Image: Franklin Institute
Sal DiMarco  /  Newscom
Philadelphia's famed Franklin Institute is one of those museums that children and parents can enjoy equally. There's a giant heart that you can walk through, along with several exhibits featuring the Institute's namesake, Ben Franklin, and his many inventions.
updated 1/3/2011 4:10:32 PM ET 2011-01-03T21:10:32

Anyone who’s ever watched in horror as a peanut butter-smeared toddler careens toward a priceless work of art knows that children and museums don’t always mix.

The solution would seem to be that once you take the big step of starting a family, you stick to museums geared specifically toward rugrats. The only problem with this is that, just because you're rearing a baby or two, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be enchanted by hordes of shrieking finger-painters led by a surly, underpaid teen in an Elmo costume.

Slideshow: Great museums for kids

There has to be a middle ground. Somewhere between the quiet reverence of the Frick and the cacophony of Sesame Place, there must be places where your child can be exposed to brilliant new ideas, and you don’t leave exhausted and ruing your decision to reproduce.

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The good news? There are such places, and they’re all over the world. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is the perfect example of a fine arts museum where your kid can look at fabulous art and learn new things, and you won’t have to deal with dirty looks from uptight dilettantes who think children should be seen and not heard.

Folk art museums are also known to be more accepting of little people with big mouths. The Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco not only encourages children to learn about art, but holds workshops where they can create their own art. Classes in African-American quilting, Ancient Greek ceramics and Indian palm leaf bookmaking not only teach kids a skill, but enlighten them about cultures and places they might never have heard of. And you can have a relaxing stroll through the galleries while they’re busy.

Any parent passing through New York City would be remiss not to visit the American Museum of Natural History, if only to marvel at the giant blue whale that hangs from the entry hall, and its rich collection of dioramas.

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But there are other, offbeat choices in the Big Apple. Places like the New York Transit Museum, where your little one can study the art of subway and station design in an actual working subway station. Or take the ferry out to Ellis Island and learn about what it was like when his great, great, great grandparents came to the U.S. All of these options are just as pleasant for you as they are for the little guys.

Believe it or not, it’s even easier to get a little culture for your kiddies when traveling abroad. (For one thing, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to decipher it if someone’s talking about your horribly behaved child anyway, so who cares? If a tree falls in the forest ...) And if you stick to gigantic ancient structures — like say, the Acropolis — you can relax with the knowledge that it will be nearly impossible for your children to break anything.

Hey, if it stood up to the Turks, it can handle your 5-year-old.

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