So yesterday, there was a deal with the Smithsonian Museums and their affiliates for free entry. Never ones to pass up a deal, we signed up to go to Port Discovery, the local children’s museum here in Baltimore.
(Yesterday was a whole bunch of free, since we also had lunch at a nearby, newly-opening Red Robin… but that’s beside the point. We like Red Robin, if only because bottomless fries == distracted children with full mouths.)
The basics: Port Discovery is down in the Power Plant Live! complex in downtown Baltimore. Parking can be a bit rough – there’s a parking garage right next door to the museum, but there’s a cheaper one around the corner on Gay Street if you don’t mind a three minute walk. The museum itself is a three story building, with an elevator and stairs between floors, and has a few distinct areas off of the central core, which itself is largely occupied by a treehouse-like structure that climbs all the way to the uppermost floor.
Like the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, this museum is meant for children to explore and encourages them to roam around and play with the various things. There are areas set up for the 3-and-under set like R – which gave the wife and him a good break from running around after the Monster. There are other areas set up like a diner, like an Egyptian archeological site, and a few others. There’s a library area for playing with more tactile toys – soft legos and construction kits – and a water room with fountains and other experiments.
And in general, Port Discovery is very autism-friendly. Yes, it can be loud and busy with all of the children running around, and I can imagine that a sensory-adverse child might need ear protection or breaks. On the other hand, there are social stories available on their website that are customized to the museum itself, and they have several days each year that are tailored for children with various special needs (including one dedicated for children with Autism). The bathrooms have manual-flush toilets and paper-towel dispensers instead of the blowers that you’re seeing more and more frequently (and are one of the few sensory-adverse spots for the Monster). Their site includes suggestions for “quieter hours” if need to plan around that as well.
Further, they do something I’ve not seen at a museum previously, and I think is a wonderful idea – they put numbered wristbands on children and parents. Children are not allowed to be taken from the museum unless they’re with the adult with the same number on their wristband. Especially for a child like the Monster – who might be having a meltdown en route from the museum, or who isn’t the most verbal anyway and couldn’t be expected to tell someone if he’s with a parent – this is a great way to make sure they’re safe while inside the building, especially given the number of times he got away from me.
I like Port Discovery a lot. I don’t know that we’d go enough to make a membership worthwhile, but it’s definitely somewhere to check out if you come down this way.