Think for a moment about the names of museums, and suspend the possessive nature of "children's" with me for a moment: American history, Air and Space, Science, Art…yadda, yadda. Those museums are not museums for Science to grow a body and visit. They are not for Art or for Air and Space to walk around in and be entertained by, to buy trinkets to take home to their grandkids. History itself will not pay $20 for a museum shop sub-par sandwich. No. History and art and scientific specimens are on display, they are not the target audience. Therefore, the children’s museum is a semantic anomaly of the museum world (pesky little possessive aside). There are no display cases of rare children from around the world or rosters and pictures of playdates past. No taxidermy displays with dramatically manipulated children with titles like Bullied on the Playground or Endless Hide n’ Seek. Quite the contrary, I found out this weekend.
|Cool Uncle P|
We took a trip to see my aunt and uncle in Richmond. They are the world's coolest great aunt and uncle. Uncle Pierre tuned the boys guitars, restrung Clark's so he can play left-handed, and showed Brian how to restring them. They also let the boys play with their old organ, their dog Blackberry, and all three of their ceiling fans! It just so happens that they live down the street from the Richmond Children’sMuseum. Our museum visit started off a little rough, with Cal shrieking and stiffening at the life-size cow (that you could "milk" and water came out) and baby dinosaurs, but soon both boys were digging in synthetic sand (it looked like recycled tires or something) to find dinosaur fossils—even fighting off the big bully who tried to take away Clark’s shovel. Their favorite part was a big structure painted to look like an apple tree. On the outside there were holes where red balls that looked like apples sat. Kids picked the apples and put them in baskets. Once the baskets were full, they went inside the tree and dumped them into a machine that looks like a cider press. It sucked the balls up to the top of the tree in a see-through tube, and then dispersed them into a bunch of see-through tubes that fed each individual apple hole on the outside. Clever, and the kids loved it. It was interesting to see that the kids weren’t giggling as they did it; they were for the most part very serious, being helpful, being important, doing a job. But you could tell they loved it. And my boys are the same way at home. They love to do jobs, things that help me, even though in reality they make it much slower for me to get anything done. So, with this exceedingly scientific observation that I made at the apple tree in mind, I will continue to make my children do chores around the house so that one day I will do nothing but sip freshly-squeezed lemonade while getting foot massages and watching baseball, as my kids do the dishes and vacuum and cook and such. But I’m getting off track here.
|Not your ordinary apple orchard|
I was blow away by the portion of the museum dedicated to art. There was no one running it, or overseeing it or checking people in or anything predictable and typical like that. Kids and their parents can come in, pick from a huge selection of mediums and supplies, put on a smock (old mechanic and pizza shop shirts with names on them) and let their imaginations run wild. Talk about a crafty person’s heaven. And it was so environmentally friendly! Aside from the staples like paper, glue, markers, paint, pencils, and the always-helpful pipe cleaners, paper plates, and paper bags, most everything else for crafts was reused. There were cardboard toilet paper rolls, empty egg cartons, scraps of fabric, plastic food containers, and tons more. On a shelf were sample craft projects to get ideas for what to make. One was a paper bag puppet, and we made some puppets ourselves. The boys also had great fun painting with watercolors until their papers were saturated. I could spend hours in there, because I have a tendency to obsess over projects like that. There were doors from the art room that led outside to a place that looked like fun, but it was cold out and we had a lot to see still!
We played at a water table, after which the boys changed their soaked shirts, a puzzle table, and a big vacuum maze thing on a wall that the kids put balls and thin handkerchiefs in and watched them fly out at different speeds. There was a life-size cave with puppet critters and stalagmites and stalactites. The play town was amazing. It had, all in miniature: a café, a bank, a grocery store, a hospital, a TV news studio, a car repair shop, and a school. Again, no real supervision, as the kids were free to go around and play with everything. The store had real cash registers, little shopping carts, shelves for food (though most of it was on the floor after having been loved), play money, and some busy little shoppers. The café had a pretend espresso machine and a counter and tables outside with umbrellas. Another thing they did that was super cool was that instead of buying the ridiculously expensive Melissa and Doug-ish type play food, they used empty boxes and containers from real food, wrapped in packing tape. Brilliant! (I found an Idaho Spuds box!) They did have play fruit and veggies, but for the most part the store was stocked with reused food boxes. In the car repair shop, kids could change the tires, slide under the car on a little wheely-thing like real mechanics do, honk the horn, replace the cloth muffler, look at the engine parts and pour pretend washer fluid and antifreeze (again, just in empty plastic bottles with labels on them) into the reservoirs. In the TV station kids could go in front of the camera at a news desk and be seen on a TV outside the station. The hospital had an ambulance out front that the kids could climb into and “drive.” There was a lot of cool-looking stuff in the big hospital room, but we weren’t in there very long. The boys weren’t that interested, and I thought all the naked baby dolls strewn about were a bit off-putting—this was the closest the museum came to displaying wax children. The little school was adorable, with a huge abacus and lots of magnetic letters and number toys for practicing to write the numbers.
|I wonder how their shirts got wet? So fun!|
There was a section with a little trampoline and manipulative shapes and tubes for creating things to climb on and in. This is where some girls in some kind of brown vests (Brownies? Girl Scouts? I don’t know) crowded Clark out on the trampoline until I scared them away in what was possibly my meanest mom move ever—simply a snarky comment—but they took the hint and scrammed. There were things we didn’t even make it to, like a giant ladder and slide apparatus that way up to a skylight and suspended paper birds, and an entire farm (more for younger kids anyway).
We will definitely be back there. Just writing about it makes me want to go back and it’s only been three days since we were there. On the first Saturday of the month, adults are free if they show their Bank of America card! Of course I didn’t have mine with me, but my aunt did so she was free. Admission is $8 for adults and $7 for children-- very reasonable rates considering all they have to offer-- especially with the take-home art projects. Now I can’t wait to visit the Baltimore Children’s Museum because I’ve heard it’s great and it’s a lot closer. My hunch is that there will not be wax, or otherwise unreal children on display.
|Vacuum maze on the wall|
|Cal driving the ambulance|
|All in a day's work|
|Adding washer fluid|
|A great trip with Aunt Anne!|