Last March, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it didn’t take long for area educational and cultural institutions to figure out how to offer kids opportunities to stay engaged. Be it modified in-person events or virtual content designed for even the youngest and most active children, St. Louis is full of places for kids to play and learn.
Just consider the classics. The Gateway Arch’s museum and tram ride are open once again, with masks required for guests age 2 or older. Although some exhibits are temporarily closed at City Museum to help ensure social distancing, there’s still plenty to explore, including most of MonstroCity (though, the museum is currently reservation only). Six Flags is following safety guidelines and requiring temperature checks. And with 42 gondolas that permit social distancing, the St. Louis Wheel still allows guests to see the city from 200 feet up year-round. And that’s just hitting a few high notes.
Wildlife & Outdoors
St. Louis’ wildlife education institutions are uniquely positioned to offer mostly outdoor nature-based enrichment.
Saint Louis Zoo
Know Before You Go: The zoo’s many outdoor exhibits make it easily adaptable to social distancing restrictions. Reservations are required and available starting a week before the visit day. Reservations can be made at stlzoo.org until 3:30 p.m. on the day of the visit.
What’s New: Legions of Jurassic Park–loving children (and adults) are eagerly awaiting the “Emerson Dinoroarus” exhibit, opening April 18, National Velociraptor Awareness Day. Situated in the footprint of the former Children’s Zoo, the exhibit offers visitors the chance to stroll among animatronic creatures and learn about such topics as extinction and dinosaurs’ feathered descendants.
Insider Tip: The zoo is operating cashless to help limit the spread of COVID-19. If you forget to bring a card, you can purchase a gift card at the north and south rentals or the guest relations booth near the Lakeside Cafe.
St. Louis Aquarium
Know Before You Go: The aquarium has put in place such precautions as social distancing guidelines and masks for visitors age 9 and older. Timed reservations are required; make yours here.
What’s New: Much of the aquarium’s education and conservation content can be consumed virtually. Activities with salamanders, sharks, otters, and more are available here.
Insider Tip: Looking for ways to feed kids’ curiosity about science? The St. Louis Aquarium Foundation offers at-home STEM learning kits for ages 7–13. Each $20 pack includes a hands-on project and a game or learning toy. Purchase here.
Missouri Botanical Garden
Know Before You Go: Along with the Butterfly House and Shaw Nature Reserve, MoBot is open for visitors, with advance reservations strongly encouraged. Although some indoor areas are closed, the Climatron, Bakewell Ottoman Garden, George Washington Carver Garden, and more are open Thursday–Sunday. (Note: A new visitor center is under construction, so enter at the east side of the parking lot.)
What’s New: Eighteen new metal sculptures—including a tower of 1,000 cranes, birds, butterflies, and more—will be on view starting April 17. The exhibit, “Origami in the Garden,” is inspired by the ancient Japanese art of paper-folding.
Insider Tip: MoBot’s virtual offerings include the frequently updated garden blog, which provides enough detail to make online visitors think they’re getting private lessons from staff members.
Forest Park nature playscape
Know Before You Go: The 17 acres of exploring space at Forest Park, nestled between the Jewel Box and World’s Fair Pavilion, features 280 native tree species, 100 grasses and plants, and all-natural playground equipment, including rocks and boulders.
What’s New: After a delayed opening due to the pandemic, the $4.5 million Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape is slated to welcome visitors in late spring.
Insider Tip: Four distinct playgrounds—Mounds, Spring, Meadow, and Wetlands—comprise the play space, with each offering a unique experience.
Endangered Wolf Center
Know Before You Go: The Eureka facility is holding private tours every day except Tuesday, providing a two-hour peek at the more than 10 species that live there. Guests are required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Reservations can be made here.
What’s New: Virtual visits allow up to five households at once a close-up look at the center’s animal ambassadors, such as Lucky the maned wolf and Clay the hognose snake. Staff can also answer questions about the animals.
Insider Tip: Mexican gray wolves are typically born in February and March, so April is prime time to see new pups that have yet to be released into the wild. Red wolves are typically born in April or May.
And Don’t Forget…
World Bird Sanctuary
The return of warm weather means the return of Amazing Animal Encounters. Register for an up-close encounter with birds, snakes, and more. Visitors age 5 and older must wear masks.
Although the farm remains closed for safety’s sake, a series of educational animal adventures led by curator Amy Trout is available on YouTube.
Lone Elk Park
The popular park’s two trails are the perfect socially distanced outing for a warm spring day. Arrive before 8 a.m. for the best chance to spot bison, elk, deer, turkey, and other wildlife.
The center is closed during the pandemic, but it still offers tips for making your own yard a haven for winged creatures with its virtual Bird-Friendly Fridays.
Powder Valley Nature Center
The center building may be closed, but the park’s trails are open 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.
Education & Science
Whether your tyke is a budding scientist, an amateur historian, or a chess prodigy, there are plenty of ways to continue learning during the pandemic.
