So I promised I’d be back, didn’t I? And look! Here I am. I’m coming off a 1-week trip that took us from southern MN to Duluth, then up to International Falls and on a houseboat for 4 days, then to the Mille Lacs area, then back home, then to the camper, then to St. Paul. And finally back HOME. If you’re not local, I can tell you that the three of us did about…16 hours of driving? I can’t even keep track.
It was a jam-packed trip that left me needing another vacation, even though I slept quite a bit! But we made fantastic memories, and I’m so grateful my in-laws gave us this gift of time together in a beautiful part of the world.
I’ve had some time now to do some planning and re-organizing of many aspects of my life and training and blog and just general well-being. So with that, today begins the first “Mama Monday” post. In these posts, I’ll try to share general insights on parenting life from my own perspective. They may be tips. They may be places to go or things to do or things I’ve purchased that I fully believe are worth the buy. It could just be a general rave/rant about something I’m dealing with as a mom. It could be running/fitness-related, but a lot of it probably won’t be.
Today is a special one to kick it off, though. Over the weekend, we visited the Minnesota Children’s Museum, which recently underwent a HUGE renovation. I didn’t recognize nearly anything from our prior visit there!
The museum “is dedicated to providing children with a fun, hands-on and stimulating environment to explore and discover. The Museum helps to instill a lifelong love of learning by nurturing the real-world skills children need to become engaged citizens in the future.” And goodness, do they do it well. LJ has a fast-growing brain, as do most kiddos, and sometimes it’s hard to find things to stimulate her imagination and learning. I’m so glad we have MCM within an hour of our house. It’s not far away, and it makes it easy to jet up there and PLAY!
When we arrived today, we hit right at lunchtime. So our first stop after the box office was for a little nosh. They had great options, especially for those crunchy plant eaters like us. We are lacto-ovo vegetarian, and we found a great selection.
I chose the vegan boost salad, because I’ve been feeling bogged down with all the “junk” I’ve been eating. It was a good amount to get a taste of all the tasty veggies and add-ins, but it wasn’t too much. LJ chose the kitty-cat pizza, hubby had the mac & cheese, and we split a donut between the 3 of us for dessert. (I guess that’s my idea of healthy eating? I mean, who can turn down a donut?)
After lunch, we made our plan of attack. We’d start on the top floor and work our way down to the other two. The first zone we went in was the “Our World” exhibit sponsored by Best Buy. It is a play area that looks like a little city, complete with a pretend post office, fire station, food stands, and hardware store. LJ walked in and yelled, “Look! It’s just like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood!”
She had a blast putting on a fire fighter jacket and going in the “truck,” playing a postal worker by moving boxes along a conveyor belt and then dropping them down the mail chute to the first floor, and creating her own digital road signs in the hardware store. I know we could have spent so much more time in that space, but we knew we had a lot of ground to cover!
We visited Tip Top Terrace next. It is a rooftop eco-area with so many fun things to do and see. You can make music, do your own bird calling, “paint” with water (a surprisingly HUGE hit with LJ), and visit their see/smell/touch garden. LJ loved feeling the plant called “Lamb’s Ears” and smelling the basil.
Again, we could have spent much more time there, but time was a wastin’.
The current traveling exhibit at MCM is Ball-o-Rama. It reminded me that so many scientific concepts and forces are things we take for granted. Gravity. Acceleration. Momentum. We, as adults, don’t remember learning about these things, and it’s fun to watch the wheels turn in my own child’s head as she realizes new concepts about our world.
The hands-on interaction in this one was very fun! Who knew you could learn so much with a few simple golf balls? She may not remember the big words like acceleration or friction, but she’ll sure remember standing at the top of the staircase and sending golf balls down the roller coaster. She’ll remember bouncing a big rubber ball off an orange “bounce pad.” (Orange is her favorite color after all.) It’s setting the stage for a solid education. And did I mention: fun?
There is a studio area for creating and experimenting with materials. We didn’t make it to those this time, but I fully intend on hitting those up next visit.
Our next stop was Imaginopolis! It contained so many different “fantastical” objects that would allow LJ to be the star in her own story. I think it was a little overwhelming for her, because it was so open-ended. Everything was up to her to make up or create, which is wonderful, but we all needed a little “pushing along.”
