Monday, July 4, 2011

It needs to be fun for all of us!

Where I live, folks really seem to feel very positively about children's museums.  I can't seem to find the love for them.  I can see how they come in handy during the cold winter months but as soon as the weather improves, I see them as pretty much pointless.  But it feels like heresy to say it--to point out that children's museums are really nothing more than glorified play spaces.  And yes, children do learn by playing and I get that this is the premise of children's museums.  But still . . . 

Now, some children's museums are better than others.  I've visited three so far: the Manhattan Children's Museum, the Brooklyn Children's Museum and Stepping Stones in Connecticut.  I find Stepping Stones to be the best and that is really for one reason alone: the resource room.  It's a room filled with all kinds of interesting puzzles, a variety of building toys, and books galore.  Kids can borrow an Ipad for 15 minutes at a time. It's just a cozy, cool out kind of place.  

Stepping Stones Children's Museum
Z1 is almost 6 years old and is rapidly outgrowing the whole children's museum thing.  When he goes to Stepping Stones, he spends a lot of time playing in the water area and the media room (where there's a projection-on-the-floor game) then mostly bypasses all the other areas.  Z2 really likes the water area and gets himself completely soaked.  I spend a great deal of time keeping him from actually getting in the water.  He is my more "active" son and really just wants to run around so when he's done with the water, that's what he does.  Every once in a while, some other activity grabs his attention but mainly, he wants to run around.  And go back to play in the water.  Which, in the summer, we can do better and for free at a playground. 

It takes us about 40 minutes to get to Stepping Stones.  Last time we went, we ended up in 2 hours of traffic on the way home.  I hate to drive. And I hate driving in traffic even more.  But I would suck it up, I would, traffic and all, if I could at least say that I personally derive some enjoyment from going to the children's museum.  The kids like it well enough but I have a hard time getting up enthusiasm to drive to the children's museum when we could just hang out a playground or go on a hike or go to a real museum.  It is just not an intellectually stimulating place for me.  And after you do it once or twice, it actually ends up being disappointing and straight up boring.  Last time I went, I wished I had brought my knitting or a magazine or something.  I kept chiding myself for not getting up and playing with Z1 and Z2 . . . that maybe if I started playing with stuff I'd start finding it fun.  The first time I went, I did find it to be fun--especially the water room.  But the next time, it was ridiculously crowded--we could hardly move without tripping over people (and I don't like crowds at all) and I was totally over it.  I just wanted to sit there and do something fun for me since they were having fun.  

I think what is really annoying to me is the fact that it's called a children's museum.  When I think museum, I think excellent exhibits put together to make you think or to grow your awareness and increase your knowledge.  I can't say for certain what my kids learn at the children's museum.  I can't say that the activities necessarily drive home or really demonstrate the information on the placards.  In the water room, the placards talk about generating power with water but I don't think the exhibit does a good job of showing how--of connecting the pieces.  I guess it's just too basic--I didn't leave with a good sense of how water = power and this is the second time I've seen the exhibit.  I think a more appropriate name for children's museums might be "learning play spaces".  

I love going to science museums (especially Liberty Science Center) and I also enjoy museums such as The Transit Museum.  At a museum like The Transit Museum, there will be some information that is over my kids' heads.  But guess what?  I learn something.  I am stimulated.  I grow.  The Transit Museum is perhaps the most perfect example of a museum that caters to both adults and children--there are plenty of things to touch and play with yet there's plenty of wonderful, historical information.  It is a trip for all of us and not just for the kids and, to be honest, if I am going to put in that amount of effort to go to a museum, I just feel happier to do it if we can all get something out of it.    I want us all to have fun.  It's simply not enough for me to watch them having fun.  

One of my good-hearted friends bought us a membership to Stepping Stones after the first time we visited and I feel rather badlythat I don't love the place more.  I ended up upgrading the membership so we could get reciprocal free admission to the Hall of Science (because that's a museum to which I really like to go).  But I'll make good use of the membership to Stepping Stones--and go on days when someone else can help with the driving.  I can see it coming in useful on rainy days when school is back in session and most kids are in school all day--there won't be as many crowds.  But on a beautiful, warm sunny day, I don't see myself ever choosing the children's museum over the pool or a challenging trail.  

No, I'm not one of those mothers who ignores her own need for fun for the sake of her children having a good time.  Maybe the folks who rave about the children's museum genuinely enjoy it.  I don't.  And 98% of the time, we will need to come up with an activity that we all can enjoy.  Which is why I went out and bought 2 hula hoops.  I might not really like to (or understand how to) play this Pokemon game Z1 got a yard sale the other day but I like to hula hoop and I am happy to do that together with them.  


Blackgirlinmaine said...

I can relate to this post. With a 19 yo and a 5 yo, I have spent a great deal of time at children's museum and like you, I am not all that impressed. Though I will say we recently went to the Boston Children's Museum and that one I liked. If nothing else it was designed in such a way that despite being packed it felt roomy.

My local one is just blah, unless I go an hour before closing time it's too busy. I am talking if you go on Saturday afternoon, parents are on the wall like a bar!

Overall though you are right they are just gigantic play spaces.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with the kids museums is it's germ infested. People bring their sick kids there, not doubt. My kids get wicked sick each and every time we go Norwalk. One time my youngest ended up in the hospital a few days later. Yucky! I don't think I renew based on that alone. It's just impossible to sanitize that place. And you know what, I stay clear of there during the summer and vacation days; way too many kids.

Dee said...

I agree with you. If I'm not going to enjoy the trip, I won't go. That's why I prefer being in nature with the kiddos than inside a giant playhouse. I've been to every museum you mentioned with my kids except Stepping Stones and the Liberty Science Center. Will have to plan a visit!

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