Nestled inside Mathews Park near the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn., is the perfect spot for kids, up to age 10, to spend a few hours expanding their minds while having fun. This hands-on exploratory space has both indoor and outdoor places to play, several scientific and sensory exhibitions, and even a shoes-off area for the littlest of learners.
We started our journey early on a weekday, when traffic and crowds were light. (If you’re worried about crowds, call ahead to see if there are group admissions scheduled for the day you plan to visit.) There is free ample parking just outside the museum and next to a newly renovated playground called Devon’s Place, a great asset if your kids need to burn off some steam before or after your visit. The museum also runs special programs throughout the day, so check the events calendar to see if there is a story time or fitness activity you can drop in on.
Mathews Park is a peaceful enclave in the otherwise bustling city of Norwalk, and the adjacent neighborhood is in the process of an extensive revitalization. A new shopping mall is under construction and just a few blocks away is a plaza with Sedona Taphouse, Barcelona Wine Bar, and the Norwalk outpost of legendary thin-crust pizza - Colony Grill.
Larger than the Westchester Children’s Museum but not as big and hard to reach as the Please Touch Museum in Philly or the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, you can easily spend an entire morning or afternoon at Stepping Stones again and again. The museum opens at 10 a.m. and costs $15 each for all visitors over age 1, with discounts for seniors and active military families.
But did you know many libraries in Westchester lend out museum passes to Stepping Stones? Check your town’s branch to find out how to borrow them. Or visit on the first Thursday of the month between 5 and 8 p.m. for free admission, but be ready for big crowds and tired kids.
Once you get in, there are three main zones to visit, along with a few smaller spaces. Tot Town is for kids ages 3 and up and is the only exhibit area secured with a gate, making it a favorite for parents of wanderers. The toddler section features a slide, play kitchen, stage, reading nook, doghouse, and a four-foot wooden school bus that kids will clamor for. Or take infants and crawlers to the separate babies-only soft play area. Kids can explore the mats or snuggle up with their grown-up to read a book.
The Energy Lab, devoted to science and physics, is a favorite with kids. The room features a handful of smaller exhibits centered around the Water Lab. Have your kids put on the waterproof lab coat provided (no, seriously, or they will get soaked!) and let them explore what happens when they manipulate the many water wheels, waterfalls, and levers. Inside tip: Dab them with hand sanitizer when they’re done. The water does not have a swimming-pool level of protection against bacteria. Energy Lab also contains an exhibit called Energy Platforms. Climb inside the structure with a series of 5-inch wind tubes that suck in and spit out plastic balls. Seek out spots to feed the balls and watch as they zoom through the maze of pipes and shoot into the sky.
The Build It! mock construction site is a plywood play zone. Kids don orange vests and hard hats and help put the finishing touches on a building project. You’ll be surprised how long they’ll want to run up and down the ramps. Just steps away is Express Yourself, a large interactive area with several collaborative sensory exhibits such as a large light-up pegboard, bongo drums, and a table maze.
Celebration Courtyard, the enclosed outdoor center courtyard contains giant blocks for shape building, a stage for performances, and some low surfaces to climb. It’s great for a small play break, but we prefer the aforementioned Devon’s Place for a more energetic exercise experience.
Head down a long hallway to find Multimedia Gallery. This interactive space has a large screen and floor projections. Mostly a venue for special performances, the gallery is open on a limited schedule and features small interactive digital floor games such as a virtual balloon pop or electronic soccer.
The very low-key eating area, Healthyville Café, lives up to its name with options like yogurt and fruit cups, the vibe is more Galleria than Westchester Mall. The other choice, and we prefer it, is to take our own food for a snack break.
Stepping Stones is a great way to spend the morning with preschoolers. Kids will have a blast whether it’s their first or 15th visit. Pair it with a visit to the playground and a pizza lunch for the perfect day trip.
Andrea Worthington owns BabyG
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Ave., Norwalk, Conn.
Labor Day to Memorial Day:
Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Memorial Day to Labor Day:
Seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
$15 adults, $15 children, free under age 1
Parking is free.