When children encounter objects, design constrains and affords action and cognition. An observational study in the wild revealed how manipulable objects afforded complexity of cognitive outcomes. Evidence comes from video analysis of children’s speech, gesture, and action when using natural history exhibits. Children spoke more about the museum’s content when they touched the exhibits, but the content of their speech changed depending on the object’s affordances for interaction. With static specimens and models, children most often referred to objects’ concrete properties. With interactive exhibits, children’s speech involved references to dynamic relations among exhibit elements. Use of abstract speech and iconic gestures also suggests that they perceived interactive exhibits as representations of objects and phenomena beyond the here-and-now. When children used interactive exhibits, the content of their speech was relational, representational, and at times, both representational and relational; they employed modes of conceptualization not seen when using non-interactive exhibits.