Visiting the Whitaker Center for Science and Arts with Kids

Enjoying science and hands-on activities as a family

By Kat Dinsmore, publisher, June 17, 2019

Located just steps away from the Capitol in downtown Harrisburg is the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, a family-friendly museum dedicated to offering all ages hands-on STEM exhibits and activities.

My son was really excited to find out that we would be stopping by the Whitaker Center during our special weekend away to celebrate his 10th birthday. We've been there a few times throughout his life, and always enjoy different areas and activities each time. When he was just a toddler or preschooler we'd often meet friends there and play in KidsPlace, or just walk about in his stroller while he napped and his friends played. I can remember how lonely it felt when he was young and I was new to being a stay at home mom. Having somewhere fun to meet friends or take him on our own helped keep us busy, we met friends in our MOMS Club and it was always an enjoyable time. It's fun to stop by the Whitaker Center during different stages and ages of our kids' lives to enjoy different parts each time. 

Not only does Whitaker Center offer fun and hands-on exhibits and STEM activities, but also offers theater performances, traveling exhibits, special events for scouts, sensory friendly days, a digital theater, gift shop packed with unique gifts and more. Whitaker Center is somewhere you could visit repeatedly and find something new, fun and engaging each time.

Harsco Science Center was probably the favorite spot of the kids in our group. They had a blast going from activity to activity trying everything from a rock wall to competing to see who could control a ball faster with their brainwaves. I loved that the activities encouraged the kids to get in there and touch everything, to see how it actually works by doing it themselves. It was a great way to reinforce some science themes, but to have some friendly competition as well. My son loved that the exhibits and displays covered everything from music and movie sounds to weather, life sciences and more. I really liked how learning and exploring were also wrapped up in having fun.

Drop in STEM activities can be found on the lowest level, inside a classroom setting. Inside we were greeted by a facilitator who walked us through playing with different robotics, circuits, K'NEX, building challenges and more. My son and I really enjoyed working as a team to complete some of the challenges and to see if we could figure it out on our own. It can be pretty pricey to buy a wide variety of STEM activities for your home, so it was nice to be able to try them out and enjoy them without a huge financial commitment.

KidsPlace is the perfect spot to head if you're bringing kids ages 5 and under. The special area for the youngest in your family offers a mock grocery store, Storybook Stage for performances, an ambulance to play in, a special tiny building to climb through and work on their construction skills, tables and chairs to play at, soft blocks & more. There is also a nursing room located in KidsPlace.

Select Medical Digital Cinema boasts Central Pennsylvania's largest screen and showcases a variety of 3D movies from educational documentaries to the big name movies from Hollywood. The Digital Cinema is especially great for homeschool families or scout groups looking to enjoy something educational and fun.

Sunoco Performance Theater is beautiful, offers a great schedule of performances and is small enough to only have great seats and views no matter where you sit, but big enough to bring some well-known acts to the Harrisburg area. Over the years we've loved seeing everything from the Central PA Ballet to Choo Choo Soul from Disney Junior at the Sunoco Performance Theater. Keep an eye on the schedule as new acts and entertainment are frequently added.

Overall, we loved our return visit to the Whitaker Center. It's very stroller and family friendly, offers a nursing room for those who would like to use it, is engaging and fun for all ages and was a lot of fun. It's somewhere you could easily bring a family with toddlers and babies, but also older adults who will have fun participating in the hands-on displays or catching a show. The Whitaker Center is located in Strawberry Square in downtown Harrisburg, so it's super easy to get to and close to the Capitol, City Island, and other attractions in the area.

While there is street parking in the area, we've always found it easiest to park at the Walnut Street garage - especially during the years the kids were little and/or we needed to unpack the stroller to bring with us. The parking garage is attached to Strawberry Square, so once you park you stay inside the whole way into the Whitaker Center, making it a great option for parking during poor weather.

To keep up with the Whitaker Center and their vast offerings for local families, check their website.

My son and I were guests of Visit Hershey & Harrisburg for our recent visit to the Whitaker Center on our weekend trip to celebrate his birthday. All thoughts and opinions are our own and are not influenced in any way.