Start with a ride on the vintage carousel near the entrance, and stop in at the adjacent circus museum with its 35,000-piece carved miniature three-ring circus. Then head over to the grounded steamboat Ticonderoga, a fully restored side-wheel steamship, where children can visit the pilothouse, talk into the ship's speaking tube, and explore the engine room, galley, and cruise quarters to their hearts' content.
The Owl Cottage Family Activity Center contains historic costumes, games, a puppet stage, and a reading area where children can get comfortable. The museum staff offers free art projects and craft activities daily during July and August: Children might build a birdhouse, make a doll, or paint.
Another fun stop for kids is a 19th-century-style playground called Alyssia's Garden. The playground is surrounded by beautiful perennials and features a slide, swings, and 19th-century games such as hoops and graces. Next door, an 1840s one-room schoolhouse allows children to play old-fashioned school.
The 1950 house is something the entire family will like. This interactive 1,000-square-foot ranch house exhibit encourages you to explore whatever's inside. You can open kitchen cupboards and a refrigerator to check what food is available, or sit in the living room and read Life magazine. The garage contains an activity center for children, where they can play 1950s board games, go on a short scavenger hunt based on 1950s pop culture, and enjoy hula hoops and other toys.
The museum's toy shop has a collection of vintage toys such as cast-iron banks, fire trucks, and boats. But the highlight is the vintage toy train. Children can operate the train and a few of the accessories in the layout.
Most of the exhibits have touch-and-learn components designed for kids. In the Apothecary Shop children can pretend to mix compounds. In the Hat and Fragrance Textile Gallery they can make a quilt with magnetic patterns and feel the textures of different types of quilts. In the doll exhibit there is a dollhouse they can play in.
Many children enjoy the museum's most popular stops for adults, such as the Stagecoach Inn, a 1783 inn relocated to the museum grounds. It is the premier gallery for weather vanes, trade signs, and painted furniture. Quilts are very popular, too, and there's always a special exhibition or highlights in the Hat and Fragrance Textile Gallery from the museum's collection of more than 400 18th- and 19th-century quilts.
There are various events for families throughout the season. Even the family dog becomes part of the fun at the museum in contests that determine the "best kisser," and "best lapdog over 50 pounds." Halloween features trick-or-treating around the museum, a pumpkin catapult contest, and pumpkin bowling.
Shelburne Museum Information
Address: US Rte. 7, Shelburne, VT
Hours of Operation: Third week of May - Fourth week of Oct., 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., daily
Admission: $18 adult; $9 kids; After 3 p.m. $10 adults; $5 kids
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Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America and Tropical Family Vacations.