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Children's Museum of Maine facts for kids

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Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine
CMTM exterior 006.jpg
Established Museum: 1976 Theatre: 1923
Location 142 Free Street, Portland, Maine 04101
Type Children's museum
Visitors Primarily children (ages 6 mos-12 yrs) and their families and caregivers; students (Pre-K through 5th grade) and their teachers

Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine is located in the Arts District of downtown Portland, Maine and features a wide variety of interactive exhibits and activities for children and families. Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine exists to inspire discovery and imagination through exploration and play. The Museum & Theatre serves as an indispensable resource for families and educators, helping to create a broad community devoted to our children's development and learning.


Children’s Museum of Maine

The Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine was founded by the Junior League of Portland in 1976, opening in just a few rooms in Fort Williams park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. In 1980 the Museum moved to a Victorian home on Stevens Avenue in Portland. After more than a decade of successful exhibits and programs, the Museum once again needed a new space to accommodate growing interest. In 1991 a capital campaign was launched, and two years later the Museum opened to the public in a grand new home, the former Chamber of Commerce building on Free Street in downtown Portland. The 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) building has since been home to dozens of large-scale interactive exhibits, both permanent and rotating. In 2001, after careful assessment of community needs, the Museum chose to direct programming and exhibits toward children 6 months to 10 years of age, and selected three areas of focus: science education, early childhood education and multicultural education. In 2002, the Museum was ranked the #14 children's museum in the country by Child (magazine).

Children’s Theatre of Maine

12 Dancing Princesses 1942

The rich history of the Children's Theatre of Maine dates back to 1923, when the Junior League of Portland began producing small shows for young audiences under the name Children's Theatre of Portland (adopting the name Children's Theatre of Maine in 1974). In the 1930s, the shows began to incorporate children as performers, and the tradition of shows for and by kids was born. The Children's Theatre rehearsed and performed in donated locations all over Greater Portland, and in the summer of 1944 debuted their Trailer Theatre, a traveling fold-out stage that brought outdoor shows to parks and playgrounds throughout the city. In the 1950s, actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill took the Children's Theatre under their wing; Davis arranged to premiere her film The Virgin Queen in Portland as a benefit for the cause. Throughout the latter half of the century, the Children's Theatre experimented with many locations, models, and creative strategies.

Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine

Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine celebrated the merger in 2008 by producing The Twelve Dancing Princesses in the Dress-Up Theatre followed by The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet. After many months of developing a new brand, the new kitetails logo was revealed in April 2009 at the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine Annual Auction. The Museum & Theatre saw many changes over the next few months. The DinoTracks exhibit opened in May 2009 in the main gallery, the fifth in a series of science exhibits the Museum & Theatre had been creating since 2006 with the Environmental Exhibits Collaborative (EEC). Shortly afterwards, the rainy month of July 2009 crippled many businesses in Portland but the Museum & Theatre thrived and welcomed over 14,000 visitors. The record number of visitors had a chance to explore the Have a Ball! exhibit, which was given a permanent home in the front gallery. In the drier month of September, Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine held its 4th Annual Golf Tournament at Nonesuch River Golf Course and the Kids on the Block educational puppet program started rehearsals and performances in the Dress-Up Theatre. The 2009-2010 theatre season began with Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like and included The Polar Express at Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, The Emperor's New Clothes, Cinderella and The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings. Today, The Youth Ranger program continues to employ high school students as environmental educators and outreach programs bring the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine experience to nearly 2,000 children and caregivers each year.

Permanent Exhibits

Lower Level

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Coco's Diner
  • Coco's Diner: Coco's is a diner replica where kids prepare pretend sodas, shakes and assorted foods..
  • Dress-Up Theatre: The Dress-Up Theatre stage and puppet theatre are complete with puppets, imaginative costumes for young actors, sound and light booth for the young technician and story board for the young director.

