If you haven't been to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in a while, it's time to put it on your Gotta Visit list. This Amherst hot spot has become much more interactive in recent years and is one of the best museums around that is geared toward self-paced discovery for the littlest museum goers. As the name suggests, this museum celebrates the artwork of famed children's author and illustrator Eric Carle and others like him. There are many hands-on activities for the kids that encourage them to explore the arts (including drawing).
Currently on exhibit through May 31, 2020 is the awesome Under the Sea with Eric Carle exhibit which features a story boat that you can take high seas adventures in, a "shellphone" where you can place important calls, and and under the sea puppet theater where you can act out your favorite stories and of course admire the captivating illustrations from Carle's books.
Through April 5, 2020 you can enjoy The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman's Books for Children -- an exhibition that allows you to try out different larger-than-life props from her illustrations, and encourages you to create your own sketches.
My very favorite part of this museum is the art studio -- a beautiful, light-filled classroom where visitors are invited to create a guided art project. During one visit (a special Meet the Very Hungry Caterpillar Day) we were invited to create our own Very Hungry Caterpillar out of a cool array of recycled materials and also to create large, wearable butterfly wings out of craft paper. On our most recent visit we made letter collages out of a variety of materials -- we each picked our first initial and made lovely keepsakes. All ages are welcome in the art studio and support staff is on hand if you need inspiration or guidance for your project. But it's also important to note that nobody hovers -- it's a delightfully welcoming space where anyone can feel encouraged to create.
The Eric Carle Museum also boasts a beautiful library full of the best picture books available. There are regular storytimes here, free choice worksheets, toys and puzzles for the little ones, and lots of comfy chairs and couches to curl up and enjoy the books. There is also a movie theater where family friendly films are shown. Bring a picnic -- there is a large cafeteria available to visitors, and lots of beautiful lawn space and a patio to enjoy a during the good weather. (If you don't want to pack your own, Atkins Market is right around the corner). The cafeteria also offers complimentary coffee.
We love to visit the museum during the winter months as a remedy for cabin fever (that sun-filled art studio can warm up the dreariest day). But it is also a fabulous day trip in the warmer months -- there is a huge lawn space where the kids can run and play. The Carle hosts many unique programs throughout the year, some of which require an additional ticket purchase. You can find a calendar of their events here.
The Carle does a great job of appealing to the whole family. As mentioned, all ages are welcome in the art studio; however, if one member of the family is too young or is just not interested in creating a project there is a corner filled with blocks, picture books and small games. Same with the library, there are plenty of quiet toys to play with if someone is not in the mood to read. Parents can feel safe bringing several children to the museum knowing that everyone can be happily occupied in the same room. Hovering is not required. Another advantage is that the Carle is quiet and relaxing. It is a very peaceful place, which is helpful for children with sensory sensitivities.
If you love to watch your little one freely explore a safe space, The Carle is for you. If you love to let your teen rekindle their childhood through a creative art project, The Carle is for you. If you love kids' books, The Carle is for you -- afterall, their mission is "to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books."
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is located at 125 West Bay Road in Amherst. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Sunday noon - 5 p.m. During July and August, the museum is open 7 days. Admission is $9/adult, $6/youth (ages 1-18). Admission for a family of four (two adults, two children) is capped at $22.50.