Great Explorations

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

When Marlene Markoe-Boyd’s children, now teens, were toddlers, they lived at the Staten Island Children’s Museum — a first museum for many borough youngsters, particularly on the North Shore.

“The kids did use the Staten Island Museum to go to Clay Wollney’s science events on some Saturdays,” as well, said Ms. Markoe-Boyd, a resident of Castleton Corners.

They are still avid museum-goers, she said.

“For the most part, we have used museums as entertainment, making a museum stop a weekend destination or even a short trip. Our trip to the Franklin Institute was part of our weekend away in Philadelphia. A quiet Saturday took us to the Intrepid in Manhattan, and an obscure school day off resulted in a trip to the New York Hall of Science (in Queens),” she said.

A vacation in Lancaster County, Pa., was especially memorable. The extended family met at the Hands-on House museum there. “What made it so special was all the uncles crawling around and playing in the exhibits. Often times, it was my sisters-in-law and I doing that together when the kids were younger — not the dads!”

Still, said Ms. Markoe-Boyd, it’s the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in Manhattan that they return to time and again.

“From the large whale to the dinosaurs, to the stuffed animals. All of these were always larger than life for my kids. My 13-year-old and I went together last year one day during the summer. His request,” she said.

According to John Kilcullen, director of Conference House Park, who grew up on Long Island and also fell in love with the AMNH at an early age, museums are important because they “add thought behind the natural world.”

After his appointment as director of the Tottenville park a few years back, Kilcullen and his assistant, Frank Gessner, activated a small space in the park’s offices that’s dubbed the Lenape Gallery. Currently on view is an exhibit called “Regeneration,” a display of insects crafted from found objects by artist Randi Ehrhart (Up through Aug. 13).

“She made a bumble bee out of a gingko leaf, scale-size,” said Kilcullen, who described the creations as “amazing.”

Of museums’ value — especially to children, “You still need to see things that are curated. Teachers talk to you. Parents talk to you, but going to an exhibit, you can discover things yourself,” when it’s properly put together. “Most reputable, long-standing museums go to great lengths to foster learning.”

Kilcullen, now a resident of New Brighton, said his current favorite museum is the new Staten Island Museum on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Livingston. “It’s fantastic. They really hit the mark with it.”

Kayleigh Kelly, 17, is proof that seeing well-curated exhibits expands kids’ visions.

Of her younger sister, Kristen, and herself, Kayleigh said, “We visited museums with our family throughout our childhood and continue to visit — and revisit — new ones. Our favorite museum visit was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer. Our friend invited a group of nine young teenage girls, including Kristen and me, to spend an entire afternoon there as her 16 birthday celebration. It was so special because we got to experience our favorite art pieces with people we love, and discover new things along the way. Any trip to that museum is an adventure,” said the Clifton resident.

Not everyone has the chance to go as often as they’d like, but even a few visits yield fond memories.

Dr. Victor Avis and his wife, Kim, residents of Castleton Corners, had vowed when their first of three daughters was born 20-some years ago that they would go to a museum every weekend with their children.

“We took her once when she was three months old,” and that was sort of the end of that, admitted Mrs. Avis.

However, she does recall that the family patronized the Staten Island Children’s Museum frequently. And when the girls got older, they went into Manhattan to the AMNH more than once. Mrs. Avis said she would give each child a card with different dinosaurs on them, and it was like Dinosaur Bingo. The girls would have to find the creatures on their cards.

She believes museums are important for kids because “they can touch and feel everything. It’s something different and you can see what they’re interested in,” she said.

There are more than 80 museums in New York City, according to, not to mention what’s available nearby in New Jersey. Here are some suggestions for broadening your family’s horizons.

The American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West and 79th St., Manhattan, 212-769-5100, is bursting with fascinating exhibits.

The newest show-stopper, “Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World,” features four live species, life-sized dioramas and interactive exhibits. Crocodiles are part of a group of reptiles known as archosaurs or “ruling reptiles,” and they’ve been around for 200 million years. Crocs as long as school buses and as heavy as elephants roamed the earth as recently as 8 million years ago. Their prey? Live tyrannosaurs! The exhibit is in the museum’s 77th Street gallery, through Jan. 2, 2017.