First Floor: Our Town

Fire truck
Fire Truck
  • Have a Ball!: This exhibit offers opportunities to explore the science of motion. Children construct ramps that make balls speed up, slow down, and leap from track to track; experiment with momentum, friction and energy on roller coaster ramps and explore the movement of accelerating balls.
  • Toddler Park: Toddler Park is a soft play area reserved for children under three. The environment features tactile toys and soft places to climb and explore. Grown-ups can take a seat on one of the padded benches and watch the kids explore and interact.
  • Fire Truck: Inside the Fire Truck, children can try on firefighter gear, climb into the driver's seat and slide down the brass fire station pole. The Fire Truck also has a fire safety station where children can learn concepts such as knowing two ways out of your house; stop, drop and roll; and staying low in smoke.
  • Car Repair Shop: The wrenches and screw drivers are tethered to the engine block so kids will be sure to find the right tool for the job. While someone's tightening the bolts, someone else can be hard at work pumping the gas.
  • Lobster Boat: Climb aboard, haul in the traps and navigate the way back to Portland Harbor. This is a great spot to talk with kids about Maine's working waterfronts and the state's fishing heritage.
  • Farmers' Market: This exhibit teaches math skills while celebrating the uniqueness of Maine's local food movement. It features a fish market, produce stand, flower cart, and stone oven bakery.
  • Oakie Acres: Children can pretend to be farmers and learn about the dairy industry as they milk the replica life-size cow, ride the tractor and pump water from the well.
  • Our Town Post Office: Children can dress up as the Our Town mail carrier and deliver post cards to each Our Town building.
  • Be Well Center: The Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine recently opened their very own health clinic! Examine the new family of teddy bears and log their heart rates, blood pressure and other vital statistics while learning about how to live a healthy lifestyle. Drive the ambearlance, care for patients with real and play medical tools, and more!
  • The Playscape: Our Town’s neighbor invites children to climb, slide, crawl and explore any way they want. There's adventure and open-ended possibilities for all ages in this limitless playground, featuring structures that include slides, towers and ramps. They can even create their own masterpieces with the big blue Imagination Playground™ blocks.

Second Floor: Explore Floor

Globe lighthouse
We Are Maine
  • LL Bear's Discovery Woods: This exhibit includes a kid-sized rock wall, floating boats on Cascade Stream, and all the provisions needed to set up camp. Plus, don't miss the year-round observation beehive.
  • Ranger Station: Children can pretend to be forest rangers as they identify plants and animals native to Maine or put on an animal puppet show using the PuppetTree. The Ranger Station is also home to four yellow-bellied slider turtles.
  • Book Nook: Families can explore and read together in this cozy, quiet space on the Explore Floor. The Nook is filled with books in English, Braille, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Persian and Somali.
  • Tree to Timber: Tree to Timber explores the process of sustainable forestry. There's an interactive video game and real Eastern White Pine tree trunks. Children can crank a conveyor belt to draw wood through the sawmill. In the Treehouse children can use finished pieces of pine to build log homes.
  • Space Shuttle: The space shuttle replica comes complete with astronaut uniforms and a life-size cock pit equipped with all the switches. Children choose the flight plan - blast-off, orbit or re-entry. A mini-planetarium is also located inside the shuttle.
  • Tidepool Touch Tank: This tank is filled with inhabitants collected from Casco Bay including sea stars, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs and more. Several times a day, the cover of this tank habitat is lifted so visitors can feel the varied textures of these marine creatures and learn about their adaptations.
  • Explore Some More Room: Children and families can participate in daily craft activities led by staff and volunteers in this room equipped with art supplies, fully functioning sink and many ideas for fun projects.

Third Floor

Camera Obscura
  • Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura: Children can dance with their shadows and see how many colors they can make against the light wall. Then, during a guided tour of the Camera Obscura, visitors of all ages receive a first-hand demonstration about optics and light while they see a panoramic view of Portland from a room with no windows. Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine hosts one of fewer than 20 Camera Obscura in the United States. Guided Tours held at least twice daily, weather permitting.


