Finding a destination where sisters aged 8 and 11 can both have fun for a whole winter day is not easy. To find one where they can spend a day together enjoying the same things is almost a miracle.
So you can imagine my surprise when both my girls returned home with such glowing reports of their day with their grandparents at the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, in Dover. Most surprising was that they talked about the same highlights: building race cars and aircraft, competing in a brain relaxation contest and running a post office. And of course the Yellow Submarine, a memory from my own childhood, when the museum was located in Portsmouth.
Exploring the Cochecosystem
The museum’s setting alongside the Cocheco River at the last point where it is tidal suggests several of the museum’s exhibits, highlighting the river ecosystem and the historic mill complex whose brick buildings still stand above falls that powered them. Like the rest of the museum, the emphasis of the Cochecosystem section is on hands-on experiences, with just enough labeling to relate the activity to the theme. Harness looms, winders and a carding machine are ready to use, and frequent live programs explore the estuary and its wildlife. In the room overlooking the river, kids can “become” animals, birds and fish who call the river home, by building beaver dams, osprey nests and operating a fish ladder to help fish climb the falls.
A look at the Children’s Museum website tells me that there were a lot of different exhibits for a wide range of ages and interests, but I only heard about the ones my girls spent the most time in.
Playing post office
It seems that the post office was the one they kept returning to, where real windows and sorting slots from an old-fashioned post office were set at child level. The 11-year-old sorted all the mail (plastic-coated envelopes with real stamps) into cubby holes, alphabetically by street, while the younger one slung a carrier’s bag over her shoulder and toured the museum to gather mail from the mailboxes located throughout. Then she delivered the sorted mail. When they returned later, after some time building and testing aircraft in Build-it Fly-it, other children had done their own versions of postal work, so mine sorted and delivered all over again.
Both girls dug into the Lego-like materials to build cars, which they raced down a track (with varied success, I understand), and the younger one stayed to create a ball maze with lengths of plastic pipe and elbow joints that she could arrange on a wall.
That was until her sister came to get her for a game of brain relaxation called Mind Ball. They described enthusiastically how they’d put on headbands with wires and “thought” a ball back and forth between them by trying to relax their brains. Next time I want to go so I can play, too.
Visiting the museum
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire is in Henry Law Park, adjacent to Dover’s Lower Square, and is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 12 noon to 5 pm. It is also open Monday during school vacation weeks, and on some holidays. Admission is $9 for adults and children ($8 for seniors). Tel. 603-742-2002, Museum website