Playtime in Rochester
The National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., offers acres of fun and creativity for kids of all ages. (PHIL RABY/Special to QMI Agency)
"Almost all creativity involves purposeful play."
The quote by famous psychologist Abraham Maslow is just one of many visitors will encounter as they go through the National Museum of Play, a 14,000-square-metre facility in Rochester, N.Y., where fun is taken very seriously.
Recently voted one of the 12 best children's museums in the United States -- by Forbes.com -- the National Museum of Play is one of four facilities housed within The Strong, a unique complex dedicated to the study of play. Inside, visitors will find the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame and the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play. (The American Journal of Play, a scholarly publication that covers issues related to the concept of play, also falls under the Strong umbrella.)
The museum will likely get the most attention from families. From visiting a butterfly garden to blending a wizard's potion to climbing a rock wall, this place has a wonderful mix of educational activities that are entertaining for the whole family. Visitors can even find "how to get to Sesame Street."
We spent six hours exploring and these are our recommendations:
Field of Play is a living laboratory where kids can have fun experimenting with a giant kaleidoscope, using pulleys to run a gigantic ball machine and trying to get across a rock wall without falling off. Parents won't be bored in this area either. The walls are lined with vintage toys including '70s favourites such as the Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man. As well, there's a fascinating display on the history of Strong founder Margaret Woodbury Strong, who understood the importance of play in not only children's lives, but adults as well.
At the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, it's no surprise to find a whole area dedicated to video games. The eGameRevolution exhibit is not only interactive, but also a wonderful walk down video vintage lane for parents who remember playing Pong and PacMan. For those born in the last decade, there are newer games, too, such as Guitar Hero and the latest instalments in the Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Brothers franchises. Once families have had enough of the games, they can try out some new moves on the very cool LED Lightspace dance floor, which will keep everyone moving for hours.
It can get a little noisy in the eGameRevolution area, so unwinding in the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden might be just the ticket. This area has a beautiful cascading waterfall, a turtle pond and a variety of birds, such as hummingbirds and buttonquail. However, the flitting jewels are the real show stealers. There are more than 1,000 butterflies flying freely among the lush vegetation. If you're timing is good, you may even see a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.
From sitting on the famous 123 Sesame Street stoop to taking a pretend ride in the well-known big yellow taxicab, the Sesame Street exhibit is a great place for younger kids, although older ones and even their parents will have fun recognizing parts of the show, which has been on air for 42 years. This area has many interactive activities that both fun and educational much like the show.
A REAL PAGE TURNER
Reading Adventureland is exactly that, a huge adventure set in the world of books. Divided into five distinct literary areas, there is something for everyone from mystery to fairytales to adventure. In this area, wizard wannabe's can concoct strange potions and modern-day explorers will have fun discovering shipwrecks and caves. Kids will also be delighted to find books and comfortable nooks everywhere, which allow them to take a literal reading adventure break.
GOOD TO GO
-- The Strong is open seven days a week, except U.S. Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission is $13 (US) for adults, $11 (US) for children two to 15, and free for kids under two. Admission to the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden is an extra $4 (US) per person. Parking is free. Contact museumofplay.org.
-- Rochester is about three-hours from Toronto by car. We recommend an overnight stay as you can easily spend a full day exploring The Strong. DoubleTree by Hilton is nearby and offers great family amenities including a heated indoor pool. A room with two queen-size beds starts at $189 (US) plus tax. Breakfast isn't included but there is a restaurant on the premises that serves a breakfast buffet, and is also open for lunch and dinner. See doubletree1.hilton.com.