Reinventing Play

// The revamped Children's Museum of Tacoma opens to the public Jan. 14

When the new Children’s Museum of Tacoma opens its doors on Jan. 14, it will not only feature nearly double the play space, but it will also offer for the first time a pay-as-you-can admission fee.

Considering today’s unstable economic times, it was important for museum officials to reach all families by removing barriers to entry that the price of admission may cause.

“This was a courageous decision made by our board,” said Director of Communications and Operations Brenda Morrison. “Pierce County has a high rate of low-income families, and it was so important to us to be accessible to all.”

Families who are able to pay can contribute what they wish to support the museum in its mission to celebrate the power of play in early education.

The power of play is fierce in the 86,000-square-foot museum, which features exhibits staff refers to as “playscapes.”

Each playscape offers a variety of interactive elements and props designed to help the imagination run wild. Children of all ages will enjoy getting their hands dirty in the museum’s five themed playscapes: Water, Woods, Voyager, Becka’s Studio and Invention.

Each area provides space for children to not only play, but also learn and discover new ideas and experiences. After conducting a number of focus groups used to design each playscape, the feedback officials received led to the outdoor adventure-themed Woods playscape. This area features a life-sized tree-house of sorts, filled to the brim with props and toys designed to activate the space. With rope ladders, draw bridges and rotating props, children of all ages will find endless possibilities for play.

The water-themed playscape is highlighted by a 14-foot waterfall flowing through a “lake” filled with moveable props to disrupt and re-direct streams of water. “Older kids and toddlers alike just love the water playscape,” Morrison noted.

After splashing around in the water stations, a drying area will be available to get kids ready to move on to other parts of the museum.

One of the most popular features of the previous location – Becka’s Studio – has been expanded nearly three times its previous size, now exploding with hands-on activities ranging from art and science projects to full-blown experiments. In this space, children can engage in messy art projects and independent, focused artwork alike.

“This studio is built to be hands-on and get messy,” Morrison said. “There’s even a drain on the floor to hose it down if necessary.”

The Voyager section has been built to bring the idea of travel to life for visitors. The structure itself is designed to look like what could be a bird, a rocket, a ship or anything else that a child might see in this interactive vessel. One set of pedals inside the structure powers a pair of wings built overhead, and another set controls toy rockets connected to the structure. A variety of vehicle wheels, gauges and communications devices inspire scientific and inventive thinking.

The Invention area features a system of air tubes and moveable tracks to build math and other cognitive skills. Using blocks, boards, fabric, tubes and more, children can influence the space around them to support a range of activities. “This space is dedicated to experimentation and thinking,” Morrison said.

Each exhibit features interactive elements designed to enhance a child’s learning. “We hope parents come to realize that play is a natural part of a child’s learning process,” Morrison said.

Although the museum will operate at a pay-as-you-will rate, museum members also receive a number of benefits. For $75, two adults and all dependent children receive members-only admission every Monday, along with free Saturday morning programs, a 10 percent discount to Café Play inside the museum, discounts on birthday parties and more. “Members can also receive free parking, discounts on our camps and more,” Morrison said.

Members-only two-hour parking is provided in an adjacent parking lot on a first-come, first-serve basis. Additional parking spaces in the lot are open to the public on the weekends.

The Children’s Museum of Tacoma, located at 1501 Pacific Ave., opens to the public Jan. 14. For more information, visit www.playtacoma.org.

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