We took up a special offer - take the train to town and get discount tickets for Thinktank, Birmingham's science museum. My theory was, if it didn't engage my three-year-old, not much would be wasted.
It turned out to be fabulous. The preschool zone has a platform of waterways with boats, pumps and currents, set to child waist height, to ensure one gets as wet as possible.
It does supply bibs, but not in adult size - be warned; you may get wet.
Directly opposite is a lovely cushioned reading corner for recuperation and a fascinating, transparent, model beehive. Then there is the 'high street' itself.
Kids' City is a mock street with a garage, cafe, market stall, dentist, GP surgery, phone booth and roadworks, all set up to encourage safe role-play. Recall a child's kitchen from your childhood and think bigger and better.
Thinktank's pretend dental surgery
The next level up in the museum is about the human body. I was apprehensive. If a doctor-gene exists, my boys are likely to carry it. I have resisted a toy medical kit for a long time to keep a balance.
Here there is everything from kidney models a physiologist would envy to a 2D automated demonstration about how stool is formed. My boys were captivated and I needn't have worried about brain-washing - healthy living and citizenship are clearly the underlying themes.
The planetarium was beautiful but my little one couldn't sit through the talk. Neither the animals nor the huge industrial wheels, machines and vehicles got a look in. Maybe this will change when they're older.
During a weekend away, we tried an alternative venue - Eureka, in Halifax, West Yorkshire. It lived up to the high standards set by Thinktank.
There were many similarities. Like Thinktank, Eureka has a mind and body section (closed until the spring), an ecological/climate area and a mini city, complete with garage, supermarket, bank and house.
Eureka is aimed at primary school ages, but my preschoolers enjoyed it. They especially loved the robot, with which they could have a conversation thanks to a disguised webcam and speaker set-up. My eldest enjoyed jumping the 'laser beams' of the bank's security system and cracking the maths codes to open the safes.
Both museums also have outside equipment and activities.
Many children's days out are designed from the viewpoint of adults imagining what they would have loved as a child.
These museums are designed from the child's viewpoint, but effortlessly engage everybody.
- Dr Widdowson is a GP in Birmingham
Thinktank - Birmingham Science Museum, Millenium Point, Birmingham B4 7AP. Open 10am-5pm, seven days a week. Adults: £12.25, children aged three to 15: £8.40. Advance booking: 10% discount.
Eureka The National Children's Museum, Discovery Road, Halifax HX1 2NE. Open 10am-4pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat, Sun, bank and school holidays. Adults: £9.95, children aged one to two: £3.45, aged three or over: £9.95.