To be perfectly honest, when we first decided to spend the day at Conner Prairie, I had no clue what to expect. I’d been told that Conner Prairie is an “interactive museum.” But what does that mean?
Now that we’ve been, I might describe it as a beautiful blend of theater, history, pretend play, and hands-on learning.
Here are three highlights of our visit!
In the 1836 Prairietown, we visited different homes and businesses. As we walked around, the “residents” spoke to us as though we were all living in a prairie town in 1836.
In the above picture, the local carpenter is explaining to me the meaning of the phrase “sleep tight.” Before this, he told my girls all about the two-person saw he uses to cut down trees. What a fun way to learn!
Our girls listen to and love the Little House on the Prairie books, so although the book setting is a few decades later than this town replica, the Little House books and characters served as a decent frame of reference for our little ones (ages 4 and 5).
What impressed me most was that the residents never broke character. Whether they were showing us how to walk on stilts or how to bake potato pancakes (in a steamy indoor fireplace, in July, while wearing long sleeves and hot layers), they always stayed in character.
I’m not sure why this surprised me. Conner Prairie is a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum. And Smithsonian affiliates are expected to be top-notch!
Kids love animals, so of course the ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS barn was a highlight. While our girls cooed over the animals, I chatted with one of the barn directors. Perhaps I enjoyed the conversation a bit too much, because I ended up getting in the way of a calf who was passing my way. Have you ever been stepped on by a (baby) cow? Let my purple toe be a lesson to all of us: when hanging out in a barn with big animals, it might be wise to wear closed-toe shoes!
Last but not least, my absolute favorite part of our Conner Prairie visit was our ride in the (tethered) air balloon. My husband’s a pilot, but we’ve never been up in a balloon! Note: it’s not a “hot air balloon.” This balloon gets its lift from helium!
The balloon ride isn’t included with general admission, but we splurged because we were celebrating our daughter’s fourth birthday. There are often coupons available online; be sure to look for a discount before your flight!
This balloon ride will take you 400 feet above the ground. The balloon basket might wobble a bit as you fly, but I felt secure the entire time. That’s a big deal since I’m afraid of heights!
Fun fact for families with wiggly little ones: some strollers are allowed on board.
If you’re on a budget, you may want to visit during Smithsonian Museum Day Live. Museum Day Live usually takes place in September. Present your (free) MDL ticket and enjoy Conner Prairie for free!
If your family qualifies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, or Hoosier Healthwise Insurance, you can apply for the Access Pass Program and visit Conner Prairie for just $1 per person any day.