Friday, January 15, 2010

Review of the City Museum in St. Louis

I'm a sucker for public art in a playground that is not only fun to look at -- but is actually functional. I learned this last summer when we went on a family trip to San Francisco and found the Koret Children's Garden. Since MacTroll has been away for a couple of weeks and said he had some vacation he needed to use up, I scheduled us a little overnight trip to St. Louis in the middle of the week this week.

Neither MacTroll or I have spent a lot of time in St. Louis. But I had heard good things about the City Museum and from the web site I knew I wanted to check it out. The great part about going to this museum  in January in the middle of a school week is that no one is there. Since a great deal of the museum is actually about structure and exploring (there aren't really educational signs in the museum, except for in the aquarium area) it's kind of like an indoor public art jungle gym for parents and children. The only real rules are that you can't always back up if you're in a tunnel (you've got to go forward if people are behind you) and that if you have a child under the age of 7 parents are required to go through the tunnels right after them.

And by tunnels, I don't just mean one or two. I mean you become like one of those naked mole rat systems you see at the zoo. The tunnels are everywhere and they vary in sizes and there are some holes that I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have fit through last year. I make this assessment off the fact that MacTroll almost got stuck in one because his shoulders are pretty broad (a trait of his that I have always actually loved). And if he weighs almost 50 lbs less than I did at my heaviest, there was no way my hips were gonna fit through some of them.

The attendant on duty recommends that parents go through this kind of tunnel on their backs. So you climb in and then push your body up with your legs, move up, push again and continue.

X-man wouldn't enter this one. Instead, he sent me up to see if it was safe. Then he discovered a roller slide around the corner, which was one of the MANY possible exits from the tunnel in the ceiling (it was steel to get into, but then became one of those plastic tubing tunnels like at a McDonald's Play place) that was hidden by crazy ceiling decor. You could look out and spy on people below you, but they had a hard time seeing you in the tunnel. Another such tunnel (the one MacTroll said got very claustrophobic) was under the floor in the same room.

X-man would go into the tunnels that were short or attached to the slide. If there wasn't light at the end of it, he declared that Bob the Builder was still digging it and it was closed (i.e. there's a whole cave exhibit for exploration that neither MacTroll and I got to play in because it was darkened).

The coolest tube, in my opinion, though was in the aquarium section:

The tube goes right through the shark/sea turtle tank. It leads up to a little glass bottom boat that the kids can pretend to drive. I wanted to just sit in the tube and watch the sharks and sea turtles go by -- and I did -- because again, NO ONE was there on a Thursday afternoon in January.

The drawback to going in January is that the museum has erected a number of insanely cool outdoor climbing structures. From the photos they're not built for those who are afraid of heights or little kids. But the roof with the 10-story slide is closed in the winter, as are many of the outdoor areas. So if you have bigger kids who need some advanced climbing time, you might want to come back when the weather is warmer and everything is open. If you have littler kids, there is an indoor toddler area (that features the largest pair of underwear in the world, which you can actually buy in the gift shop), but it's pretty limited. I think if X were two, he would have liked it more. As it was, the entire family crawled into the belly of a tiny whale sculpture and then he jumped into the ball pit and road the train.

X-man needed a bit of confidence-building going into some of the climbers. He didn't like the ones where there wasn't a hard bottom beneath him. So he was more comfortable in the rock tunnels or in the long roller slides or the McDonald's-like tunnels than the steel framed ones.

We walked to the museum from our hotel, so we avoided parking fees. But the cost for us to get in was $12 each. We also paid an extra $6 to go to the aquarium (which was definitely worth the extra money -- so many things to look at, touch and learn explore in there) and had the roof been open that would have been an extra $5. So it's not cheap. But it is a pretty and wonderfully unusual place to take your child, particularly after they've spent a couple hours dormant in a car. I am glad we didn't take X-man to this museum when he was any younger. I don't think it would have been worth the entry fee, even thought kids 2 and under are free. But kids who are show particularly monkey like behavior who are between ages 3 and 12 year olds will have a lot of fun.

I mean, what kid doesn't want to run on a giant-sized gerbil wheel?


Quigs78 said...

Super fun! We didn't have time to hit the City Museum when we were there this fall, but I'm sure there's enough in STL that we missed to warrant another long weekend soon!

I'm glad you guys had a good time and that you spent some quality time together. :)

Looseyfur said...

Yeah, just keep in mind it's not a place for people scared of heights so much... or people who are claustrophobic... and I think I remember that your husband had issues with one of those areas -- or is it just Libbygirl's husband who hates heights?

Quigs78 said...

Nope, mine definitely has height issues. I don't think we've ever been in a situation where we've had to discuss claustrophobia, though. I'll have to ask!

neeser said...

I took the girls to the City Museum for the first time this past summer. We LOVED it! Your post implies it, and I found it to be true that it is a much better experience if there are at least two adults to a group. There were times Grace wanted to take a tunnel or slide, and I couldn't go with her, and I had no clue where she would end up, so we had to forego some of them.

The cave areas are awesome,and very dark, and very claustrophobic in places. At some points I was thinking, "Are we actually supposed to be back here?" But it's cool because you really have the freedom to EXPLORE. As far as I recall, it really did seem that the entire museum was open to inquiring minds.

Both my girls loved the ramp room. did you see it? It's just a room full of skateboard ramps of various sizes, but no skateboards. I was grateful because after all the climbing and crawling, I could just sit and enjoy watching them run up and slide down all the ramps. Such a simple concept, but so much fun.

In that same room was a glass wall separating a private room in which a woman was training contortionists. Yep, I watched a woman literally bend herself in half to where her ass was almost touching the back of her head.

We did get to do the outdoor climbing sculptures. Not only are the functional, but they are beautiful to look at up close. I found myself wishing I was alone so I could just take my time and shoot pics of he sculpture to my heart's content. I can see how kids can just get lost in an imaginary world in them. On more than one occasion, though, I said prayers that the men or women who welded those things, and the safety inspectors to monitor them, were extremely competent at their jobs. I'm just sayin...

Glad you enjoyed it. We're going back, but next time with Daddy.

Looseyfur said...

neeser, they had several areas closed for maintenance/construction when we were there. (Time to get things done is when no one is there, right?) :-) But we had a great time and will definitely be going back. Hell, I wanted to just go with other grown ups and do it. But next time, I'm so bringing my kneepads!