The children's museum, which opened in the basement of River Park Square on Sept. 3, is packed with cool stuff for kids of all ages. I know that sounds like ad copy, but it's true. I went with the intention of observing children at play, taking some notes on the d & eacute;cor, etc. Twenty feet inside the front door, I was dropping scungy tennis balls into a metal tube, seeing Newtonian physics at work. Then I was pouring water over the top of a metal cylinder, watching it travel almost all the way around the cylinder before finally running off.
Interesting. At least, for me. The kids running around the museum probably couldn't care less about that stuff. They were in it for the big-ticket items. Like a to-scale replica of a hut in the Philippine Islands, including a tiny kitchen with a seashell sink and a little back room with a pink stewpot in the corner. The kids have been using the basin to make imaginary soup, a museum employee told me. Filipinos would use it for a chamber pot.
No matter. The hut, along with a mock-up Filipino sari-sari store stocked with mango juice, straw sandals and Mr. Clean, is just a device for the kids' imaginations. They can take spatulas from the hut, fruit from the store and spread them all around the cavernous low-ceilinged room.
Like over to the broad, blonde-wood stage area, complete with props, instruments, a stone wall backdrop, a makeup table and mirror, and a narrow backstage dressing area filled with costumes. Occasionally kids get to watch a show; more often than not, they are the show.
Or over to the SuperDig, a mini John Deere backhoe that's a holdover from the museum's old location on Post Street. Kids wait in line for the chance to sit at the helm and move sand around with the big scoop. I did. And it was worth it (though I had some trouble getting the thing to move from side to side).
Like the SuperDig, the best and most popular exhibits seem to be the ones where kids get to work on longer-term projects, activities that could sustain them for hours, not seconds.
I mean, that Newtonian tennis ball pipe thing was interesting, but once you've done it a couple of times, you're finished with it. Same with the model of the Spokane-Rathdrum aquifer, a kind of giant pinball machine, where you can direct little blue balls (representing water) from the aquifer to Coeur d'Alene, to Post Falls, into the Spokane River, back into the aquifer, down a toilet, etc. Fun and educational, sure. But it gets old quick.
At the controls of the backhoe, however, you could spend an hour scooping every single grain of sand into one corner of the box, then starting over again, dumping it all in another corner. It forces you to think critically, strategically. That kind of thinking is even more important on the other side of the room, at a slightly tilted, gravel-filled case with a shower head pouring recycled water into the high end. The idea is to use the bright plastic scoops and shovels to make your own river. Dig out a channel, cut it off, dam it up, watch it flood. Think of New Orleans. I'd been playing God for half an hour before I looked at my watch. Some kid came over, looking curious, peering down at my river like he wanted to play, too. I told him he could take a hike, get his own damn museum.