What is it like to visit the Children’s Museum of Tacoma?
There is so much exploration, learning, and play happening among the playscapes in the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. The museum creates a safe space where children and youth of all ages have a place to socialize and play with a wide range of other children across age groups and identities. Each playscape allows children to imagine and play freely with the structures and objects throughout the entire museum.
As James, one parent, states, “My kid loves to cut and run, and this is a place he can do that. Spaces are not usually built specifically with kids in mind nowadays, but places like this are built for kids; we’ve always had a good time here.”
Let’s find out what a day at the museum looks like, and how children navigate the space as we take a walk through the playscapes!
When you first walk through the double doors of the museum, you will see Woods, with its many cozy nooks and spaces for little ones to explore.
The lower level features a mirrored cave, lights for drawing in the dark, a play kitchen, and a tucked-away, carpeted nook for building with blocks and exploring sensory objects like shells and wooden boards. Our toddler and kindergarten friends particularly enjoy wandering these spaces, made with their height and interests in mind. On the upper level, there are more spaces to play, with props for pretending and a stairway and a small bridge connecting the levels. The props in Woods, like pretend veggies, capes, and wings, are often moved around, with children carrying “bundles” of stuffed wood around the playscape and the museum.
Woods is a popular space for parents to play too, with the ability to walk the upper level, sit near the play kitchen, or observe their child’s play from window seats. The playscapes are built for everyone, including caregivers!
As you continue into the museum, you will see Water, with multiple water basins, toys and faucets running soft currents through a cascading system.
Among the basins, there are multiple features for young learners to investigate and explore creative and scientific skills. One feature is the Archimedes Screw, which rushes water through a funnel to let children explore water pressure and hydraulics. Children ages 8 – 10 gravitate to this hands-on feature, often with parents joining in the fun! Another feature is the Vortex, a transparent basin that children can fill before releasing the plug and watching the water spiral down a drain. Children love to see how balls and toys interact with the Vortex as they drop them inside, fill up the canister, and celebrate as the toys spiral to the bottom.
Water tends to spark the curiosity of younger children, which is reflected in how many parents note that Water is often a favorite for their toddlers! We always recommend families use the plastic bibs provided to protect clothing and bring an extra set of clothes for especially enthusiastic children.
Becka’s Studio & Studio B
Nearby is Becka’s Studio, where there are multiple tables and chairs with art prompts for children to engage in open-ended art creation. There are stations for children to paint, draw, create prints, and cut and paste paper to create complex works of art using different materials. The stations change over time, allowing for a new and dynamic experience each time you come in!
Caregivers are able to engage with their children here as well, with tables and chairs of different heights and sizes. One parent, Rachel, noted that she loves the inclusion of low tables in the studios because it makes the spaces accessible for her toddlers.
Within Becka’s studio there is Studio B, which is a room with wooden blocks, books, and spaces for parents to sit low to the ground. Studio B offers a quieter space for parents and toddlers to play, and here, you will see younger children ages 1 – 4 exploring the toys and books.
To the left of Water, you will see Airways, with clear plastic tunnels overlapping and arching across the wall, blowing air. There are multiple openings for children to push thin, colorful scarves into the airway system. On any given day at the Museum, you’ll see visitors of all ages watch as these scarves whip through the tunnels and then waft up into the air, begging to be caught. This playscape excites children, enticing them to gather and scramble to catch the scarves as they fall toward the ground. The cycle repeats, creating glee and wonder among all who play at Airways.
To the left of Airways, the Voyager sits, featuring multiple levels, a suspended rope tunnel, and a small space for children to survey from the “head” of the structure.
Onlookers will see lots of interactions happening at this playscape! There are landline-style phones for young children to chat with an imaginary friend, a pulley system to exchange toys between the upper and lower levels, and a play control panel capturing the attention of younger children. On the upper level, children turn and twist steering wheels with focused determination, and pedal on stationary bikes that power the structure’s engine and lights.
Parents accompany children on both levels, watching as journeys to imagined worlds are brainstormed. On one side of the Voyager, a ball tunnel deposits balls traveling across from the upper level of the Climber, creating a physical and playful connection between the playscapes.
At the furthest end of the museum, the Climber extends, with wave-like formations of wooden panels that children can climb, crawl across, and grab onto netting to reach an upper level.
Children reach for the netting while walking across the panels, engaging in big body play in an environment safe for exploring risk. Other features include talk tubes, telescopes, and blanket fort hooks. One parent shared that her children always have a blast exploring the big structure!
Below the Climber in one corner is a small library area and nook for caregivers and children to sit. At any given moment, you will see that adults and younger friends interact in this hideaway, remaining immersed in their playful experience, but within a space perfect for younger children.
Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers
The adults accompanying the children and youth that visit the Museum are diverse. The Children’s Museum of Tacoma strives to be accessible to all children and families and to provide a space where children with special needs, caregivers with a variety of mobility, couples as well as solo parents, and all different ages of guardians can feel safe, welcome, and comfortable to play.
What is so special about visiting the Museum is the shared experience of children leading the adventure throughout the playscapes. It helps children strengthen their autonomy, and allows their grownups to engage, stand back and watch, or observe and supervise, depending on their child’s level of independence.