Sensory-Friendly Experiences for Kids in Philly
From relaxed performances to quiet spaces, here are the places working to make Philly more accessible for all.
When your child has sensory sensitives or other special needs, it can be difficult to enjoy all the wonderful things our city has to offer. In addition to some experiences possibly being too overwhelming, there is the element of unpredictability that comes with raising a child with these concerns—sometimes it is unclear when reading about an attraction or performance what stimuli will be present, which ones will prove challenging, and where you can take your child for a “time out” to recharge.
With increasing awareness of these issues has come the increased commitment of institutions and attractions to provide a welcoming space for individuals with special needs. From relaxed performances to social stories to the addition of quiet spaces, organizations have made adjustments to help make experiences more sensory-friendly and accessible for all.
Museums and Attractions
Please Touch Museum
4231 Avenue of the Republic
The Please Touch Museum hosts Play Without Boundaries events throughout the year, where the museum is adapted to provide a relaxed environment for individuals with autism, learning differences, or other sensory and communication needs. In addition to the modifications, the museum creates quiet spaces and special activities for these events.
During general hours, the museum also provides access to free Quiet Kits, available at the admissions desk and there are Quiet Zone Tents located throughout.
The Franklin Institute
222 N. 20th Street
The Franklin Institute always offers sensory-friendly resources, as part of their Sensory-Friendly Every Day program. They have created sensory maps for their exhibits that explain how someone with sensory processing issues may be affected by each sense. These maps are available online if you want to read them in advance and prepare your child. The museum also has sensory backpacks and quieter spaces available. If the museum is too overwhelming for your child, you have the chance to receive a return voucher within 30 minutes of purchasing your tickets to try again on another day.
Academy of Natural Sciences
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
At “Access to Science: Opening the Doors to Autism” events (occurring four weekend mornings per year), children on the spectrum and their families are invited to experience the museum before the crowds. You can visit with the dinosaurs, and all the other exhibits, at your own pace. Pre-registration is required (same-day registration is available onsite). If you would like to attend, contact the Visitor Services Department at 215-299-1060 or AccessToScience@ansp.org
Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The art museum has Sensory-Friendly Mornings specially designed for children on the autism spectrum or who have other sensory sensitivities. During these special hours, there are low-sensory zones, fidgets and noise-canceling headphones available, and on-hand support from occupational therapy student volunteers.
National Constitution Center
525 Arch Street
On select days throughout the year, NCC provides visitors with sensory processing challenges the opportunity to experience the museum in a secure and comfortable environment by providing emotionally safe spaces for families, modified programming for diverse sensory needs, and specialized staff training. Sensory-friendly rooms can also be requested for non-scheduled Sensory-Friendly Days, depending on availability.
Museum of the American Revolution Relaxed Experience Mornings
101 South Third Street
Families can enjoy the Museum of the American Revolution in a low-stress and less crowded environment with lower sound effects and higher light levels during their relaxed experience mornings. Tickets are free but space is limited. To reserve tickets or for questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Riverside Drive, Camden, NJ
The aquarium has recently started hosting F.I.S.H. (Family Inclusive Special Hours) nights, where crowds are reduced, and sound and lighting accommodations have been made to ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone. Pre-registration is required online.
In addition to these events, the aquarium has partnered with KultureCity to offer more accommodations and resources for those with sensory needs.
240 South Broad Street and 300 South Broad Street
The Pennsylvania Ballet was the first resident company of the Kimmel Center to offer sensory-friendly performances for families with children on the autism spectrum. In conjunction with Art-Reach, they crafted a sensory-friendly experience—from staff training to creating a pre-performance social story—and created a quiet area in the lobby with a soft tunnel and comfy tent where kids can relax. They also offer attendees noise-cancelling headphones to wear in the theater, as well as brightly colored fidget toys for kids who need some extra sensory input to help calm them down. During the performance, lights remain on at a low level, and volunteers stay in the theater to help out. The ballet does a sensory-friendly performance of The Nutcracker during the holiday season, and also within their Family Programming series in the spring.
The Saturday morning performances of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Sound All Around family concert series in the Academy of Music ballroom are traditionally sensory-friendly, which means a smaller audience capacity, pre-visit stories, fidget toys, and a relaxed environment for kids who may need to move, vocalize, or get up to walk around. In addition, the Philadelphia Orchestra started relaxed sensory-friendly concerts in The Academy of Music’s Ballroom with a no-shush policy, cool-down spaces, lighting adjustments, trained helpers, and interaction between musicians and audience members.
300 S Broad Street
Select performances throughout the season are designated as sensory-friendly, with mid-level house lighting, open doors, and a cool-down space. During the performance, guests are free to move, vocalize and be who they are. Sensory-Friendly Kits are also available in all venues at all performances. The drawstring bags carry noise-cancelling headphones, two fidget toys, and a weighted bean bag. Adult and child appropriate bags are available.
Bridge Sessions at World Cafe Live
3025 Walnut Street
Bridge Sessions are culturally engaged live arts performances with interactive music-making workshops geared towards ages 2-12. World Cafe Live collaborates with leading arts accessibility organization Art-Reach to present several Bridge Sessions that are inclusive to all abilities and mindful of sensory needs.
More Experiences and Resources
Kids at Play
3502 Scotts Lane
This inclusive indoor playground features a sensory room, multi-sensory open play experiences, and even on-site therapy services.
We Rock the Spectrum
12357-59 Academy Road
This indoor sensory gym hosts open play, crafts, and classes ranging from dance to social skills groups.
Free Library of Philadelphia
Certain branches of the library offer regular Sensory Storytimes geared toward children on the autism spectrum and their families throughout the year. Check their schedule for upcoming dates and locations.
Click here for more resources in the suburbs.
Eleanor Linafelt contributed to updating this article.
Photographs courtesy of Visit Philadelphia.