Pillbox

Local museum captures childhood

I tried to fit my right leg, then my left. The tiny hole would not allow me to put through both my legs simultaneously, so sweating and grunting, I stuck one in, and then, exerting all of my upper arm strength, pulled myself up to the next level of the jungle gym. “You can do it!” cheered the three-year-old to my right, who was easily maneuvering her little body through the obstacles in the multi-level play pen. “Isn’t this fun?” she asked. Ah yes, the simple pleasures of childhood. And there is a way, just over a river and across some steel bridges, that you can travel backwards in time and have some real, juvenile fun.

The Children’s Museum, located in the North Side of Pittsburgh, is a world of colors, sounds, and cushiony playthings. The building itself is ostensibly formal; it was originally the old post office of the city of Allegheny (the original name of the North Side before its annexation to Pittsburgh) and is a beautiful example of Italian Renaissance design. The interior was remodeled in 1983 to fit the playful, creative atmosphere of the Children’s Museum, which opened that year.

Although most of the museum’s exhibits are directed toward children ages two to 10, there are plenty of ways a college student can have fun. Take the human maze, for example. This story-high, plastic-enclosed crawl space is a tight fit even for shorter young adults, but if you aren’t afraid to contort your body into weird positions, or perhaps look like an idiot in front of gawking mothers and their strollers, it is definitely something to try.
The museum is separated into different rooms, each with its own theme. In Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, replicas of the early-morning television star’s cardigans are available to try on. In the Garage Workshop, a future Carnegie Mellon buggy engineer can learn about the aerodynamics of a car. Each room has many different stations, so there are no lines and no boredom. Everything is hands-on and interactive, such as the life-size ball machine that uses a pulley to send a plastic ball twisting and turning through metal chutes around the ceiling of the Garage Workshop, or the light show that projects your Technicolor silhouette onto a screen, which may make you feel as if you are in a Gnarls Barkley video.

Of course, in order to take full advantage of the museum, one must be in the mood to be silly. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, for example, allows you to try your hand as a trolley driver on the neighborhood road, or play dress-up in the pink and purple castle alongside three- and four-year-olds. Follow the colorful stone pathway to another station to be nostalgic while watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood reruns. The Attic plays with your mind and tests your center of gravity by creating an Alice-in-Wonderland-type room that makes you feel like you may have gone party-hopping instead. Each room is a bustle of activity, as everyone, kids and parents (and thrill-seeking Carnegie Mellon students) included, are having a blast.

When asked if many college-aged students come to the museum, Jess Checketts, a museum employee, said that older visitors are “few and far between.” However, when asked if she likes to play with the museum’s many attractions, her response was very enthusiastic: “Oh yes, absolutely!” Thus, The Children’s Museum is somewhat of a hidden jewel, fulfilling all of one’s hidden desires to climb, crawl, jump, and play in a setting where this kind of behavior is acceptable for all ages.

Whether you are an art major, scientist, or athlete, this museum has something for everyone. Unlimited silkscreen and monoprinting supplies are available for those more attuned to the right brain. Exhibits brought in from the Exploratorium in San Francisco can help you put your biology homework into perspective, and the unlimited amount of crawling through tight spaces will do more for your body than any yoga workout. So why not stop playing grown-up for a day, and take a trip to the Children’s Museum?