Thursday, August 27, 2009

Museum Hopping

This summer we've made a point of taking the kids to every children's museum and science museum within a day's drive. (TG loves the local art museum, too, but TB can only do so much art.) They're good rainy day or too-hot-day activities, and the kids really enjoy them. We bought a family membership in our local museum, and discovered happily that it carries with it reciprocity for some pretty nifty museums in other relevant locales. We've already made back the membership fee twice in just a few months, and that's without even counting the tax deduction.

The kids are actually becoming pretty sophisticated museum critics, for their ages. This week we went to a well-known children's museum; within the first ten minutes, TB did a quick compare-and-contrast of one exhibit with a similar one at another place. I quietly beamed.

Children's and science museums are way better than they were back in the 70's, when I was that age.

I don't recall any such thing as a children's museum back then. They may have existed somewhere, but I don't remember ever seeing one. Science museums existed, but the whole approach was much drier. Look at the taxidermy. Read the cards. Listen to the docent talk about how the colonial settlers used to eat tree bark all winter and read the Bible by candlelight and wear brown wool twelve months a year, and they liked it that way. Yawn. The planetarium was cool, but other than that, the museum felt a lot like school without friends.

Now, it's all about hands-on. The current approach seems to be to get the kid doing something, and then hope that the kid finds his way to asking why. Usually, if the task is engaging enough, that actually happens.

(Sometimes it even happens when I'd rather it didn't. Earlier this week, The Boy announced proudly that he had found his way around the parental controls on the computer. Great.)

The Boy has a bit of the engineer in him. Several of the museums we've attended included variations on pvc-pipe-bits-on-a-wall, wherein the kid is supposed to arrange the pipe bits to allow a golf ball the longest continuous ride. (The bits are bolted to brackets with magnets, which keep them on the wall.) The Boy can do that for an uninterrupted hour, and would probably keep going if we'd let him. When he locks in like that, he's oblivious to boredom. Just watching him is fascinating; you can almost see the wheels turning in his head. At one point he had a structure with four distinct changes of direction and a bell at the end for the ball to ring when it hit, and he made it work. It reminded me of the old Mousetrap game, except that he designed it himself.

The Girl never tires of climbing. Any climbable exhibit or object, and she's there. I don't know what that portends, but she enjoys it so much that looking for meaning just seems churlish. Today she even made pretty good headway on a rock-climbing wall without help, which I think is pretty good for a five-year-old. Many children's museums have climbing structures for the kids, which give the kids much-needed exercise and the parents much-needed breaks. TG will climb down to get out of the way of other kids, then climb back up again. I used to think she was being overly deferential. Now I think she's just looking for an excuse to climb more.

Last night the kids did a "puzzle museum" in TG's room. They assembled every jigsaw puzzle we had until her floor was completely covered. Then they announced the museum opening. TB took my ticket and TG stamped my hand. Then they explained what was on each puzzle, and how they did it. I gushed, of course, and they beamed with pride. As a parent, it doesn't get much better than that.

This Fall I hear they'll have new seasonal exhibits. Hmm...