When we began planning a family trip to Detroit, I assumed our visit to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village would be the highlight of the trip - especially for Nick, 11, and Alex, 9. I was right and wrong.
We loved the village and the museum, but many of the other attractions we visited were equally entertaining and engaging. The Motor City earned a thumbs-up from our entire family.
I also heard from the kids' teachers that both of them brought up facts they learned during our trip in class discussions.
5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Michigan 48202; 313-833-7900; dia.org
Cost: $12.50 adults, $6 children ages 6-17, free ages 5 and younger
The fun started the minute we rolled into town. Our first stop was the Detroit Institute of Arts, which stays open until 10 p.m. every Friday. In addition to strolling through the galleries, we had the chance to make a craft and listen to a concert.
Because our time was limited and the museum has approximately 60,000 art objects, I grabbed a copy of "10 Things to do with Kids at the DIA," a handy flier with suggestions of family-friendly exhibits and activities. It was the perfect way to hit the museum's highlights, taking us to the Egyptian, Ancient Greek and Roman and African galleries, among others. The ideas included a nice mix of seeing and doing. One of the suggestions is climbing a spiral staircase that's tucked away in one of the lower-floor galleries. The kids were excited to "pet the donkey," a bronze statue that the museum allows visitors to touch.
One piece that especially caught our attention was Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry, a fresco that pays tribute to the city's industrial roots. It was a good backdrop for conversations about Detroit's history and Henry Ford's role in it.
Nick also took note of the canopic jars and later shared with his class during a discussion of Ancient Egypt that they were used to store the organs of people who were mummified. The DIA's collection of Egyptian artifacts, which includes a mummy, was memorable.
2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit 48208; 313-875-2264; motownmuseum.org
Cost: $15 adults, $10 children ages 5-17, free ages 4 and younger
We knew a visit to the Motown Museum would really help give the boys a flavor of the city. The museum, which is housed in the former home of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, tells the story of how Gordy built his company and the influence of Motown music. Gordy, who started Motown Records with an $800 loan from his parents, ran the multimillion company from several houses on West Grand Boulevard. The first recording studio was a converted garage. The Supremes, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and many other world-renowned artists recorded there. The boys liked seeing one of Michael Jackson's sparkly gloves and costumes worn by the Jackson 5.
Although the boys weren't familiar with some of the music, they enjoyed the lively tour that included singing, dancing and audience participation.
The museum is closed Mondays year-round and Sundays except for summer.
5020 John R St., Detroit 48202; 313-577-8400; mi-sci.org
Cost: $20 adults, $17 children ages 2-12, free age 1 and younger. Planetarium and IMAX shows cost extra.
During our visit to the Michigan Science Center, we were once again reminded of the city's industrial roots. The U.S. Steel Fun Factory had many hands-on exhibits where kids could discover how things are built and assembled in factories around the country. We had fun checking out the assembly line and using the equipment.
The boys also gravitated to the Science Sizzle & Spark Gallery, which provided lessons on matter and energy through the use of gyroscopes, pendulums and an electromagnetic spectrum, among other cool equipment.
The facility also features a planetarium and IMAX theater, which offer different shows throughout the year. Be sure to get a schedule of the shows and demonstrations when you arrive. They really help bring the science concepts to life.
20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn 48124; 800-835-5237; thehenryford.org
Cost: Museum – $21 adults, $15.75 children ages 3-11, free ages 2 and younger; Greenfield Village – $26 adults, $19.50 children ages 3-11, free ages 2 and younger
Henry Ford founded Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum because he thought they would provide children with a better understanding of our nation's history. He believed the subject was best taught through experiences rather than books. The attractions he created in a Detroit suburb include amazing pieces of Americana and the houses of many famous Americans that Ford collected during his lifetime.
The boys loved wandering through Greenfield Village and going in and out of the buildings that had played a role in American history. They particularly liked the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop and home that Ford moved to Michigan in 1937. (Alex told me recently that his class was surprised to hear the original shop is in Michigan and the building in Dayton is a reproduction.)
At the replica of Thomas Edison's laboratory, the kids were particularly impressed with the tinfoil phonograph, a machine Edison invented for recording and playing back sound. Alex was chosen by the docent to record a message on the 138-year-old device, which still works.
The whole family enjoyed riding in a Model T Ford-one of the newer experiences at the village. While we cruised through the village, our driver shared tidbits about the historic vehicles in the fleet.
The Henry Ford Museum also had plenty of items that grabbed the kids' attention. Alex, who was studying the Revolutionary War in school, was excited to see George Washington's camp bed. He ended up incorporating the bed, which folds out of a trunk, into a school report.
Other artifacts that resonated with the boys were the bus that Rosa Parks rode in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white man and the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot at Ford's Theatre in 1865.
The pieces in the museum really did spark their curiosity about important events in our nation's history.
We only spent one day on the property but easily could have spent a day at each of the attractions. We also were impressed with the food served at the various eateries. The menus offered a nice mix of kid-friendly and adult choices, many featuring local ingredients.
Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, 4316 Baldwin Road, Auburn Hills 48326; 866-622-0605; visitsealife.com/michigan
Cost: Starts at $18 adults, $13 children ages 3-12, free ages 2 and younger
Our final stop before heading home was the Sea Life Michigan Aquarium. Located about 35 miles north of Detroit in a shopping mall, the aquarium offers plenty to see and do. Alex was intrigued by the "Dive Trail," a quiz that requires kids to visit numerous exhibits and read the accompanying signs to find the answers.
As usual, Nick spent a lot of time at the touch pool, where visitors can touch crabs and sea stars. Their other favorite creatures were the sea horses and sharks.
A Legoland Discovery Center recently opened in the mall, which also has a Rainforest Cafe. The attraction features Lego displays, areas for building with the colorful bricks, a play area and other activities. Admission is $23.50 for ages 3 to adult. Advance booking is required for weekends and other peak times. Combo tickets with the aquarium start at $32. For more information, go to legolanddiscoverycenter.com/michigan.