It's too much fun to be nightmarish
Children: can't live with 'em, can't further the species without 'em. And on the long (or too-short) road between birth and financial independence, you've gotta entertain 'em. Fortunately, you're in Jerusalem, and that's a pretty easy task. Middle Easterners love children (and they have bunches of them), so it's only fitting that Jerusalem be gifted with a great abundance of child-friendly entertainment options. Just trust your friends at Jerusalemite and your kids will never be bored, because they'll be in the thrall of the top five children's activities in Jerusalem.
The best things in life are free. Especially when the economy is in the tank and you're starting to think that your kid's piggybank is a safer place for money than your 401(k). Not all children's entertainment comes with a price of admission; the Mifletzet has been thrilling Jerusalem children day in and day out for nearly 40 years, and nobody pays a dime. Erupting out of the ground in a modest Kiryat Yovel park, the grotesque glory is the work of renowned sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, and literally every single person in Jerusalem knows it by one-word name alone (even though, technically, it's called "The Golem"). Sure, your kids have gone down slides before...but were the slides erupting from the rouged mouth of a creature that looks like a Picasso interpretation of a melting cow? No. No they weren't. So head over to the Mifletzet and join a venerable Jerusalem tradition.
There is no child-oriented institution in the world that wrings as much fun out of so modest a premise as the science museum. One would think science museums would be a series of static exhibits clarified by dry, small-print placards (and for adults, they are), but children's science museums are awesome. Lightning balls. Houses of mirrors. Play gyms. Robots. Bright lights, loud noises, and more interactivity than you can shake a TV-addled attention span at. The Hebrew University's Bloomfield Science Museum does not let down. The museum pursues its worthy goal of making every Jerusalemite child love science by putting together scads of hands-on science-made-real activities and exhibits, giving your child the opportunity to literally climb all over learning. They don't offer that sort of thrilling take on education in school, and yet you pay taxes. Hardly fair, huh?
If the hard science-focused Bloomfield Science Museum is the dedicated, sober MIT of Jerusalem children's museums, then the Israel Museum's Youth Wing is the crunchy, Birkenstocked Oberlin. Here, it's all about art, and reading, and self-expression, and creativity, and all those other things you try to instill into your munchkins between rapt Dora the Explorer viewings. Whether your child is exploring a cave/tower of books seemingly constructed by Georgia O'Keeffe or participating in one of many craft workshops, you'll be able to proudly watch as their artistic sides grow, develop and start getting designs on your hard-earned money for art school. At least they'll be reading, though.
Officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, a name far too cumbersome for anyone to bother remembering, the Biblical Zoo gets its more pedestrian nickname from its main (and entirely unique) draw: the zoo houses dozens of animals mentioned in the Bible as being native to the land of Israel - some of which had gone locally extinct and had to be brought to Israel from other countries. But little kids don't really care about neat stuff like that. They want to know if there's a petting zoo, and if they can feed the adorable little baby goats. Yes there is, and yes they can. They can also climb all over a massive Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture garden of animals spilling out of Noah's Ark. Parents can enjoy the immaculate grounds and Jerusalem mountain air. And those adorable little goats - even if they do refuse to engage in conversation.
There has to be a better way to experience history than reading a dusty old book. Maybe if Haim Topol was somehow involved. Maybe if there were moving, vibrating seats. Maybe if water occasionally sprayed from the ceiling. That's history Jerusalem Time Elevator-style. It's actually exactly like that scene with the filmstrip and moving seats in Jurassic Park, except instead of dino cloning, the Haim Topol-augmented movie documents 3,000 non-stop years of Jerusalem history, using those wobbly chairs to make your kids believe they're taking an active role in the grand history of Jerusalem, which might not be such a stretch after all. Didn't they always say they wished they could have sacked Jerusalem with the Roman Tenth Legion? Jerusalemite respectfully suggests that you let them fulfill their dream.
And that leaves us with a few honorable mentions. Museums like the Islamic Art and Bible Lands often offer children's activities; the Botanical Gardens have a fun miniature train to ride around on; Hezekiah's tunnel and the Ramparts Walk offer much historical fun in the Old City; and children of all ethnicities and faiths play together peacefully in Liberty Bell Park, which also happens to be home to the kid-oriented Train Theater.
Photo of Mifletzet spewing children courtesy of bdnegin from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; thumbnail photo of the Mifletzet by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite; photo from the Bloomfield Science Museum courtesy of Dany_Sternfeld from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo from the Israel Museum courtesy of yanec from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo of the adorable little baby goat at the Biblical Zoo courtesy of EagleXDV from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo of the Time Elevator courtesy of the Time Elevator.