Also new is a 3D IMAX film titled “National Parks Adventure,” narrated by actor Robert Redford. Released as part of the 100th anniversary salute to the National Park Service, this film features more than 30 of the nation’s parks. A grand look at some real treasures in the great outdoors. Closes Sept. 1, 2016.

Then, there’s the new dinosaur cast, which opened to the public on Jan. 15 — and, at 122-feet long, is nothing short of colossal! In fact, it’s so big it cannot fit into the Wallach Orientation Center on the museum’s fourth floor. The cast grazes the 19-foot-high ceilings, and its neck and head extend out toward the elevator banks. This giant herbivore belongs to a group known as titanosaurs and weighed in around 70 tons — or 140,000 pounds — when it roamed the Earth some 100 to 95 million years ago. A contact in the communications department advised that families wanting to spend some quality time on the fourth floor should arrive as close as possible to the opening of the museum each day at 10 a.m.

Staten Island Museum (75 Stuyvesant Place, St. George, and 1000 Richmond Terr., on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, 718-727-1135,

Did you know that Staten Island used to have a National Football League team? It’s true, and you can find out more about that squad in “Home Games,” a sports history exhibition in collaboration with the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame that opened the last day of April and will close Feb. 5, 2017. Located at the museum’s Stuyvesant location, the exhibition draws from the Hall’s extensive collection of sports objects, documents and memorabilia. It traces the evolution of American sports from the days when the New York Metropolitans played “big league” baseball on a cricket ground adjacent to the St. George Ferry terminal, and the hometown Stapes, based in Stapleton, were part of the NFL. The exhibit also looks at the corporate model of today, as seen from the unique perspective of Staten Island, just a ferryboat ride from the center of American finance and culture. The show is free with admission as follows: Adult/$8; student (with ID)/$5; senior (62 and older)/$5; children 2-12/$2; member/free. The museum is open seven days a week; call or visit its website for hours.

As part of a series of summer events based on “Home Games,” the Museum is hosting “Game On!” on Aug. 11, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. outside Building A, its base at Snug Harbor. Families are invited to participate in popular games from the past and from around the world. Call or check out the museum’s website for ticket information.

“Remember the Mastodon: Diversity & Preservation” is all about the hard facts of extinction, the wonder of enduring species, the importance of bio-diversity and the challenge of preservation. Includes fossils, lost bird species, and a full-size replica of a mastodon emerging through the wall! This exhibit is at the Museum’s Snug Harbor location and is free with admission as noted above.

The Bronx Zoo (2300 Southern Blvd., The Bronx, 718-367-1010,

f you’re willing to head to the Bronx, you can take a gander at the largest metropolitan zoo in the country. And there’s lots to take in on this 265-acre site that is home to 4,000 animals. The Children’s Zoo has been completely overhauled, and in addition to Nubian goats and squirrel monkeys, kids can hop on a new Bug Carousel for a spin. When you’re finished in this family-friendly farmyard, check out the Congo Gorilla Forest, the Wild Asia monorail (red pandas and rhinos), the 4D theater, camel rides, an overhead tram, plus penguin and sea lion feedings. Call or check online for hours and ticket information.

Liberty Science Center (222 Jersey Center Blvd., Jersey City, 201-200-1000, has four floors of exhibits and activities to engage families.

Cowabunga! It’s the first stop this summer for a national traveling exhibit called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secrets of the Sewer,” but you only have the month of August to explore this underground lair before the show moves on. Solve puzzles, navigate mazes and obstacles. Shoot pizza at enemy targets, make your way through a rope maze without triggering alarms and look through the Street View Periscope to see turtles on the street above you. Crawl through sewer pipes to discover hidden artwork, hone your skateboarding skills, and enjoy interactive games. This exhibit is free with paid admission to the Center or membership.

The Nikola Tesla Lightning Show uses two coils, each powered by 1 million volts, to produce a live, musical lightning show that’s nothing less than electrifying. In the Center’s JDW Theater.

The new Infinity Climber at the LSC is a suspended multi-story play space that challenges visitors to climb, crawl and balance their way through multiple pathways as high as 35 feet above the atrium floor.

Call or visit the center’s website for ticket information and hours.

By Marjorie Hack