Let’s face it: these days, for a lot of kids, experiences feel more real, not less, when a screen is involved. The super smart people at the American Museum of Natural History understand that, and they’re determined to use the almighty screen for good. The museum’s new Explorer app helps patrons pack in even more learning with each visit, and will even get little ones get excited about AMNH’s exhibits before they even set foot through those hallowed Upper West Side doors.

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screenshot: AMNH

Back, and Better Than Ever
Yes, the museum has offered apps in the past, focusing on a singular topic like Dinosaurs or Planet Earth. However this update of an app that first launched in beta last spring, takes all the exhibits – and your visit – to the next level.

It didn’t happen overnight; while the museum is obviously dedicated to preserving the past, the organization has committed itself to providing visitors with a rich, technology-enabled 21st century experience. “This new release is part of an institution-wide effort to re-define the Museum experience for the digital age,” explains Chief Digital Officer Catherine Devine. “It would not be possible without a range of improvements made to our digital infrastructure in recent years, including a network of more than 800 Bluetooth beacons.”

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screenshot: AMNH

Intro to Explorer
You wouldn’t be the first person to get lost in the museum — it’s big.

Good news: the Explorer app features the latest in cutting-edge, location-aware technology, and breaks down areas of the museum into three categories: what’s nearby, what’s a bit further a field, and what’s worth the walk.

Simply tap the exhibit you’d like to see, and Explorer offers you directions for getting there, complete with an on-screen map. (Also vitally important, especially for parents, are directions to the nearest bathroom, water fountain and café.)

As you make your way towards the Biggest. Ever display (spoiler: It’s the Blue Whale), the Fierce! (that would be the dinos), the Head Space (those cool, giant masks), the Power Couple (ancient humanoids just taking a stroll) or American Idle (sloths; really, really big sloths), you can get psyched up for what you’re about to see by testing yourself with trivia questions. (Example: “Which fruit did giant ground sloths help cultivate?”

You can also (metaphorically speaking) climb up the Tree of Life by guessing which modern day animal, the Brown Bear or the Brown-Throated Sloth, the giant ground sloth is more closely related to. If you have absolutely no idea, you can ask for a hint. (Be careful, the most obvious answer isn’t always the correct one.)

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screenshot: AMNH

More to Explore
Not into sloths? There’s plenty more to see, including Absolutely Fabulous and All the Trimmings (ancient fashion and home decorating, respectively), Curious Carving, Cosmic Rock, and Colossal Canoe (those three are more or less self-explanatory).

There are dozens of categories to choose from, and each one leads families on an explore-and-discover scavenger hunt that is literally customized for each visitor based on expressed interests. It’s like having an AMNH employee as your own personal curator and guide!

Once you’ve arrived at the area of the museum of your choice, the Explorer app allows you to become part of the exhibit. Thanks to Avatour augmented reality, you can actually Be the Bear, by unlocking the animal’s superpowers and adopting them for yourself.

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screenshot: AMNH

Plus, it’s Practical
You can use the app to buy tickets to the museum, as well as to all the special exhibitions, like Crocs, Dinosaurs Among Us, Countdown to Zero, and Cuba!, as well as to screenings of the museum’s films Dark Matter and Wonders of the Arctic. (If you do buy movie tickets, you’ll even get reminders that your show is about to start.)

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screenshot: AMNH

Explore at Home, Too, Before or After Your Visit
Here’s more great news for parents: If your child becomes a bit obsessed with a particular exhibit or topic during a museum visit,  the Explorer app makes it easy to keep discovering and learning back at home.

Whether you didn’t get a chance to answer all the trivia questions, didn’t finish exploring every branch of the family tree, or maybe missed an entire wing of the museum —  no problem. It’s all on the app!

Conversely, you can also download the app prior to a visit, so kids can explore and make their own itinerary based on whatever they find most intriguing.

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screenshot: AMNH

Get It! 
The Explorer App is available for both Apple and Android devices, and can be downloaded for free via the App Store or Google Play.

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
Upper West Side
212-769-5100
Online: amnh.org

Has your family tried the new Explorer app? Tell us about your experience in the comments below! 

— Alina Adams