Family Field Trip: The Museum of Natural History

Did you know that dinosaurs lurk in the Upper West Side of New York City? Share the wonders of science with your kids by visiting the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Enjoy an IMAX movie and see what's on display inside its 46 exhibition halls, including a 94-foot whale, a Neanderthal skeleton and a 100-ton meteorite.

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Before You Go

The AMNH is one of the largest museums in the world, so plan ahead to avoid being overwhelmed. Why not choose a theme for the day? For example, if your kids are like most, they're fascinated by dinosaurs. Scientists who dig up and study dinosaur fossils are called paleontologists. Pretend to be paleontologists for the day!

hayden planetarium american museum of natural history field trip

Hayden Planetarium at the AMNH

Prior to heading over to the museum, explore some of the kid-friendly resources at Ology, the museum's interactive website for families. Watch streaming videos of paleontologists and 'dig' for fossils in online puzzles, then check out some of the recommended books from your local library to learn dinosaur facts. Now that you know what paleontologists do, it's your turn.

Teaching Moments at the Museum

Once you're at the AMNH, you'll 'discover' fossils as budding paleontologists. Search the galleries for the T-Rex and discuss why his 6-inch canines make him a good hunter. Then go over and look at the chisel-like teeth of the Apatosaurus (formerly known as Brontosaurus). Can you guess what he ate? Compare other characteristics that make T-rex better at hunting than Apatosaurus, the herbivore.

Be sure to look for the Deinonychus fossil because the AMNH is the only place in the world where you can see one on display. Its wing-like limbs and other comparisons to early birds like Velociraptor have led paleontologists to believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

t-rex dinosaur american museum of natural history

Can you and your family guess why dinosaurs became extinct? When you're in the hall of meteorites, look at the photos of craters from meteors that fell to earth from space. Explain to your kids how most meteorites are pieces of asteroids, like the one that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico over 65 million years ago. Scientists believe that a major asteroid impact caused tsunamis and a global dust cloud that led to the extinction of most plants and dinosaurs long before humans ever walked this planet.

The Ride Home

As you drive out through Central Park, point out the birds and recall the wings of the Velociraptor. Besides a difference in size, can you imagine how they descended from 100-million-year-old flying dinosaurs? Talk about how some of the bird-like dinosaurs and ones that lived in the ocean survived, even after all of the ones that lived on land died. Plan another family trip to the beach to look for horseshoe crabs, which aren't much different from their 390-million-year-old Trilobite ancestors.

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