  • Chris Van Dusen's Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure: Based on characters created by beloved Maine author, Chris Van Dusen, this new outdoor exhibit is an interactive adventure for children of all ages. Hop in Mr. Magee's boat, climb on a shipwreck, and splash with water-spouting whales – all right there in the backyard.

Education Programs

Onsite & Outreach Programs

Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine serves as resource for educators, offering a selection of onsite educator-led school programs. All programs satisfy several Maine Learning Results standards and can be adapted to suit the needs of students. Self-Guided Visits allow students to explore the Museum & Theatre at their own pace. Guided Programs teach students about science with hands-on, artifact-rich learning experiences. Outreach programs, including large-space programs, individualized classroom workshops and classroom kits bring the Museum & Theatre's resources and expertise directly to schools, camps and community centers.

Birthday Party at the Museum & Theatre

Onsite and Outreach Programs* include:

  • The Life of Istar, a Humpback Whale*
  • Camera Obscura
  • Creatures of the Deep*
  • Dinosaur Fossil Detectives*
  • Maine Animal Adaptations*
  • Meet the Turtles*
  • Ocean Exploration
  • Rock Cycle*
  • Shakespeare's Stories*
  • Simple Machines*
  • Sustainable Footprints*
  • Take the Stage*
  • Driving Manual for Kids in Cefalopodia: Road Signs and Signals

Birthday Parties

The Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine is available as a venue for children's parties. The Museum & Theatre offers use of a designated Birthday Room and admission for party guests to explore exhibits. Parties can be held during regular business hours or after-hours Monday through Saturday and before-hours on Sunday for an additional fee. The Museum & Theatre facilities can be rented for adult or all-ages parties as well; the building has been the site of cocktail parties, rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions.

Awards and recognition

The Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine has been recognized for its contributions to education on local and national levels. Receiving numerous grants and awards has allowed the Museum & Theatre to expand their outreach efforts aimed towards lower-income families. Some of these efforts include: scholarship memberships for families with demonstrated need; free outreach and educational programming for rural and urban schools; and free or reduced admission opportunities including $2 Fridays the first Friday night of every month from 5-8pm.

Awards and recognition received include:

  • Winner of the Nickelodeon Parents' Pick Award for the Best Museum for little kids and big kids (2008) and the Best Museum in Portland (2009)
  • We Are Maine, a global learning center featuring stories from diverse families who call Maine home, is supported by a $92,500 Museums for America grant award from the Institute of Museum & Library Sciences (May 2005)
  • Active member of Environmental Exhibits Collaborative (EEC), a team developing traveling exhibits with natural science themes relevant to New England, funded with $840,000 grant from Jane's Trust (Dec 2004–present)
  • Received $92,500 Museums for America grant award from the Institute of Museum & Library Services to produce a multicultural exhibit (Sept 2004)
  • The only New England host site of Japan & Nature: Spirits of the Seasons, a world-class multicultural exhibit funded by the prestigious Freeman Foundation (July-Sept 2004)
  • Ranked #14 on the Child (magazine) list of top children's museums in the country (2002)
  • Selected by Eastman Kodak as a host site for an ongoing Camera Obscura exhibit, one of fewer than 20 in the United States (1994)

In the news

  • Matuszewski, Kara. “Children’s Museums Work To Stay Germ-Free” WCSH. 6 Nov 2009.
  • Cameron-McCarron, Shelley. “At Maine museum, playtime is the rule” Boston Globe. 27 Sept 2009.
  • Carkhuff, David. “Children’s haven thrived during soggy summer” Portland Daily Sun. 16 Sept 2009.
  • Wickenheiser, Matt. “Portland’s new place to play” Portland Press Herald. 27 Aug 2009.
  • Bafile, Cara. "Children's Museums 'Exhibit' Educational Outreach" Education World. 1 Dec 2009.
  • Grumbling, Megan. "Seeing is Believing: The Emperor visit the Children's Theatre" The Phoenix 3 March 2010.
  • Kim, Ann. "Caring for Community" Portland Press Herald. 21 May 2010.
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