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Eric Carle Museum: Fun Kids’ Activities Near Amherst, MA

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is fabulous.

Fun Things to Do With Kids in Hampshire County, Massachusetts!

Just two hours west of Boston and three hours north of New York City, the town of Amherst, Massachusetts snuggles amid rolling hills. Are you seeking a New England getaway destination that’s yummy for kids and adults alike? Read on, because this region brims with delights… and donuts.

Eric Carle Museum: Maurice Sendak illustrations

Original Maurice Sendak illustrations to explore up close.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Destination 1: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is amazing. It turns out that several high-profile children’s book illustrators have lived in Western Massachusetts, including Eric Carle, the creator of the beloved text, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (affiliate link). Now there’s a museum to revel in this art!

Eric Carle Museum: materials used to illustrate The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

Behold the materials used to illustrate The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

History of the Eric Carle Museum

In 2002, Carle launched the museum: a light-filled beauty that houses more than 13,000 objects related to the art of picture books. It is the only full-scale museum of its kind in the entire country, and will provide hours of joy for you and your family.

Eric Carle Museum kids' art room.

The sun-soaked kids’ art room where visitors can do hands-on crafts.

A Hands-On Kids’ Art Center in the Carle Museum

The picture book art that lines the walls of the collections is astounding, but what I love most about the museum is its hands-on kids’ art center, pictured above. The museum frequently provides trained artists to lead crafts projects with visiting youth, usually linked to the works of featured illustrators. Each table hosts different activities, meaning kids can choose what most moves them.

My little guy loves his Hungry Caterpillar book.

My little guy loves his Hungry Caterpillar book.

Activities for All Ages at the Picture Book Art Museum

The day I visited I was traveling with my little baby, leaving our 3-year-old at home with his Daddy, but I am definitely popping back to the fun museum soon with Devi in tow. I know the little guy would go wild for the art room. “Mommy, I wanna make a capi-piller!”

Eric Carle Museum Amherst MA

The main lobby of the museum. Isn’t it pretty?

The Picture Book Library in the Carle Museum

The museum also has a large library of children’s books, but with a twist: they are organized on the shelf by illustrator, not by author! This must be a refreshing change for the artists who have been second in the literary hierarchy for so long.

During my visit, my 9-month-old was more interested in reading the inside of her eyelids, snoring throughout our trip, but when I return to the museum with Devi I plan to cuddle and read for hours on the library’s cushy sofas.

Eric Carle's blue horse, on display in the museum.

Eric Carle’s blue horse, on display in the museum.

Eric Carle and the Very Hungry Caterpillar

The story of Eric Carle is a powerful one. Born in 1929, he arrived in the United States from Germany in 1952 with just $40 in his pocket. Now in his late 80s, Carle has sold more than 138 million copies of his 70+ picture books around the world! Of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the most famous title, but Carle has created many more works to love. (Click to see Carle’s full book list.)

My son’s favorite is From Head to Toe because it’s so fun to do the movements while we read. Most people don’t realize that Carle’s bright illustrations are created by hand-painting paper, then cutting and layering those pieces with glue!

(Related note: If you want some fun short illustrated kids’ stories, click that link to see my new site where I give you just that — for free.)

Eric Carle Museum

A whimsical sculpture in the museum’s library.

Teacher and Educator Workshops at the Carle Museum

What I find particularly moving is that Carle could have simply bathed solo in his success, but instead, he created the Museum of Picture Book Art — a nonprofit organization, no less — to bring the beauty of illustration to over half a million visitors so far.

The museum also offers frequent performances in its theater, rotating new exhibits, and professional development workshops for educators. (I’m reminded of the famous Fallingwater house in southwestern Pennsylvania, and how it offers lots for teachers as well.) What a great destination for our beloved state the Eric Carle Museum is! But what’s that grumbling tummy sound? Are you getting hungry?

So many delicious treats at Atkins Farm market.

Mosey down the street to Atkins Farms market for delicious food.

Cider Donuts at Atkins Farms, Amherst

Destination 2: Once you’ve worked up a Hungry Caterpillar-sized appetite ogling all that picture book art, head two minutes away to Atkins Farms Country Market. Started in 1962 from a 1887 apple farm, this large market features groceries, meals, snacks, gifts, and most importantly… apple cider donuts!

