Throughout my years of studying children's environments, I never really delved into children's museums. I recognized them as extensions of a city's education system and potential spaces of innovation, where children could experiment relatively freely, but I was always more interested in how to integrate children's needs and interests into the larger urban context, rather than relegating them to special, and often expensive, confines away from the life of the city. As a parent, however, I find covered, climate-controlled, child-safe and child-fascinating play spaces indispensable sometimes. And O loves them.
Today's rainy afternoon called for a retreat with friends to a fun, dry spot, so off to the World of Wonder Children's Museum we went. O had a wonderful time just sitting in the green Jeep pictured above, pushing the "start" button repeatedly to make it go up and down. His delight was palpable, as was that of children engaged in other activities, from operating a pneumatic bank-teller machine to running up and down the planks of a pirate ship.
Children need their own, special places in the community where everything is available to them: total "yes" spaces for exploration with minimal guidance. Such places of delight can ignite curiosity, provide novel experiences and allow for progressive discoveries on each visit. The first time we went to WOW, O was terrified of the bucking Jeep. The next time, he gave it a go. This time, he took total command.
These days, I notice playable places more than I ever did as a childless researcher. And while places like WOW are incredible community resources, I still believe in the importance of equal, open access and making cities more child-friendly on many levels. We're always on the lookout for truly delight-generating spaces, so let me know if you can point us to someplace new!