Luckily, the MCM staff is wonderful and we constantly saw them interacting with kids and adults throughout all the exhibits. A staffer came in, sat right down, and helped LJ to create her own story using the objects. It was helpful for me to learn how to let her take the reigns for imagination! She can create way better stories than I can, and she doesn’t usually need my guidance once she gets started!
Next was Creativity Jam! Our stop there was pretty brief, but they had many found materials and other items to…well…create! After years of me telling LJ she can’t put stickers on the walls and floor and household objects, that’s exactly what she got to do in one area. They have a free-standing structure kids can decorate with stickers. There’s a piano in there that’s COVERED. I think I probably had more fun than she did in this area.
Don’t think MCM has forgotten their littlest friends! They still have a play area for kids 3 and under called “Sprouts.” We went in there for a few minutes to enjoy the squishy floors and climbing structure, but we quickly decided 3 1/2 might be a little old for this section. Our kiddo is so go-go-go, and she’s tall for her age. We mostly worried about her knocking over other littles. Still a great area!
We headed to the slightly larger (try 4 stories) play structure called “The Scramble.” Make sure you bring your socks when you come! No bare feet or shoes in this wild climbing adventure. It has two climbing towers, a spiral slide, a climbing rope, and a netted catwalk at the top. It freaked this height-phobic mama out big time, but my small fry is fearless. She quickly figured out how to scale the climbing towers with Dad, and she couldn’t stop going down the slide. She scares me, but she had so much fun!
The first time she went up one of the climbing towers, she told her dad (who was standing on the stairway outside the tower), “I can’t do this!” He talked her through it, and she made it part-way up. There are small exit holes for children at various points, which is nice if it gets to be too much for them.
The second time she scaled the tower, she again began to waver a bit. After a beat, she reassured herself, “I CAN do this” and proceeded to make it all the way up the whole thing! It instilled confidence in her and made her believe in herself.
Me? I was just dandy staying at the bottom.
After we practically pulled her off of The Scramble, we brought her over to the Super Awesome Adventures area. There was a lot to do here, and there were a lot of people, so we didn’t spend a super long time. She did have fun playing around with the green screen (which also has a climbing wall!), balancing on a beam and some balance boards, and sliding down a carpeted “skate park.”
We spent some time in the 3M Forces at Play gallery, and again: so much to do! Between bubbles, launching ping pong balls with air streams, and washing a silly car, I can’t believe we got out of there. LJ was fascinated with the fact that she could scrub the car doors with soap and use a hose to wash it…inside! There was also an interactive water wall, which she’s only ever seen in a Daniel Tiger app she plays. She liked having a real-life one at her whim!
It didn’t seem like many people knew about “The Backyard” that you find by going through a door in the Forces at Play area, but it was way cute! Big tires and tubes to play in, a gathering area under a big umbrella (yeah, I took advantage of that), a human-sized birds nest, flower boxes, and earth-related activity stations. LJ currently is curating a collection of rocks; we don’t know why. What I do know is that she had fun looking at all different types of rocks under a magnifying glass. We talked about how they were alike and different, what they felt like, and what they looked like.
After that, we decided it was time to head home. Learning is exhausting. And that leads me to probably the best parental benefit of MCM: (Besides the fact that it’s FUN, hands-on, play-learning for your kid, of course.)
Nap time was within a few minutes of leaving the parking structure. Thumbs up!
So this may seem like a giant photo op post for my kid, but I promise that’s not my intention. What I want you to look at is this: in nearly every single picture, she is smiling. She is engaged. She is interacting with things she’s never seen or touched or used before. She is learning and growing and making big memories.
She is playing.
So if you are able to make it to the Twin Cities area, I highly recommend visiting the Minnesota Children’s Museum. They also have a Rochester, MN location that I’m sure we’ll be taking advantage of soon. Both are worth the effort to get there, and I’m so glad we have this opportunity so close!
Did you hang with me ’til the end, chickadees? If so, bravo! That was a big post. But I hope you enjoyed it and remember how important playing is for kids. Playing is learning. So go out now, and find a new way to play and have fun!
Until next time!