Atkins Farms was voted one of the 12 best donuts in the country by Saveur Magazine, and churns out 10,000 delectable O-shaped confections during peak autumn season. Do not miss picking up a donut pack, because they are HEAVEN.

Cider donuts at Atkins Farm!

The apple cider donuts at Atkins Farm are some of the best in the country.

The Yiddish Book Center, Hampshire County

Destination 3: Still got energy? The Yiddish Book Center is just down the street from the Carle Museum, and though we didn’t get a chance to check it out on this visit, it looks excellent.

Mill 180 Park indoor playground and park in nearby Easthampton, MA.

Mill 180 Park is a phenomenal indoor park in nearby Easthampton, MA.

Mill 180 Park: Indoor Playground in Easthampton, MA

Destination 4: Although it’s a 30-minute drive from Amherst in Easthampton, MA, I simply cannot skip mentioning Mill 180 Park which is a FREE, giant indoor park with mind-blowingly cool activities for kids, plus a cafe for adults!

It is absolutely worth any slight detour to stop by on your Hampshire County adventures. Trust me and check it out.

Baby and I were like, "WHOA! This indoor park is crazy!"

Baby and I were like, “WHOA! This indoor park is crazy!”

So Many Fun Kids’ Activities Near Amherst, MA!

I hope these destination tips help create magical fun for you and your family. Massachusetts has so much to offer travelers. Further east there is Old Sturbridge Village and Southbridge, MA. Going west towards the Berkshires, MA, we delight in Mount Greylock, Bash Bish Falls, and even an Alpaca Farm!

I can’t believe, as a lifelong Bostonian, that I am only now discovering the “other side” of my state. What a place!

Mill 180 Park has all sorts of activities, including this cottage.

Mill 180 Park has all sorts of nooks to explore, including this cottage.

Hotels near Amherst, MA:

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Very Hungry Caterpillar!) and other fun Kids' Activities Near Amherst, MA, including cider donuts at Atkins Farms, and Mill 180 Park indoor playground in Easthampton, MA. #familytravel #kidsactivities #ericcarle #picturebooks #kidsmuseums #newengland #massachusetts

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So what do YOU think? Have you been to Amherst? Would you like to go? Do share!

Check out my article on nearby Northampton, MA to continue the Amherst-area fun, and get your own creative juices flowing with 40 drawing prompts from around the world.


Hampshire County Tourism helped make this trip possible, but all opinions and donut obsessions are my own. Affiliates in this article support this site at no extra cost to you. Thanks, and happy travels!

 

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Bill Ivey

Saturday 9th of September 2017

Also, downtown Amherst has many great restaurants, and a good-sized Common where kids can happily run around. Black Sheep Deli has amazing sandwiches and baked goods, Pita Pockets excellent Syrian food (served by the nicest people you'll ever meet), and Roberto's wonderful pizza, all of which can easily be taken out and eaten on said Common. There's also a smaller park opposite Black Sheep if there happens to be an event on the Common. Atkins Apple Cider donuts are incomparable, true, but Glazed Doughnut Shop in town also has excellent choices plus vegan gluten-free options that are quite tasty. Finally, my nephew spent countless hours at the Museum of Natural History at Amherst College during his extended "I love dinosaurs!" phase. :-)

Lillie

Saturday 9th of September 2017

Awesome tips, Bill! Thanks so much!

Alina Popescu

Wednesday 1st of February 2017

I'm theoretically an adult, yet I know I'd have a blast here. Especially the picture book art museum, it looks incredible :D I am not easily excited about farms, because I spent all my summers as a kid in the countryside, running around anywhere I wanted. Still would give it a go, if anyone can drag me out of the first museum!

[email protected]

Tuesday 31st of January 2017

You're right Amherst is a great place for kids! The Eric Carle Museum is so nicely set up with all those colorful paintings - I'm sure any kid would love a visit there (and then to Atkins Market for some sweets)!

Mansoureh

Tuesday 31st of January 2017

This place looks amazing for a family break. Not only kids like this place, but I love to go there too. It seems such a fun museum

Jennifer

Tuesday 31st of January 2017

I am drooling over all those cakes in the display at Atkins Farms Country Market. The apple cider donuts sound fab too! Growing up in Pennsylvania, we had a cider mill that opened every fall. Not only did they have the most delicious apple cider, but they had all sorts of apple baked goods. I definitely miss that place.

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