Editor’s Review: Good Night Forest & Ancient Seas at Indiana State Museum

The Indiana State Museum is one of my family’s favorite museums in Indy. We’ve been to this wonderful museum countless times, and whenever there is a new exhibit, we make a point to visit. This summer, there are TWO additional great reasons to visit, with new exhibits that both opened this summer:

  • Good Night Forest (through Oct. 31) is a playful, interactive experience that was created especially for little ones.
  • Ancient Seas (permanent exhibit) is a reimagined underwater world, where you can imagine the Indiana that existed millions of years in the past.

Good Night Forest

My youngest son is still sometimes afraid of the dark. And I know he’s not alone! Night time can be a scary time for lots of kids. But Good Night Forest, the newest exhibit at Indiana State Museum, embraces the night and shows that there is fun to be had when the sun goes down.

As we wandered through the darkened exhibit, we were introduced to lots of animals along the way. The landscape and colorful critters in the exhibit were hand-drawn by local Indianapolis artist Penelope Dullaghan, and her cozy illustrations made it feel like we were walking through a storybook.


Exploring the Night

Good Night Forest has several stations to visit, all with fun activities. There’s a pretend fire pit where you can roast pretend marshmallows. Or climb inside a tent at the Starry Night Campsite and make shadow puppets. At the Moonlit Shore, you can help a family of beavers fix up their river home by the light of the moon. And at the Midnight Snack Spot, you can fix yourself a snack at the little play kitchen.

Families with babies can also enjoy a cozy, early-childhood area filled with soft surfaces, quiet sounds and engaging sensory activities.


Twilight Trail

Twilight Trail is the darkest part of the exhibit. We were encouraged to stop at the Good Night Supply area and grab a flashlight. We used our tools to follow the twilight trail to see what we could find in the dark. We danced through Firefly Meadow and looked for darting rabbits. Our flashlights illuminated display cases of nocturnal animals. It was fun exploring the nighttime with our flashlights!

The trail ended in a brighter room with some of the specimens from the Indiana State Museum’s biological collection, including a coyote, fox, snake, small mammals, owls, insects and amphibians. There were animal skins to pick up and feel, feathers to inspect with magnifying glasses, and puzzles to play with.

Good Night Forest was designed to help kids build confidence and cultivate scientific curiosity as they discover nature and learn about the animals that emerge in their neighborhoods and local forests after the sun goes down. It’s a fun, safe space to explore, develop courage and bravery, and have a good night. The exhibit runs through October 31, 2024, and is included with museum admission.

Ancient Seas

Visitors to the Indiana State Museum might remember that Ancient Seas has been a permanent exhibit on the first floor of the museum since 2002. But now, Ancient Seas has been completely reimagined and transformed as of June 2024.

Did you know: Millions of years ago, Indiana was beneath a shallow sea? In Ancient Seas, visitors can experience how the state’s environment has changed over time, from a watery landscape to what we know today. And as my family and I stepped into the exhibit, we were immersed in a totally different Indiana: one that existed millions of years in the past.

There are giant sea creatures hanging overhead, immersive digital experiences and lots more. In many ways, you can come face-to-face with species that went extinct in our area long ago.

Ancient Seas also features nearly 200 fossils from the museum’s collection. Plus, visitors can use their senses to discover different aspects of the prehistoric landscape through hands-on activities, like building a crinoid or — my kids’ favorite — smelling simulated shark vomit!


Ancient Seas is a permanent exhibit at the Indiana State Museum, and is located on the first floor. 

Nicole Sipe
Nicole Sipe
Nicole Sipe is the editor of Indy's Child and Southwest Ohio Parent magazines. She has a BA in Journalism from California State University Northridge, and has been involved in the print and digital publishing world for most of her life. Born and raised in Southern California, Nicole traded the city and sun for corn and creeks, and now lives in central Indiana with her husband, two sons and Collie. Her latest book for children, “All About Me! Art Journal” was published in 2022 by Walter Foster Jr. In her spare time, she likes traveling with her family, enjoying good food and drink, volunteering at her children’s schools and around her community, and practicing yoga.

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