Snow day at the National Museum of the American Indian

This mechanical mask is one of a dozen objects on a scavenger hunt for kids. Photo: Ernest Amoroso/ National Museum of the American Indian

This mechanical mask is one of a dozen objects on a scavenger hunt for kids. Photo: Ernest Amoroso/ National Museum of the American Indian

The snow that dumped down on us from Jonas made my family hyper aware that we need some go-to inside places for the next few stir-crazy months. The wonderful part of living in New York is having unlimited museums at your beck and call, and the deep freeze of winter is a perfect time to explore these indoor arenas.

Since my son is studying Native American culture in his kindergarten class, we decided to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian located in lower Manhattan over the weekend. This gorgeous beaux-arts building stands on the northeast corner of Battery Park, and is just one stop from Brooklyn. With its absolutely free (every day, all day) admission, it proved to be a perfect winter destination to warm up out of the house for an hour or two.

I’m not sure if it was because we had just gotten 26 inches of snow, or if it was because the museum is free, but there seemed to be very few museum staff, with the exception of a few security guards. But, we found our way into the museum, and even picked up a handy adventure guide from the front desk area that featured a scavenger hunt for the exhibit “Infinity of Nations.”

All the artifacts are safely tucked behind glass. Photo: Antonio De Pietro

All the artifacts are safely tucked behind glass. Photo: Antonio De Pietro

My son was enthusiastic about finding the artifacts as we traveled from the distinct cultures of the Northwest Kwakwaka’wakw to the Peruvian Conibo of the Amazon rainforests. We learned that the Americas were populated by all these different cultures who had their own language, laws and customs. The scavenger hunt included questions to ask about each found artifact and ideas on looking closely for things we may not have noticed. My son enjoyed applying his previous knowledge to what we were seeing, and my husband and I were wowed by the beautiful ceramics, statues and costumes that lined the glass cabinets. As far as museums go, this one is pretty child-friendly, with all of the art safely protected behind glass where little hands aren’t tempted to touch the fanned feathers and textured masks.

Large performance spaces abound on two floors of the museum, but due to the inclement weather, the Thunderbird Social and drum circle was postponed. This would probably be a memorable event to attend, but better still is the upcoming free Winter Blast Family Day on January 30th 12pm to 5pm, which will include all kinds of interactive games including hoop, ring and toss, baskets, yoyo’s and Inuit high kicks.

Photo: Katherine Fogden/ National Museum of the American Indian

Photo: Katherine Fogden/ National Museum of the American Indian

Although there is no restaurant in the museum, there are many options within a short walk of the entrance. We opted for savory crepes and lingonberry juice from Crepes du Nord, a Scandinavian creperie that uses sustainable ingredients from their own farm in the Catskills. For dessert, we couldn’t help but split a sweet crepe piled high with nutella, bananas and vanilla ice cream. By then, the snowbanks were high, the full wolf moon was even higher, and we headed home, wishing for a Lakota Sioux hupak’in sled to carry us home.

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, One Bowling Green, New York. Open 10am-5pm everyday, except December 25th. FREE.

Crepes du Nord, 17 S. Williams St. New York.