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 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?