If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be around children, you have probably discovered as I have that all “play” is learning. It’s physics – Does a cat really land on its feet when dropped? And it’s creativity – Let’s pretend I’m the teacher and you’re the kid! And it’s testing the limits of the human body.
St. Louis is really good at encouraging play, as evidenced by institutions like the City Museum, the Science Center, and the Magic House. But think of the science behind all that play. St. Louis is really good at the science, too.
I worked in economic development for 6+ years, and I was pretty blown away by the expertise St Louis had in areas like genome sequencing, plant science, and battery technology. Many companies working in those sectors were working with the big kids at the universities while enticing the little kids at local museums. It was community outreach at its best, encouraging a steady stream of talent for the next generation. But it never looked like science to the little kids. It just looked like play!
In the case of The Magic House, practically every school subject you can think of can be covered in a three-hour visit. From its grand front porch – so sophisticated a place, one might expect to take tea there – to its 60,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, it’s one big science/civics/math lesson.
On a visit there several years ago, our then 3-year-old grandson sat at the resolute desk in the mini-oval office for 25 minutes, occasionally taking calls on the presidential phone and refusing to leave until his term was up. His little sister was more interested in the (toy) mousehole when she was that age, laying on her tummy to spy on the mouse family, which had been thoughtfully staged for the holidays.
Personally, I’ve always been partial to the doorbell exhibit where kids can stand and ring for an hour if they feel like it. And who can resist the wind maze that spits out scarves? Or the wooden track that plays Ode to Joy as a ball moves along its path?
How on earth do these things work? I have no idea. But someday my grandkids just might figure it out, thanks to places like The Magic House.
Being there reminds me of a wonderful quote I heard once: A child enters school as a question mark and graduates as a period. The Magic House keeps that question mark stubbornly in place to remind the kid in all of us of the things we have yet to discover. We may look sophisticated on the outside, but, like the Magic House, we are messy whirlwinds of thought on the inside, learning new things every day. And the best way to learn is to play.
The Magic House is the subject of the April page in my 2021 calendar. It is also available as a litho or archival print at ayearinthecity.com/products.