Posted on July 21st, 2009 in Education, Entertainment | 5 Comments »
The Internet is universally recognized as being the perfect medium for inciting flamewars, but I have personally never seen a flamewar about Children’s Museums. In this post, I intend to pull out my tinder box and do my level best to start one. Why? In short, I had a visceral, gut-level reaction upon reading Wired.com’s list of 100 Geeky Places to Take Your Kids this Summer. I got the the end of the list and found myself stunned. They left the premier Children’s Museum in the world off their list: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
One special summer exhibit at the Children’s Museum is Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs. The King Tut exhibit includes tons of artifacts never seen before in the United States. They even have the little organ-preserving jars used to preserve King Tut’s organs! How cool is that? If you’ve ever seen a show on ancient Egypt, it’s likely that you’ve seen Dr. Zahi Hawass. He’s coming to Indianapolis to speak at Butler University on August 7th in conjunction with this exhibit. WISH TV, an Indy-area station, has produced a muti-part, detailed documentary in conjunction with the King Tut special exhibit. This documentary includes a segment on how Egypt is building their own Children’s Museum and specifically sought the advice and help of the leaders of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for help in their efforts. In short, this is a major, major exhibit for kids this summer.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is another special summer exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The Star Wars exhibit talks about building and animating the Star Wars world and has lots of technical geekery. It includes scale models, digital prints, and a life-size Jedi starfighter. At this point my last rational explanation as to why they folks at Wired.com would have left the Indy Children’s Museum off their list was, “Well, maybe they just didn’t think it was geeky enough…” It’s freaking Star Wars!! That’s almost the definition of geeky!
I’ve only mentioned two special exhibits showing this summer, but, in the words of every late night TV infomercial, that’s not all! The Indy Children’s Museum has 11 major galleries including a 130-seat planetarium, the world’s largest water clock, a multi-floor dinosaur exhibit, and a biotech learning center in their ScienceWorks wing. It’s difficult to convey the size of this museum. At 472,900 square feet, it is the world’s largest Children’s Museum with the largest museum collection for kids in the world. Parents.com has rated it as the best Children’s Museum in the United States. Over 1 million people visit it every year. The numbers are just staggering.
When I was a kid growing up in the Indianapolis area, I took part in their Museum Apprentice Program (called MAP), which is just one of the many ways to volunteer at the Museum. I participated during the summer after 8th grade, and I went to the Children’s Museum 1 to 3 days (roughly 8 hours with a 30 minute lunch break) per week over the course of the summer. I probably was there about 25 times in total. MAP kids worked as apprentices in one of the main galleries, and I got to work in the Science Spectrum (now ScienceWorks) area. I setup props for science shows, and I did demos of cool science experiments about things like angular momentum or water surface tension. I got special access to some of their storage areas and I used my lunch breaks to explore the areas where I wasn’t working. In all that time, I think I may have finally seen everything they had. And the Children’s Museum has had three major expansions since then (1996, 2004, and 2009)!
It’s not as though they didn’t include any Children’s Museums on the Wired.com list. The Austin Children’s Museum (#6 on the list) is only 12,000 square feet of exhibit space and has an embroidery workshop this summer. Uhm, yay? The San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum (#12 on the list) is only 28,000 square feet of exhibit space and features a 1950s Post Office. Nothing excites children like post offices from the 1950s. The EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, South Carolina (#25 on the list) is only 67,000 square feet of exhibit space and features an exhibit entitled, (I can’t make this up) “The World of Work.” The Omaha Children’s Museum (#65 on the list) is only 60,000 square feet of exhibit space and features a traveling Sesame Street exhibit this summer, which at least sounds like it might not completely suck. The Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, CT (#91 on the list) is in the middle of a 22,000 square foot expansion and has an exhibit on Rainforest Adventures, which also sounds decent.
Now, let’s think like a child and imagine if we combined all five of these geeky Children’s Museums from all over the United States into one Children’s Museum worthy of five spots on the list of 100 Geeky places to take your kids this summer. We would have something less than half the size of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with exhibits on Embroidery, a 1950s Post Office, “The World of Work,” Sesame Street, and Rainforest Adventures. That’s not exactly leaping out to me as better than Nintendo. Of course, it’s all imaginary because that museum is actually five separate museums located in Texas, Califorina, South Carolina, Nebraska, and Connecticut. For the sake of argument though, let’s compare our imaginary museum to the real-world Children’s Museum of Indianapolis: Would your kids rather see mummies, dinosaurs, a giant water clock, a planetarium, and Star Wars or go to embroidery workshops, 1950s post offices, and “The World of Work”? Seriously, I don’t think this is much of a contest, and I dare the folks at Wired.com to justify their omission.