Miami Children’s Museum, You’ve Got to be Kidding

Look -- don't touch!

Judging by the crowd on a recent Saturday morning, the Miami Children’s Museum has no trouble attracting visitors. I just wonder how many return a second time.

While innovative interactive, “hands-on” kids’ museums have been opening around the country for a few decades now, MCM’s visionaries and planners appear to have been asleep at the wheel.

How else to explain “Kidscape Village,” an exercise in heavy-handed commercialism in the guise of educational interactivity? The exhibit would be more aptly called “Corporate Shillage.” Hey kids! Try your hand at consumerism by pushing a shopping cart around the “Publix”! Grab a seat on the Farm Stores’ cow, junior! Check out the safe deposit drawers at “Bank of America” – only don’t try to get to any of the toys inside, as they’re cordoned off beneath a layer of plastic: Look with your eyes, not with your hands, son!

Those inaccessible toys fit a pattern at the museum, which in places almost seems to have been designed to frustrate its main constituency.

In the nautical-theme room, for example, kids can use magnetized fishing poles to reel in magnetic plastic fish from a moat; on the day we attended, there were four working rods (plus one that was broken) for about two dozen kids.

At the crowded “Publix,” an “orange tree” painted on the wall spits out plastic orange balls from scores of holes; kids collect them and place them back into a suction hole at the base, which in turn pulls them back in and spews them out of the holes all over again. There’s precisely one hole where kids can deposit the balls, and a throng of children vying for the privilege.

Our reason for visiting MCM, the new Dr. Seuss exhibit, was a little better, but not much. The reproductions of Seussian characters were spot-on, but there wasn’t much for kids to do: some magnets, a slide, mostly a collection of miniature train cars to sit inside. Each one featured a warning: DO NOT CLIMB ON TRAIN. --Frank Houston

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse