Solve a mystery, play with Legos and take a high-speed ride in an Indy racecar!
“Are you a criminal?” A boy raised his playing card with a sheriff’s badge.
“No. I’m not.” The blacksmith hammered the orange glowing iron, shaping the blade of a knife. “Do you know any criminals?” the boy asked. The blacksmith said he’d heard about some bad behavior, and advised the card-carrying deputy to ask around. The boy dashed into Prairietown to continue his investigation, just one of the adventures offered at Conner Prairie, an interactive history park located 25 minutes north of Indianapolis.
From Prairietown, our family crossed the covered bridge and joined union forces in the Civil War. Soldiers taught visitors how to march and directed us to stations throughout the re-created Dupont Village, culminating in the story of Morgan’s Raid on Indiana. The experience featured real attitudes and opinions from letters and documents of the time, expressed by lifelike animatronic men, women and children, who appeared and disappeared against a backdrop of three screens that projected ordinary life, disrupted by the invading army, its battles, and explosions.
Back at the Welcome Center, two of our boys worked on Lego trebuchets and then used their models to fire pompoms. Meanwhile, our middle son checked out wind-up toys and the workings of a music box, as our two oldest kids built a homestead with Lincoln logs.
The kids had more hands-on fun at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s largest children’s museum. The Dinosphere always attracts interest with its enormous dinosaurs, ambient sounds, rain and interactive displays, but the kids’ favorite spot was the Carousel Wishes and Dreams.
We entered through the mirror maze and the kids dove into retro games of Pong, Pac Man, and Super Mario Brothers amid a kid-sized town. Long lines forbade a ride on the Carousel, but my middle son dropped a nickel in the slot of a coin-operated horse, and my cowboy wannabe got tossed and bounced by a mechanical bronco.
The museum includes a Lego Travel Adventure where we marveled at Lego dioramas of ships, trains and famous cities, and a play area lets kids pose in a Lego racecar, smile as the face of an iconic Lego person, or build with countless Lego bricks and pieces.
Now through January, visitors can explore Hot Wheels for Real. Flashing lights and the sounds of motors revving greeted us as we passed under the car-covered tunnel. The kids pointed to the cars and toys in their own collections, posed in life-sized versions of the Hot Wheels, and used touch screens to design their own cars and e-mail the pictures to themselves and friends.
We learned about the physics, materials, and engineering involved in building real racecars at The Dallara IndyCar Factory. The new factory and tour facility introduced us to the Italian scientists whose ideas make Indy racing possible. Interactive panels and a tunnel filled with informative explanations of aerodynamics, equations, carbon fiber and basic physics led to a room filled with simulators that put the kids (and my husband) behind the wheel. There’s also a theater outfitted with comfortable racecar seats and a film with more about Dallara.
But nothing could compete with riding in a street-legal Indy racecar. Age restrictions meant our youngest two could only snap on the helmets, but for the rest of us, it was a thrill. Helmet strapped on, I sat low with my legs and feet tucked around the seat in front. “Ready?” The driver hit the gas. We flew around the first corner. The blur of sky and buildings gained focus at a red light. The air smelled like gasoline. The engine revved. The light changed. We sped forward. The speed pushed me back and I hugged the edge as we turned right, went faster and stopped again. Getting out of the car was tricky, and the kids laughed as I tried to stand. I wiggled, but needed help. When I finally got unstuck, the kids applauded — my personal triumph with an Indy racecar.
13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers, IN
317-776-6000 • connorprairie.org
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
3000 North Meridian St., Indianpolis, IN
317-334-4000 • childrensmuseum.org
The Dallara IndyCar Factory
1201 Main St., Speedway, IN
317-506-8479 • FB: DallaraIndyCarFactory
Barbara Littner David is a local writer and mother of five. She is also the author of Cincinnati Trips for Kids, a collection of more than 40 great Cincinnat-area attractions.