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. Wilmington, DE

http://www.delawarechildrensmuseum.org/

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “strato·sphere” (noun \ˈstra-tə-ˌsfir\) as:

1: the part of the earth’s atmosphere which extends from the top of the troposphere to about 30 miles (50 kilometers) above the surface and in which temperature increases gradually to about 32° F (0° C) and clouds rarely form; and  

2: a very high or the highest region on or as if on a graded scale.

So yesterday, I had a classic “Dutiful Mom-Mommy Guilt” versus “I-Need-My-Sanity-Need-To-Get-Out-Of-The-House-Center-Myself-Of-Course-I’ll-Make-It-Child-Enriching” moment (see Sandy’s “Sticky Floors” blog). There was a pile of laundry that needed folding on our bed; another load in the dryer, and dishes that needed to be put away in my ever long mental list of to-do’s.  But the latter voice was screaming the loudest, so I had to tip the balance scale toward indulging in my creative passions (of course I’m referring to the serious art of writing and not letting the kid inside of me out on the loose… ahem…) and off we went to the Delaware Children’s Museum on a bristling and sunny first day of spring!

Why hike all of the way to our sister, DE, when we have local access to the Garden State Discovery Museum and the Please Touch Museum? Well, sometimes, we just need to mix things up a little bit. And with the advent of the Tiger Mom; Helicopter Parenting; Free Range Parenting, and other various flavors in between, numerous educational and psychological experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have come out to speak about the importance of free, unstructured play, “There are different forms of play—free unstructured play, which uses unlimited creativity…Free unstructured play, as well as creative and physical outlets, contribute to social and emotional growth.” So, I tapered off some of my toddler’s adult-led activities, and try to balance her time with opportunities for unstructured, free play that allow for self-determined choices, prioritization and pacing. Children’s museums, playgrounds and nature explorations; therefore, rank as importantly on my list of activities as preschool, gymnastics, swimming and Sunday school.


How can you not get excited as a child when your parent pulls your cheesy minivan up to this burst of yellow-fun energy? And there’s your face, as if looking at a mirror, a child, full of wonder, looking through a magnifying lens, splashed over the entire façade of their yellow brick building – even I was excited for the fun that we were about to have! As we raced, pushed, shoved, tripped and elbowed each other (me and my well-mannered 3 and 1 year olds) to get in the fun first, we arrived at the front desk huffing, puffing and drooling for what we were about to savor – the first sight did not disappoint:  

There’s this huge 30-foot diameter, metal mesh sphere that looks like it’s about to take-off and orbit off the ground into outer space. I set the baby on the Bjorn and start to climb with my fearless, tactile-kinesthetic toddler. We get half way up around this gigantic climbing structure and need to turn around. First off, there is not a continuous and flat concourse leading up; instead, there are undulating and wavy bridges that are suspended in midair pointing up or down. Basically, you get fooled or coerced into “climbing down” in order to get up; and at other times, you have to crawl through a very narrow gap in order to climb up, simply to take a huge step down. It was surprisingly challenging for even a monkey bar veteran like me. Basically, I was struggling to climb with my 21 pound infant hanging from my front and then my toddler needed my help, so we turned around midway. There are multiple entrances from the bottom lobby level as well as multiple exits out into the upper level platform, which is also accessible by the outside stairway and lift (the upper level is wheelchair accessible). To my defense, I heard multiple kids crying out for their mommies to come and help them. Well, maybe not multiple, but there was at least one, so that should be enough to tell you that this is not your average backyard tree house. From that point, everything else was pretty straight forward. It was neither as massive and impressive as the Philadelphia Please Touch Museum nor as jam packed with enrichment as the Garden State Discovery Museum.

The building is pretty large and spacious, so it makes it great for pushing a stroller around, but perhaps a little too open for toddlers that tend to run instead of walk. I did my usual, “alright, you’re the leader, you decide where we’ll go and we’ll follow you!” I turned the stroller around, and she had bolted, she was gone out of my sight! My heart sank for a second until we found each other. At that point, I realized that I had to park the stroller; wear the baby, and “run” after her due to the expansive quality of the space we were dealing with.

As far as tactile-kinesthetic activity centers appropriate for young toddlers, there is the usual art studio; water play area/puppet theater/nature center (ECOnnect); a train activity and car center (TRAINING WHEELS); as well as, as a building/construction center (STRUCTURES). Watch out for the wet floors at the water play area as there are no mats and a limited number of aprons. Also, watch out for the short, blue, wooden swinging gate that connects the tug boat to the car center, as my toddler got her little finger caught there. No injuries, but simply a mom’s gasp!

The other interesting centers that bridged from ECOnnect or were part of THE POWER OF ME and BANK IT had a lot of educational value, but not engaging or accessible enough for my toddler. For example, she was too young to activate the electricity through the cranking power motor; the human physiology and anatomy presentation was just that – a presentation with some mirrors for self-reflection; the awesome rock wall did not have any harnesses for suspension and safety, so the toddlers are at the parents’ mercy; the video activating row boat was too large for a toddler to work alone, and the BANK IT activities would be truly educational for a 5 year old or older, with one exception – the Bank’s drive-through pneumatic tube was super popular with my 3 year old! It was an identical life size deposit tube that you got to insert and watch it travel back and forth from the car to the teller in the adjacent side of the room!

We were about to leave, when my toddler decided to give the gigantic climbing sphere another try – on her own! And there she went, up and up and up – all the way to the very top without looking back! I felt like a parent letting go of your child on a bike without training wheels for the first time! She was excited, not the typical, “Yeah! It’s so fun!”  excited, but that proud, “Look at what I’ve done, Mommy! I’ve overcome my fear, challenged myself, and did it!” surprised herself excitement. And there she was, all by herself, at the tippy top of the sphere – climbing up and down the wavy, bridged steps, like a little monkey who had just discovered the emancipating liberty of swinging back and forth from the forest vines! And I heard her yell, over and over, for everyone to hear: “Look Mommy! I’m here! Look this way! Come to this side! I love you, Mommy!” and her voice echoed throughout the Museum chambers. I turned around, and asked the receptionist what “this thing” was called, which to that she answered, “STRATOSPHERE,” of course, “strato·sphere:” “That STRATOSPHERE was super cool, Mommy!”

VERDICT:

  • If you’re in the area, definitely stop by the Delaware Children’s Museum!
  • If you’re looking to mix things up a bit and want to experience a nice playdate outside your neck of the woods, and want to feel like you’re taking a road trip on a nice sunny day, then definitely go and be sure to get lunch at the Iron Hill Brewery or Joe’s Crab Shack next door afterwards (DECafe inside the Museum is not in operation yet). For a full day of activities, if you can avoid meltdowns, try some of the other DE waterfront attractions (e.g. Contemporary Art Museum around the corner).
  • If like me, you’re a park, playground and children’s museum chaser – with toddlers who love to climb, seek out the Delaware Children’s Museum if just for the STRATOSPHERE!

Getting There: The Delaware Children’s Museum is located at the DE riverfront amidst their other attractions (make sure you obtain the most up to date address on “Justison Street” off of their website, or you might end up with an outdated address in the business district.).

  • It’s an easy drive on 95-S from Philadelphia to Wilmington.
  • From South Jersey, you can go through Philadelphia (which you want to avoid around rush hours), or take the Delaware Memorial Bridge (be prepared to take alternate routes along the 1-lane sections of Route 322 if you encounter traffic there too).

 

By Min Derry

Local Mom and Contributing Blogger to Mom2MomNJ