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The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn is a unique place for families to learn. Its ceilings tower 40 feet, it sprawls nine acres and it’s filled with some of America’s most prized possessions. Auto mogul Henry Ford’s legacy museum collects and curates artifacts from cars and planes to dollhouses and furniture, plus hosts a few annual big-name traveling exhibits.
Famed auto exhibit Driving America houses a huge collection of activities and games; 18 interactive touchscreens boast thousands of details, images, videos and oral histories. Science, art, music, design and technology come together in a “playful” way, says chief learning officer Paula Gangopadhyay. Kids can create and build their own K’nex cars and race them downhill – and the Texaco Station Mechanic, for ages 4-8, will “make their day” as preschoolers service/repair a kid-scale 1960s replica car in a garage.
Or soar into the first 40 years of aviation with Heroes of the Sky, including a repro of the 1903 Wright Flyer that started it all. Bring the lesson home: Visit the website and download free printouts to make paper airplanes.
On the second Monday of each month, visit for Macy’s Second Mondays, when admission includes kids’ fun centered on the latest exhibits, holidays and more. Watch for a few occasional free admission days, too, including Martin Luther King Jr. Monday.
Another big lure is Black History Month. All February long, watch for learning opportunities like Minds of Freedom, a 30-minute interactive music/drama show telling the civil rights story, and the With Liberty and Justice for All exhibit – even a chance to step on the Rosa Parks bus (a Day of Courage event honors her). Find special themes each weekend. Some events, like African-American Innovator Tours, happen daily.
For kids who really want to innovate, visit for “Tinker, Hack, Invent. Saturdays.” Held the last Saturday of the month, “These events ignite curiosity and motivate children to start thinking critically about how to make things work better,” Gangopadhyay says. Each features a guest “maker” who, in the past, has helped kids make everything from Star Wars costumes to paper rockets. It’s a big-time shot of those “21st century skills,” she adds: creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration.
Need to refuel during your visit? Hit the new Lamy’s Diner for classic grub, coffee and pop (in the Driving America exhibit), or nab a locally grown meal at Michigan Cafe (both: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily). For fun and kitsch, grab a frank at the hotdog-shaped Weinermobile Cafe (hours may vary by season; check ahead).