9 sensory-friendly outings

Pump It Up

The Plymouth and Eden Prairie locations of this popular chain of indoor bouncy-house warehouses offer sensory-friendly open-jump sessions every month. During this time, lights are dimmed and the music is turned off.

When: 6–7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 in Plymouth and 6–8 p.m. Feb. 16 in Eden Prairie. Call ahead or check each location’s calendar for future dates.  

Where: Eden Prairie and Plymouth locations of Pump It Up

Cost: $7 to $7.95 per kid; siblings are welcome, too. Adults can jump for free.  

Info: pumpitupparty.com; Plymouth, 763-553-0340; Eden Prairie, 952-943-0052

Bell Museum of Natural History

Sensory-Friendly Saturdays at the Bell allow kids with sensory sensitivities to explore dioramas, a mini planetarium show and the Touch & See Discovery Room — all with lowered lighting, quieter sounds and fewer visitors.

The museum also offers sensory items for check out anytime, including visual timers, fidget toys, weighted lap pads and noise-cancelling headphones, plus a quiet-space cube in the Touch & See Discovery Room.

When: Upcoming events will be 8–10 a.m. Feb. 20, March 5, April 16 and May 14. Advanced registration is required. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Siblings without sensory sensitivities are welcome as well. 

Where: Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota

Cost: $5 for ages 3–17, $7 or $8 for adults

Info: bellmuseum.umn.edu/programs-events/sensory-friendly or 612-626-9660


The Works Museum

This hands-on, interactive museum features large and open spaces with no loud noises or displays. Its mission is to inspire the next generation of innovators, engineers and creative problem solvers.

When: The Works is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the school year.During special events, the museum can get quite crowded, so it’s a good idea to check the calendar and avoid those times or dates, such as Tech Fest Feb. 27 and Robot Day April 9.

Where: The Works Museum, Bloomington

Cost: $8 for all visitors age 3 and older

Info: theworks.org or 952-888-4262


Minnesota History Center

This St. Paul destination offers a variety of displays that encourage touching. There’s a replica of a grain elevator to climb through and hop scotch to play, too. The tornado experience is loud and isn’t recommended for children who are sensitive to sound, but the rest of the museum tends to be quiet. There also are many out-of-the-way corners where children can take some time to regroup, if needed.

When: The museum is closed on Mondays, except for holidays.

Where: Minnesota History Center, St. Paul

Cost: $6 for ages 5–17, $10 or $12 for adults. Admission is free from 5–8 p.m. Tuesdays. Memberships are available and include free admission to all 26 of the Minnesota Historical Society’s museums around the state.

Info: minnesotahistorycenter.org or 800-657-3773


The Raptor Center

This fascinating facility at the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine — which rehabilitates about 800 sick and injured raptors each year — allows families to get up close to a variety of interesting birds.

When: The center is closed Mondays.

Where: St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota

Cost: Guided tours, offered every 30 minutes, are $3 for ages 3–17, $5 for adults. There are free tours once a month on select Fridays and Saturdays.

Info: raptor.umn.edu or 612-624-4745


Theatres at the Mall of America

The Mall of America movie theaters, as part of their Free Family Flicks events, play a free movie at 10 a.m. every Saturday morning. Seating is limited and is given on a first come, first serve basis. One theater is set aside as a sensory-friendly venue with lower sound and moderate lighting. Extra staff at the concession stands help families avoid long wait times.

When: 10 a.m. every Saturday. February shows (posted on the website at press time) included Fantastic Mr. Fox (Feb. 6) and Hop (Feb. 27).

Where: Mall of America, Bloomington

Cost: Movie admission is free. Standard concessions prices apply.

Info: theatresmoa.com/event/free-sensory-friendly-films or 952-883-8901


The Conservatory at the Como Zoo

Winter can feel interminable in Minnesota, but families can visit this balmy, greenery-filled haven anytime to remind themselves of spring. The Sunken Garden displays rotate throughout the year. And the zoo offers a daily story time at noon. Go early to avoid crowds and to walk through the many different types of gardens (bonsai, ferns, orchids, to name a few). Be sure to visit the Leonard Wilkening Children's Gallery in the lobby near the conservatory, featuring hands-on activities for kids.

When: The zoo and conservatory are open every day of the year.

Where: Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, St. Paul

Cost: Admission is free, but an optional donation of $2 per kid and $3 per adult is suggested.

Info: comozooconservatory.org or 651-487-8201


Nature Centers

Want to escape the urban bustle of the city? Minnesota’s home to a stunning array of nature centers that offer year-round programming for even the youngest of kids — as well as older explorers and would-be naturalists. Kids can explore a bit outside and then come indoors to warm up and check out hands-on activities and exhibits.

Examples of recently featured winter activities include family yoga at Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township, kicksledding at Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington and puppet shows at Eastman Nature Center in Dayton.

Cost: Admission to most nature centers is free. Programs often require registration fees.

Info: minnesotaparent.com/nature


AuSM events

The Autism Society of Minnesota provides a calendar of sensory-friendly events around the Twin Cities. Learn about sensory-friendly show times at the Children's Theatre Company or Stages Theatre Company and discover other sensory-friendly events in the area, including story times and concerts. See ausm.org/autism-community-events.html.

And remember: Even the most popular attractions can be visited and enjoyed with some preparation:

  • Go early or on weekday evenings to avoid crowds.
  • Bring favorite toys/comfort items.
  • Locate possible quiet areas when you arrive where a child can take some time to regroup.
  • Call ahead to see if the attraction has any special accommodations available.

 Dawn Marcotte lives in Farmington with her husband and two daughters. Follow her adventures around the Twin Cities at thingstodowithkidsmn.com.