the Kennedy Space center and the Smithsonian … And a lot of our docents who work as guides in our galleries, especially our space gallery, you might actually meet someone who worked in that program.”
The museum also owns an LI-built Curtiss Jenny World War I biplane, the first plane owned by Charles Lindbergh. And while the Smithsonian has the Spirit of St. Louis, in which Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean — taking off not far to the east of the present-day Roosevelt Field mall — the Cradle of Aviation does have one of two sister ships built at the same time.
“Ours was used in the movie starring Jimmy Stewart,” Parton said, referencing the 1957 film “The Spirit of St. Louis.”
The museum’s World War II gallery features the carrier-based Grumman Wildcat fighter plane as well as its replacement, the Hellcat. There also is a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber and a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter built by Republic in Suffolk County.
Referring back to the space gallery, Parton said an entire section is dedicated to “The Future is Now,” inspired by the present and future plans to head to the moon and Mars; and recent successes in civilian travel involving Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX.
“We’ve built a Mars landscape where you can use augmented reality, an app you can download on your smartphone and drive a rover across our landscape. And ,when you get home you can take your Mars rover that’s in your smartphone and drive it in your living room if you want.”
The museum’s newest exhibit is an arcade of the old stand-up video games — no quarters necessary — that one would play before they could be played on phones and TV sets.
“It’s an exhibit as opposed to an arcade in that the original was created on Long Island at the Brookhaven Labs,” Parton said. “The game Pong was originally created as an Air Force project. They were working with radar and fell into creating this silly video game.”
Admission is $16 for adults and $14 for seniors age 62 and over and children between 2 and 12. There also is a theater and planetarium where one can attend shows for $10 without admission to the museum galleries, or for an additional $5 on a combination ticket with the galleries.
The arcade exhibit is a separate $10 charge, but does not require one to pay for gallery visits. More information is available online at cradleofaviation.org.