Meeting your first dinosaur – the American Museum of Natural History

81st Street subway station mosaic
Natural History Museum
Defending our young from the Allosaurus

There’s something magical about introducing a child to their first dinosaur. We went to the American Museum of Natural History last week, a truly brilliant day trip.

It’s been years since I saw real dinosaur bones. Have a very clear memory of my father booking a day off work to take six year old me to the Natural History Museum in Kensington, London. It’s a family tradition– every few months, we would arrange a “specially day” when one child would go off on an adventure with one parent. It’s something C and I have decided to pass on to our own children, and we all love it.

So when T’s school, Blue School, closed for a conference last week, we had fun picking where to go. Another school mom (rapidly becoming my most valuable source of intel here) had recommended the Museum of Natural History, so we agreed to take T & L together.

The journey was a triumph– we didn’t get lost once. Almost three months in, am finally learning the ropes. 81st Street station was exciting in itself; intricate and colourful mosaics cover the walls, depicting animals from the museum. It took us a good long while to reach the exit, as every mosaic had to be carefully studied with solemn eyes.

81st Street subway station mosaic - meeting dinosaur
T examines extraordinarily beautiful mosaics at 81st Street station

The first thing you see when you walk inside the grand entrance hall at the enormous Barosaurus mother rearing up to protect her baby from the Allosaurus. We both stood gaping for several minutes, taking it all in. Even the baby dinosaur was utterly huge.

Eventually dragging ourselves away from the Barosaurus, we went into the Butterfly Conservatory. Thought T would love it, but actually she was v unnerved by the giant, slow, fluttering wings.  Bigger children had brought flowers in to tempt a butterfly to land on them, but we contented ourselves by studying the display of pinned specimens and chrysalises with a magnifying glass. Eventually the heat drove us out, and T enjoyed checking us both carefully in the mirror room to make sure no butterflies were making a break for freedom on our clothing.


Some displays outside the Butterfly Conservatory
Some displays outside the Butterfly Conservatory

We then slowly worked our way through the Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs exhibition, which was impressively interactive. Kids could stand and flap their arms or tilt their hands to make models swoop, soar or (in our case) plunge into the ocean. A bit of jostling to stop bigger children from queue jumping in the dark, but well worth it.

The whole experience was wonderful, with just one complaint – there are toy shops hidden all over the place. Twice these managed to completely derail the day, with T clutching first a cuddly space monkey then a novelty dinosaur Christmas decoration and refusing to budge. We had to write off over 45 minutes spent putting them back and extricating her. Wish the museum could keep all the merchandise in the one enormous shop, rather than ambushing parents. Next time I go, I’m going to study the floor plan and try to avoid the shops as it was a lot of stress. Screeches certainly can echo in a museum…

Natural History Museum - dinosaur
T & L studying the floor plan for secret toy shops
A few tips if you’re taking your own kids to the American Museum of Natural History:
  • Scooters are not allowed in the cloakroom, so remember to leave them at home
  • Bags were nominally searched for snacks and drinks on arrival, but mine were allowed through with no issues
  • Go for lunch at Isabella’s afterwards, 359 Columbus Avenue, corner of W 77th Street. Very kid-friendly considering it had white table cloths. The waiters provided crayons and Wikki Stix to keep them well entertained, and a very nice children’s menu that – wait for it – actually included steamed vegetables
  • Walk through Central Park afterwards to burn off any remaining energy. We happened across some serious Beatles-mania at Strawberry Fields, which I hadn’t even realised was a real place
T&L letting off steam in Central Park
T & L exploring Central Park
T standing on the Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields, Central Park
T standing on the Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields, Central Park
This week’s highs and lows:

Discovering Tea & Sympathy, a definitively English tea shop in Greenwich Village. Am so in love, I plan to devote a whole blog post to it shortly. Watch this space.


Dropping a lovely new book about New York for the kids straight into a fresh pile of dog poo. I initially took it for mud, fool that I am, and brushed it off with my new gloves. There is no mud in NYC.

Author: Alex

Hello. Toddling Round New York is my own little blog of our family's experience of moving young kids from London to New York... And of having a baby out here. They are my own baby steps of exploring this incredible city. I lived in five countries in four continents growing up, so you'd think I'd be good at this by now. Here you'll find stories and photographs of our adventures, the highs and the lows of expat parenthood, and some ideas I hope you'll find useful if you're in New York with young kids.

13 thoughts on “Meeting your first dinosaur – the American Museum of Natural History”

  1. Whoop! Tea shop found! Love the blog. Say hi to C, and the girls from S xx

  2. As the inventor of the Specially Day system, I am thrilled to see it being continued! Remember you can also have Half a Specially Day if time is limited.

      1. Hey Louise, that’s great, I’m going to tell my parents to read all these comments, that’s a whole lot of approval for their parenting techniques! A key thing was the child got to say what the specially day would be – within reason, obviously

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