Last week, my kids were on spring break and we had no major plans. I tried not to panic.
My boys (ages 8, 10 and 14) are not so much the “I’m bored!” or “What are we doing today?” types and more of the sit-in-a-dark-basement-playing-Xbox-for-6-hours types.
If I let them, they would skip breakfast and wander up at about 11am seeking juice and a cheese stick (no time to pour cereal) before burrowing downstairs with a control stick for another 3 hours.
I can’t stand it.
My challenge is coming up with something enriching that will interest their wide age gap, and elicit the least amount of groans and eyerolls.
I’ve found a solution: the Museum of the Moving Image.
Despite a 20+ year career in TV and digital media, I had never heard of this little gem, tucked into a residential neighborhood in Astoria, Queens. It’s an extra 15 minutes on the subway from the city, but well worth it.
First off, the look of the place is stunning. It’s super modern and all white– like you’re on the set of a space movie– but it’s also pristine in a calming way.
There was a new exhibit by digital artist Jim Campbell, which had several sculptures and visual pieces on screens that were surprising optical illusions, playing with light and space. My kids were looking at art, and enjoying it!
I was thrilled.
Next, we moved onto the museum’s permanent collection, which includes some cool sculptures, and old TV, radio and film equipment. You see the evolution of still and video cameras , microphones, and sound systems.
There’s an entire room of old TV’s of every size, that’s like walking through a time warp. I forgot about those huge geezer screens built into a cabinet, or the plastic, spacy-looking tiny TV’s from the 70’s. No flat screens! No HD! The kids were fascinated.
There are a series of interactive stations where kids can spend hours creating. One was a blank screen, with a video camera someone controls by joystick on the side. The kids stood in front of the screen and recorded a 3-5 second video, which instantly played back so we could see how it looked. If you like the video, the gift shop will make a flip book of your video that you can take home.
Another station was a table of computers and several flat wooden sets and characters. My boys sat there for at least 20 minutes (til we dragged them away) making animation videos on the computer.
They learned the process in about 30 seconds and loved making things move on-screen. We emailed the best ones to ourselves for later.
Some kids were hunkered down in sound booths changing music, sound effects, or dialogue from famous TV shows and movies. You could change the sound of Bart Simpson’s fall down the stairs, or make Judy Garland say something other than “There’s no place like home,” from the Wizard of Oz.
The museum houses some iconic movie special effect artifacts, like Freddy Krueger’s giant sweater used in a Friday the 13th movie when aliens came screaming out of his body, or the motorized mannequin of Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist that allowed her head to spin around.
On another floor, there’s an extensive exhibit on make up and costumes, and actual scripts from recognizable movies and TV shows like Taxi Driver and Seinfeld. The kids loved the original toy and kitsch collections, from every Star Wars plastic ship and action figure, to a Get Smart lunch box.
One highlight for adults and kids was the entire wall of playable video games– some free-standing like in the old arcades, and some ancient units attached to TV screens. I got so nostalgic seeing that Atari tennis game with literally two lines on opposite sides of the screen bouncing a ball blip back and forth. I used to play that for hours! Tetris, Genesis, or Frogger anyone?
Need I say more? The Museum of the Moving Image was a huge hit.
Astoria has great restaurants for ravenous museum-goers and/or foodies. We ate a casual lunch at the Bare Burger a few blocks away. They have a large, eclectic menu of organic food, with many healthy choices. The kids loved their burgers, fries and shakes. My salad was excellent, and I highly recommend onion rings for the table.
Don’t think I missed the irony of dragging my kids away from video games… to play older video games. But they discovered the joys of Ms. Pacman, and didn’t even realize they were getting some context and culture too.
It was a win, win.
What’s your favorite museum for kids? Tell me in the comments.