Portland Children's Museum

Portland Pick: Portland Children’s Museum


We’ve been to dozens of children’s museums around the country, but few are as innovative as the Portland Children’s Museum. The staff cleverly imported a creative educational philosophy from Italy — Reggio Emilia — to create a museum that subtly integrates texture and touch, light and learning.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy believes that the environment is the “third teacher” for children; a child’s playspaces should be aesthetically attractive and interactive.


Children experiment with color and light along the Twilight Trail, using clear Lego-type building blocks, puppets and light pens. Kids splash (themselves, the wall, their parents) in the large Water Works room, create in the Clay Studio, and scramble up a deciduous and build nests in Treehouse Adventure. And then there’s a grocery store, construction site, theater, tall ship and doctor’s office.


The Baby Garden welcomes the youngest visitors with soft climbing structures, fun textures (babies love that shiny metal) and gently twirling mobiles. Older kids — like my 10 year old — naturally gravitate to the Garage, where they can hammer, glue, and drill recycled items into art.

Signs on the wall offer helpful developmental pointers to parents, including thoughtful questions to ask about museum experience and ways to encourage play at home.

In past years, I’ve been underwhelmed with the food choices in the museum’s Washington Park stomping grounds. But the museum’s new cafe is fantastic — small snack-size portions of apple and carrots, baked goods, made-to-order sandwiches, lots of drinks. Both the cafe and seating was jam-packed.

Sometimes, in Portland, you wait behind a cat.

On the day we visited, a cat-hatted young woman waited in line to order. Milk, maybe? I love Portland.

Where: Portland Children’s Museum is located at 4015 Canyon Rd., Portland, in Washington Park. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday unless area schools are out.

Portland Family Vacation

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.