Located in Salem, Oregon, The Gilbert House Children's Museum inspires children to learn through playing creatively through hands-on exhibits and special activities that focus on science, arts and humanities.

1.History & Exhibits

History & Exhibits
© Gilbert House Children's Museum

The Gilbert House Children's Museum was founded in 1989 and named after A.C. Gilbert, famous inventor of the Erector Sets who also held 150 total patents, Olympic athlete, scholar, magician and business owner. A.C. Gilbert has also been hailed as the man who saved Christmas when Congress declared a moratorium on toy manufacturing in 1918 during World War I.

Located on Salem's Riverfront Park, the private nonprofit museum is home to 15 different exhibits, an outdoor discovery area, and offers educational programs. The museum is most appropriate for children ages 2-10 years old, however, older children and adults enjoy the museum as well.

Three historic homes comprise the museum—Rockenfield, Gilbert, and Parish House.


The exhibits at Gilbert House Children's Museum are spread between three historic homes as well as the Outdoor Discovery Area. Because of this, only about ½ of the exhibits are handicap accessible and the museum staff is happy to help anyone in need of assistance in planning their visit. There is also no formal stroller parking available at the museum and strollers cannot be taken into the exhibits except under special circumstances; however, strollers and wagons can be left in the lobby although the museum has no liability for lost, stolen, or damaged items.

Gilbert House Exhibits:

· A.C.Gilbert Legacy of Play This room educates visitors on the life of the museum's namesake and his inventions including the famous Erector Sets, magic tricks, and numerous achievements.

· Fortopia- Children can build their own world in this exhibit designed to allow the imagination to soar as visitor's problem solve, team build, and create.

· Tinker Tracks- Build a system of chutes and tracks and explore motion as you watch a ball move through a maze designed by you and your friends. Small parts are used in this room that small children may need to be monitored around.

· Center Stage Theater- Star in your own play or musical act, put on costume, play with puppets and more. Use the activity cards for inspiration or a fun game of charades for the whole family.

· All About Me- Kids can explore science and medicine in this station where they can tend to babies, play doctor, view x-rays, and check out real microscopes.

· Creation Station- An art studio where cultural from around the world can be explored through hands-on themed projects that rotate throughout the year.

· Farm to Table- Learn all about how agriculture and how the food you eat makes it to your table. Pick fruit, milk a cow, and harvest crops. Learn all about ecological diversity in the state of Oregon through murals by local artists and historical photographs of local farmers.

· Vet Clinic- Children can put on a lab coast and learn how to keep animals healthy and happy in this exhibit that features x-rays, weigh stations, and real life vet clinic situations. There are washing stations, kennels, and lots of stuffed animals.

· Eye Euphoria- A one-of-a-kind children's museum exhibit, eye euphoria features an oversized stained glass kaleidoscope located in the entrance to the Gilbert House. This special exhibit took over 2.500 hours to create and has an adjustable rotation speed. Designed by Donald Ferris of Washington, the creation was donated to the museum by his sister after his passing.

· Up, UP and Away- This interactive exhibit teaches children about aerodynamics, velocity and flight through building model airplanes and testing them in the wind tube. Not only that, there is an airplane cockpit that can be explored.

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2.More Exhibits

More Exhibits
© Gilbert House Children's Museum

Exhibits at Parish House

· All Aboard- A.C. Gilbert wasn't just famous for Erector Sets, he was also known for his model trains. The Parish house is home to his original American Flyer trains that are still in working condition.

· Imagination Playground- Full of big blue blocks, this room is where kids can let loose and play through creative building—combing the shapes and blocks to make a variety of structures and systems such as forts, arches, towers and more.

Exhibits at Rockenfield House

· Go Figure!- Giant story books are featured in this room that focuses on literacy and math. Favorites such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Frog and Toad, and other children's classics have hands-on learning skills and activities for kids to connect with their adults.

· Forest Friends Toddler Room- Specifically for kids 2 years old and under, this room is designed for toddler play and features a slide, soft sided toys, and a quieter atmosphere.

