Learning through play is one of the basic tenets of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM), a concept that reaches its fullest expression at the new permanent exhibit, PlayWorks. Five learning areas, for infants through 4-year-olds, focus on: language; math and physics; arts and science; imagination; and physical and emotional strength.
In the imagination area, kids can climb board a fire truck, dress in a firefighter’s uniform, and even use hoses to extinguish faux fires. Best of all, there is a small set of stairs, with a fire pole, so kids can practice sliding down. There is also an MTA bus, with multiple steering wheels so more than one kid at a time can ‘drive’ the bus. The bus, fire truck and a deli are part of “The Little Apple”. At the deli, there is lots of fake food and kids get started on math skills, counting and sorting. There is also a delivery trike; kids can pedal and see a changing streetscape.
In the Baby Steps area, for the youngest visitors, there is an air machine, where air forces foam balls or colorful foam peanuts in the air. But instead of being activated by a button, which a baby might not understand, there is a handprint. Since babies slap their hands at things that excite them, it is easy for them to connect smacking the handprint with seeing the balls fly. The air hoses are repeated in an area for bigger kids; both introduce the concept of physics.
The air tubes are part of “Movers and Shakers”, which has blocks, cranks and a big climbing area, where kids can slide and crawl. The art and science lab features a sand table (with two different textures of sand), and a shaving cream wall, where kids can clean up. There are tables to create art, and miniatures of eight famous artworks, where kids can look at Degas’ Dancer and touch the fabric of her dress, or examine Mona Lisa and then feel what her hair might be like. For babies, back in ‘their’ space, there is a touch screen where kids can ‘draw’ right on screen.
A fun activity youngsters can do with their parents is compose and send a video email about their museum experience. You can mail this to yourself, or your parents; at home, you get the video clip.
Toddlers love the letter garden, where they can feed letters to an alligator (who also sneezes and asks for a tissue), or put three letters in a spelling toaster and hear them sounded out.
There is plenty of information for parents and caregivers. Dr. Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, psychology professor and advisor for the exhibit, explains that PlayWorks allows the museum to “translate research into 3-D experience.” And have fun.
The exhibit takes over the entire third floor of the museum, 4,000 square feet, and by incorporating windows and only a few partitions, PlayWorks feels spacious. On weekends, of course, the museum is almost always extremely crowded. Anticipating demand, the museum has increased its hours, opening regularly now on Tuesdays.
Where: 212 West 83rd Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam
When: Tuesday–Saturday, 10am–5pm
How much: $8, adults and children over age one; $5, seniors; free, infants
For more info: (212) 721-1234; www.cmom.org