The Magic House
Know Before You Go: With 60,000 square feet of educational exhibits, the Kirkwood children’s museum follows St. Louis County capacity and social distancing requirements, and virtual field trips are offered for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Reserve tickets before you go.
What’s New: The “Namaste India” exhibit—featuring art, food, festivals, and traditions of Indian culture—is slated to open in May. Also in the works: spring experiences, including the chance to visit outdoors with the Easter Bunny.
Insider Tip: Supplemental STEAM learning is offered in person at the Magic House Learning Camp each Friday. (Email email@example.com to reserve a spot.)
Saint Louis Science Center
Know Before You Go: The McDonnell Planetarium, OMNIMAX Theater, and recently opened “Mummies of the World” exhibit are still open to visitors with reservations. The center has added walking paths and hand sanitizing stations to maintain safety requirements. Book a timed-entry ticket here or call 314-289-4424.
What’s New: The Discovery Room is closed for the pandemic, but children ages 3–6 can be scientists for a day through the Discover Science With Me program. The 45-minute sessions help develop language, cognitive abilities, and fine motor skills. Guests age 2 and older must wear masks. Register here.
Insider Tip: The museum offers STEAM activities designed for teenagers. The YES Program instructs high schoolers in such topics as aerospace, agri-science, cybersecurity, engineering, entrepreneurship, integrative medicine and well-being, and media production.
Know Before You Go: Although the famed Seaweed Swamp is closed for the time being, the Town & Country children’s museum is open for modified playtime in keeping with county safety requirements.
What’s New: Nikola Tesla–inspired exhibits include a coil that shoots music-making lightning bolts every hour, the Egg of Columbus experiment displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a theremin—the only instrument in the world played without touch, perfect for social distancing.
Insider Tip: Even when the county briefly lifted its capacity limit to 50 percent last year, the Myseum welcomed no more than 25 percent capacity, or about 115 people. Check the museum’s current occupancy online ahead of time; it’s updated roughly every hour on their website.
Missouri History Museum
Know Before You Go: The museum is operating at 10 percent capacity and requires masks for patrons age 9 and up. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance. You can also be a tourist in your own city with walking tours organized through the museum.
What’s New: This year welcomed the opening of a new virtual exhibit, “Gateway to Pride,” which explores the contributions of the LGBTQIA+ community to the city.
Insider Tip: Want to social distance while visiting the museum? Soldiers Memorial offers regular outdoor tours exploring the architecture and history of the monument and its role in downtown St. Louis.
Saint Louis Chess Club
Know Before You Go: The club is open noon–8 p.m. and offers daily open chess play on a first-come, first-served basis.
What’s New: All of the club’s classes and lectures are available online on YouTube and Twitch. You can catch such events as the season’s final Grand Prix tournament, which will be online April 10, as well.
Insider Tip: Learn a new skill or improve one virtually with easy, intermediate, and advanced chess lessons through the Scholastic Digital Classroom.
Play Street Museum
Know Before You Go: Guests have temperatures checked and are asked to use hand sanitizer before entry, and anyone age 5 or older will be required to wear a mask. Reservations are required on weekends.
What’s New: Save on multiple visits with a five-visit pass for $50, good for one year.
Insider Tip: Looking for a more private play experience? Book a 90-minute play date with optional slime making or canvas painting.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
For the family that’s always on the go, a range of local attractions highlight the many ways that we get around.
Now, this is a hat trick: There’s a St. Louis institution that has the oldest original American railway passenger coach, the largest successful steam locomotive ever built, and history’s most powerful diesel-electric locomotive model on display. Considered the largest collection of transportation vehicles in the world with its 190 major exhibits, the National Museum of Transportation has continued operations during the pandemic with safety protocols (masks on, 6-foot distancing) but is seeing fewer visitors despite the opening of a new exhibit dedicated to the history of McDonnell Aircraft and McDonnell Douglas (since acquired by Boeing). Inside, history buffs can head to the library, where period documents, magazines, and film detail the inventors and innovators’ breakthroughs in transportation. Kids can pile into 19th-century passenger cars and feel what their ancestors’ commutes might have been like or play on a miniature train, trolley, or personal handcar.
If the National Museum of Transportation’s car collection isn’t enough, take a trip to Springfield’s Route 66 Car Museum, where collector Guy Mace displays 75 of his favorite vehicles. Or stay a bit closer and visit the St. Louis Car Museum & Sales, where car enthusiasts purchase classic finds and kids can look but not touch. Or kids can see hot rods in action at World Wide Technology Raceway, just over the bridge in Madison, where 2021 promises a packed schedule of drag races, NASCAR’s truck series, and the NTT IndyCar Series.
