Child's play is declining, but you'd have a hard time believing it after spending a few hours at the newly renovated Minnesota Children's Museum in St. Paul.
With its $30 million makeover finally complete after six years, museum officials hope kids and their families will visit the new space to reclaim the power of play.
"It's predicated on the concept that children are capable and should be leaders of their own play," said Sara Kerr, content and communications director for the museum. "When kids are making decisions they're learning critical thinking and creativity and open-ended play, which prepares them for school a lot more effectively than flash cards."
The expanded museum, officially open today, is now 35 percent larger with 10 new exhibits. In honor of the grand opening, Gov. Mark Dayton has declared Wednesday "#PlayMoreMN: Stand Up for Play Day" in Minnesota.
Here are some of the must-dos to get the most out of your museum visit.
Channel your inner daredevil
Test your courage at "The Scramble" on two, four-story climbing towers, a spiral slide and a netted catwalk suspended more than 40 feet above the ground. Note: scramblers must wear socks, no shoes. This vertical adventure is best for kids ages 5 and up, while the laser maze (the lines for this were long) in the "Super Awesome Adventures" exhibit is designed for kids of all ages. For the younger set, there's a mini-scramble nearby, as well as a carpet skate park.
Eat all the mac and cheese
Finally, the museum has a cafe and coffee bar. Called Tomato Tomäto, the counter-service menu has five kinds of mac and cheese, as well as other kid favorites like pizza, hot dogs and slushies. There are healthier options, too, including salads and sandwiches. Beware: the adjacent gift shop is big, bright and chock full of reasons for your kids to beg.
School mom and dad
There are no directions at the museum, but parents can relax — that's on purpose! The mission of the museum is to encourage kids to problem-solve, use creativity and gain confidence by taking risks. For helicopter parents who might struggle with this concept, there's friendly signage at every turn reminding parents to "Stress less. Age less, Play more." And: "Children must be taught how to think, not what to think."
Break the rules
Not only are there no directions, mom and dad's rules are made to be broken at the museum. In the "Creativity Jam" space, kids can paint their own faces (and their parents'), and put tiny, colorful stickers all over the walls, windows and furniture in the "Big White Room." This gallery will evolve, giving children the opportunity to leave their mark.
Learn a new skill
"The Studio" includes a maker space with paints and power tools, and a series of cabinets full of surprises like sea glass, a typewriter and a camera to explore. Kids can use real sewing machines, tinker with tools and tackle the challenge of building a simple electrical circuit.
Go when you gotta go
Standing in line for one-stall restrooms is a thing of the past. The museum renovation added twice as many bathrooms, including a miniature toilet in the Sprouts (infant, toddler, preschool) area. This is notable, because every parent who has experienced potty-training knows that a giant, automatic-flushing toilet is a toddler's worst nightmare.
Take Instagram-worthy snapshots
Parents could put their phones away and savor the moment with their kids, (but we know they aren't going to). Seeing a child act out their superhero imaginations in front of a green screen, or mail a package to a friend in a different language is too adorable to resist capturing in picture. The new space is bright, and full of natural light for the perfect Instagram.
Enjoy the comforts of home
The Sprouts gallery has 50 percent more play space than the retired Habitot gallery. This means more stroller parking, and amenities such as a "comfort room" for nursing mothers or museum visitors who need a break. There's a kitchenette with seating, high chairs, a sink and a microwave to make lunch time with your tots easier.
Pretend you're an adult
The name hasn't changed from the old museum, but the "Our World" exhibit is brand-new. Kids can enter the imaginary world of a Minnesota city to play the roles of firefighter, postal office worker or farmers market vendor. They can step into a real firetruck and Light Rail car, too. In the "Super Awesome Adventures" exhibit, kids can choose their own adventure on a green-screen climbing wall as they fly through outer space or climb skyscrapers in a big city.
Two words: Water sprayer
The "Forces at Play" exhibit was open for awhile last year, but it's still a museum highlight. It's the space where graffiti is not only allowed, it's encouraged (and water activated). Where else can kids use water sprayers, bubble machines and scrubbing brushes to wash a car that was built with parts from at least 13 different vehicles. Rain jackets are available for kids to use to try and stay dry. Key word: try.
MINNESOTA CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
Where: 10 W. 7th St., St. Paul.
Admission: $12.95, free for museum members (and children under 1).
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Contact: 651-225-6000 or mcm.org