This summer, FFTC was invited to the American Swedish Institute to explore the traveling exhibit, “The Vikings Begin”.
While we toured through exhibit in the mansion, we learned so much about the history of the Vikings. While some of the exhibit was a bit intense for my kids who range in ages from 9-14 years, we still had a blast exploring our top 5 favorites in this historic museum.
FFTC received free admission and tour of
the Vikings’ exhibit to bring you this review.
As an interactive experience for families in the museum, the American Swedish Institute created the Family Gallery. In the past it was on the 3rd floor, tucked away in the eaves of the Turnblad Mansion. They moved the gallery in 2019 to the lowest level of the building. But even hidden below ground, the Family Gallery is a magical Scandinavian realm.
The basement offers a larger space than the 3rd floor though it doesn’t feel like one big room. Parents can be on one side of the room and have a clear view of the stairs. Kids are easily within earshot and without an easy escape route.
American Swedish Institute Family Gallery — In the Lower Level
By moving to the basement, ASI expanded the gallery itself. With room for a plethora of people, families can enjoy time together learning and experiencing new things. You won’t feel like you are in a basement because the gallery is painted in vibrant colors by a local artist to reflect the magic of the exhibits on the floors above. You feel like you are in a picture book yourself.
The museum created stations that offer imaginary lands to kids. They move from one activity to the another easily and with enough room for personal space for each patron no matter their age.
Another reason the family gallery benefits from being in the basement is because of the easy location of the bathrooms. They are just off to the side, so in an emergency you don’t need to usher kids to a different floor. You can simply usher them to the bathroom 5 steps away.
Imaginative Play: Based on the gallery’s theme, kids can pretend they are exploring a secret cavern, sailing on the seas, tramping through an enchanted forest, or any other number of fun settings. It is also full of permanent play stations: a bakery, a feast, and dress-up clothing.
Puzzling Challenges: Whenever the theme changes in the Family Gallery, American Swedish Institute creates a puzzle and/or games that families can play and work through together. Just recently we created our names with the letters of the Viking Alphabet.
Reading Nook: Wrapping around and behind the staircase, the American Swedish Institute designed a quiet reading corner to escape into a story. Many of the books are published in their original languages (and most of them aren’t English), but the pictures are beautiful.
American Swedish Institute’s Tomte
One of my favorite parts on the 3rd floor of this museum is the mailbox for the Tomte. Don’t know what a Tomte is? We tell you in this article. While Tomte is a childish (and by childish I mean magical) tradition and seemed to belong to the family gallery, it didn’t travel to the basement. You can still find the mailbox and letter-writing station in the East Turret on the 3rd floor.
ASI Grand Staircase
The most prominent feature of the Turnblad mansion is the grand staircase in the front room. It’s gorgeous and while it is historic, kids are welcome to climb up and down the staircase. They can touch the railing and look for the different hidden creatures throughout the various rooms.
ASI Outdoor Courtyard
The courtyard is a refuge for those of us in the cities who want to escape the hustle and bustle. The courtyard collects the warm sunshine. The American Swedish Institute has created the perfect retreat for families. Outdoor toys are available, tables and chairs set up around the grounds, and music is scheduled throughout the year.
If you have never been to the American Swedish Institute and you have little preschoolers or younger, we suggest your first visit to be during the “Kids in the Castle” or the “Babies in the Castle” programs. This will make you feel comfortable with what is permitted and what’s not. (Most things are permitted.)
Kids in the Castle Program Details
- 3rd Friday and 3rd Saturday of the month
- 9 am
- Geared toward ages 2-5
ASI’s carrier tours for baby and caregiver will immerse you and your young one in ASI’s current exhibition. Tours are about 30 minutes plus 15 minutes of sensory play. Designed for babies up to 15 months. Cost is $15 for adult and baby. $10 for an additional adult; limit 2 adults per baby. Advanced registration is required, please follow the links below to register. Admission valid all day.
The program runs one Friday each month.
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