· Main Street- A tiny town that is just the right size for kids. This to scale town allows kids to make independent choices and practice social skills involved in banking, shopping, and going to the post office.

· Recollections- Combing art and technology, Recollections creates full size images of visitors that are time delayed and combines over 256 colors to become part of a dynamic art work.

Outdoor Exhibits

· Discovery Campground- An extension of Outdoor Discovery Center, the campground is a natural playground that uses logs, rocks, and other natural elements to help children develop motor skills, creativity, and imagination. The Discovery Campground is designed to be sustainable, challenging, and inspiring, while modeling the natural environment.

· Outdoor Discovery Center- There are many components to the Outdoor Discovery Center at Gilbert House Children's Museum. A.C.'s Backyard was a community build project that includes the largest Erector Set in the world at 52 feet high and 2 towering slides with a maze inside. There is also an American Flyer Train that can be explored as well as paddle wheeler models, a Mammoth dig site and Paleontology deck where visitors can learn about fossils and dinosaurs. Kids can also get dirty in the Global Village as they learn what it was like to live in an aboriginal hut or an adobe pueblo, crawl around the Earth's core, or stroll through the raised garden beds in the Discovery Gardens. The Hopscotch Amphitheater is also located in the Outdoor Discovery Center and when not in use for live demonstrations or performances, can be used for picnics and playtime.

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3.Plan your Visit

Plan your Visit
© Gilbert House Children's Museum

Educational Opportunities

Gilbert House Children's Museum offers camps, workshops and field trip opportunities for schools and the communities. All programs utilize inquiry-based, hands on approaches and many can be tailored to specific program needs. Educators staffed by the Gilbert House will guide all learning opportunities in conjunction with school staff. Classes are offered during public school breaks and over the summer. More detailed information can be found on the event calendar through the website.

Preschool- The Gilbert House offers an accredited preschool program for children ages 3-5 at the museum. Preschool is offered half days on a full time or part time basis. Children have independent and outdoor learning time as well and large and small group centers. Personal hygiene instruction is also taught.

Summer Camps- Summer camp programming can change yearly. Some program offerings may include camps on flight, transportation engineering, human biology, agriculture, toy building, infrastructure, and outer space. Half day camps are available for preschoolers and full days for children between the ages of 6 and 12 (or grades 1-6). All camps are led by experienced educators.

Homeschool Hangouts- In line with Next Generation Science Standards, these 2 hour sessions that happen twice per month engage homeschooled children with stimulating science and innovation experiences that they may not be able to get at home. There is a new theme each month.

Field Trips- Educators should refer to the website or contact the museum directly for guidance on setting up field trips to the Children's Museum; however, there are many options for self-guided field trips, or enhancements that are focused on STEM goals and workshops.

Special Events

Throughout the year, Gilbert House Children's Museum will host a wide array of special exhibit, speakers, and events to make learning even more fun such as special craft events, magic shows, ½ price admission days and more. The events calendar will detail these events as they change frequently. Birthday parties are also popular at the Children's Museum with multiple packages available.

There are a few events that are annual and looked forward to by the community.

Legacy of Play Day- Annually in February, Legacy of Play Day celebrates the life of A.C. Gilbert and offers a day of free admission to the museum and invites toy makers, and inventors from the community to share their work with visitors and continue the legacy of Gilbert.

Summer Block Party- This free community block party hosted by the Children's Museum is a day of museum exploration, free food and activities, local community resources, and much more.

Science Night for Adults- Leave the kids at home and enjoy a night of live music, food and libations as adults come together to learn about science and community progress. This is a series of events.

Discover the Wonder- Annual Fall Fundraiser features a magic show, dinner, drinks, and auction with proceeds benefiting the Gilbert House.

Back to: Best Things to Do in Salem, Oregon

116 Marion Street NE, Salem, Oregon, 97301, website, Phone: 503-371-3631

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Things to Do in Salem, OR: Gilbert House Children's Museum