Museum Madness

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We just got back from a weekend in Canberra. Why would anyone go to freezing-ass Canberra in June? To go to Questacon, obviously!

One of the best purchases our family has ever made has to be our Powerhouse Museum membership. Not because we go often, or even really like it that much (more on this later) but because of the discounts it gets us on tons of other museums around Australia. Hence, random Questacon trip.

There aren’t heaps of rainy day activities in Sydney that are engaging. On the whole I’ve been unimpressed with museums here. The Powerhouse has so much potential to be cool – it’s in a beautiful, huge space and there’s plenty of creative capital in Sydney. But their biggest draw for kids is a Wiggles exhibit that I find simultaneously overstimulating and understimulating. There’s not much hands-on stuff for kids – lots of things that look touchable aren’t. It’s mostly Wiggles paraphenalia locked up in glass boxes. To compensate they blast you with Wiggles music and video projections from the moment you walk in. So it’s generally kids running around screaming and not a whole lot of learning happening.

Contrast this with some of the other museums we’ve been to in the last year. Here are my highlights:

Questacon(Canberra): Luella just loved it so much. They have an area called “Mini Q” designed for under 5’s with different designated play areas. There’s a block construction zone, awesome water play area, lots of dramatic play, and much to Jim’s delight, a space travel area. Possibly the coolest exhibit I’ve ever seen though was an a wall covered in a labyrinth of large clear tubes and a fan-forced air system that blew fluoro scraves around. I don’t think I’m really doing it justice, so here’s a brief video. As you can see, Luella went crazy for it. We spent a day and a half there and she never got bored, and kept asking to go back.

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Melbourne Museum (Melbourne): It was great when we went a year ago and Lu was small, but even better on our more recent trip in May. We went almost every morning of the trip and found new things to do each day. Luella loved the dinosaurs (who doesn’t) and animals exhibits, as well as walking through the outdoor rainforest area. But the real action is their kids gallery with indoor and outdoor spaces and lots of open-ended play.

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The Exploratorium (San Francisco): A highlight of any visit to the Bay Area, even if you don’t have kids. It’s in a gorgeous location along the Embarcadero and just has so many unique things to see – and touch, as the whole setting is interactive. Especially loved this engineering area which is totally inspiring me to put my pegboard to use.

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Discovery Children’s Museum (Las Vegas): This was probably less museum, and more giant play centre but it was surprisingly great considering I don’t typically speak highly of the culture in Vegas. Some of the areas were almost identical to Mini Q (though, notably, more corporate branded). Lots of dress-up, a huge pirate ship to explore, trains, blocks, all the classics. The more science-y stuff was mostly geared to older kids, but Lu did have fun doing experiments with her Grandpa. We easily could have spent more time there.

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We’ve been to a few others, but none that stick out quite so much. It’s a shame there’s not more closer to home. The MCA has a weekly exhibit free for young ones which we went to once. It’s great, but really only for an hour or two. I really did not like the Australian Museum, though I’ve not been back since Lu was born. Most of Sydney’s big draws are animal-related – Taronga Zoo, Aquarium, Wildlife Park. Not going to lie, I’ve been to them all before, but it’s kind of an ethical gray-area for vegans so I figure I’ll try to avoid for a while.

I’ve always loved museums though, since I was a kid. My favourite school trip ever was to Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, a hands-on science museum. I’ve been the the Met more times that I can count. As a broke art student living in New York it was great because you could basically just pay a dollar towards their “suggested donation” and spend hours there, and boy did I.

I also love the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and California Academy of Science, both in SF, the Dallas Museum of Art, MoMA, the Guggenheim… there’s probably heaps more I’m forgetting. I can’t wait to take Luella to these places as she gets older.

What are your favourite museums? What do I need to see elsewhere in Australia? Do I need to give Sydney another chance?

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