“A lot of these airplanes, you don’t see them anywhere anymore,” says Jacob Goodwin, a line service operator at Creve Coeur Airport who spends his weekends giving tours at the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum in Maryland Heights. He’s talking about the museum’s Golden Age of Flight display, which includes WACO biplanes and the Monocoupe aircraft. “Those are few and far between, so having a lot of them together in one area really draws people,” he notes. If your aviation aficionado is having a hard time just looking, check out the airport’s Gateway Youth Aeronautical Foundation, where visitors can control airplane and helicopter flight simulators. In keeping with its aim to serve as an educational resource for the next generation of pilots, the foundation recently acquired a vintage Kiowa helicopter for use in future STEM-related activities.
Or take a quick trip to the National Great Rivers Museum, in Alton, where education is just as much about the Mississippi River’s creatures as it is about the vehicles used to maneuver the region’s great waterways. Little ones can virtually steer a tugboat through the Melvin Price Locks & Dam on a simulator. And if your kids really want a history lesson in watercraft, consider a trip to the other side of a different area river. At St. Charles’ Lewis & Clark Boat House & Museum, kids can lay hands on full-size replicas of a keelboat and two pirogues—the vessels used by the two famous explorers to navigate the waters of the muddy Missouri, on whose bank this museum sits.
Arts & Culture
Once upon a year ago, digital engagement with the arts for the stay-at-home world was still in its infancy. These days, many St. Louis arts institutions have hit their stride with pandemic-safe offerings, and there’s still plenty for kids to safely enjoy.
Contemporary Art Museum
The Contemporary Art Museum has been making use of a new platform, CAM Anywhere. That’s where you’ll find monthly Play Dates; sign up for the second Saturday of each month to virtually explore a visual theme, with free material kits that can be picked up the preceding Thursday. The museum is open for timed, masked visits; pick up a free activity card for kid-friendly self-directed tours.
Circus Flora is planning to run last summer’s postponed show, The Trial of the Century, starting in June. In the meantime, check out its virtual showcase. The Kranzberg’s resident organizations also have a host of offerings: Circus Harmony’s digital cooking show and cookbook launched last month. Metro Theater Company’s production of the iconic The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be watched in person or virtually, and the company is offering virtual field trips to take in other productions as well. In May, Consuming Kinetics Dance Company invites viewers to safely take in the moves of its student dance concert, 60×60, by watching through the company’s large windows.
Laumeier Sculpture Park
At Laumeier Sculpture Park, monthly limited-attendance in-person family workshops (for kids ages 4–12, with one adult) offer the chance to collaborate in making art. The park also sells Take & Make Art Kits, which you can buy online and have shipped, and Laumeier Online offers scavenger hunts, arts activities, and more to do at your house or the park. With 105 acres, social distancing is a breeze. Keep an eye on the website for summer art camp registration.
Pulitzer Arts Foundation
At the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, the educational series Art Recess offers online modules for a selection of projects, from making an edible terrarium or a viewfinder to shoring up listening skills. Across the street from the museum, green-space exhibition “Park-Like” offers a unique perspective on plants and wildlife in an urban setting. It’s ideal for a distanced stroll after visiting the museum.
Saint Louis Art Museum
The Saint Louis Art Museum offers Wee Wednesdays online. Even the youngest art aficionados can explore the collection with on-demand virtual programming: Design a garment on the basis of what you have at home, make a collage inspired by the art of Jacob Lawrence, create a self-portrait, travel the world, and more.
At COCA, summer art camps and intensives run June–August. As usual, the center is offering a staggering array of choices, from circus skills for toddlers to advocacy and graphic design for teens. Safety-conscious options include indoor and outdoor in-person meetings and virtual camps.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s digital programming is robust. SLSO Sound Lab, for ages 6–12, explores musical themes and conversations in 15-minute episodes. Give a trombone a few virtual test honks with the Instrument Playground Online. The Tiny Tunes Concerts, half-hour interactives blending music and children’s literature, are available online.
Missing The Muny was tough last summer, but shows are slated, beginning in July. While you’re waiting, download a Muny Coloring Book, featuring hand-drawn scenes, or relive past performances and take a peek behind the scenes with more than 500 videos on The Muny’s YouTube channel.
At The Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries, good things are brewing for young duffers. “Golf the Galleries” is the annual artist-designed mini-golf course that takes over the second-floor Sheldon Art Galleries. Each hole of the all-ages course will have a theme, designed by a St. Louis artist. The exhibition runs from July 2 to September 5. As for music lovers? Concerts at The Sheldon can be streamed virtually for free online. Educators can also sign students up for a virtual instrument design and building project here.
Where should you go?
Here’s how to plan a day of activities for your kids, based on their interests.
There’s a phrase that any parent dreads hearing: “I’m booored…” And the pandemic certainly hasn’t made keeping boredom at bay any easier, as parents juggle caring for young ones and setting them up for virtual learning. Let’s pretend it’s the weekend or a day off. Before your kids can let out that tell-tale sigh, whisk them away on one of these outings.