Yesterday, The Unicorn and I ventured deep into the darkest depths of Richmond's suburbia to check out the Richmond Childrens Museum's new Short Pump location.
The space itself is very Short-Pumpy, a fluorescent lighting filled retail space located within the heart of one of those a pre-fab "town center" areas cropping up across America at the moment in an attempt to make suburbanites feel less like they are missing out on a rich cultural life by their choosing to hunker down in little boxes all the same.
Unlike Downtown Richmond's CMOR, the new location caters mainly to parents of very young children. All areas of activity stress the importance of play-based learning and parental encouragement. The neat and tidy main room contains all of the basic areas of interest to kids under the age of 6: a water play area, a dress-up stage, a small & safe pirate ship to climb, a "sandbox," a small playground, as well as a special area for kids under age 2, and an electric ride-on train. Electric ride-on train? Yup. It departs every half hour, giving 3-4 minute rides for around 15 minutes, which is genius. If they didn't make it stop service periodically, the kids would want to do little else. Plus, its a great way to teach kids about waiting in line and taking turns.
All this is great for the preschool set, but children over the age of 8 appeared to be bored to death, spending their time in the well-stocked art studio when they weren't sulking near their parents and begging to go home.
Moms, Dads...prepare your older child for what's in store before you take them. Nothing can ruin your outing like a bored kid with a chip on his or her shoulder. Talk up the art studio and if they aren't into it, leave your big kid at home. Trust me.
But for kids under the age of 6, and especially for parents of multiple children in that age range, the new CMOR is brilliant. Because the entire museum is contained within one large room, children are easier to keep track of---which is handy dandy if your kids are like mine and always split up on you the minute you enter a public place. Kids were visibly enthused by the ability to bounce from activity to activity without hovering parents making sure they stay close or stay right beside siblings. We were there for over two hours and I didn't ever hear a panicked mother or father searching for a lost kid....and I see that all the time in places you'd least expect, like every time I go for groceries at Kroger. To me, this is the real selling point of the new location. Freedom is fun, and the kids were drinking it up.