|Should you go?|
|Time spent||108 minutes|
|Best thing I saw or learned||
I didn’t spend much time there, but I loved Block Harbor, which combines a nautical theme with tons of blocks of all sizes and materials.
It’s taking me ages to review my last few museums. They’re mostly the children’s museums and scheduling visits with my friends with kids has proven tricky. So I was insanely pleased when I talked a good friend into taking her two kids to Staten Island with me on a gray Sunday afternoon.
The Staten Island Children’s Museum is a denizen of Snug Harbor, the former retirement home for old sailors that today serves as the borough’s convenient one-stop shop for cultural institutions, housing among other things:
- The Staten Island Museum
- The Noble Maritime Collection
- The Newhouse Center of Contemporary Art
- The Children’s Museum being reviewed here
- A Chinese Scholar’s Garden
Bigger Than I Thought
The museum occupies a neoclassical four-story brick building that presumably dates from Snug Harbor’s earlier incarnation. But it’s also got a modern extension that, while not beautiful, gives it significantly more space than I expected.
The museum surprisingly dense, too, with a lot to see, almost all of it hands-on. It strikes a good balance between learning and fun.
On the fun side, a hall of oversized games included giant dominoes, connect four, and a supersized chess set. We also enjoyed the appropriately nautical-themed playground, complete with climbable sail- and tug- boats.
The Staten Island Museum has a significant focus on roleplaying. You don’t just see a fire truck or a deep sea explorer or a veterinarian or a house under construction, you (presuming “you” are a kid) get to dress up, grab appropriate tools, and go hands-on, getting a small taste of what the relevant professions are like. I liked it. I think it would’ve resonated with 9-to-11-year-old me. The kids I was with skipped lightly through each experience or setting, stopping often when something caught their eyes or imaginations.
A large chunk of the ground floor is devoted to exploration, focusing on the arctic, undersea, and rainforest. In addition to interactive experiences that let kids feel like explorers, the museum also highlights actual explorers or scientists who worked in the field, with brief bios on clipboards.
I’m not sure how many kids even notice them, but it would make for a good scavenger hunt, and as an adult I appreciated it.
It Bugs Me…
Another notable exhibit featured insects and other arthropods, complete with Gregor-Samsa-esque giant plastic wearable carapaces. Not educational, but a great photo op.
There were a few live animals to check out, too. Just critters that could fit in terrarium-sized spaces, but who doesn’t like jewel-like (highly poisonous) frogs, lizards, giant hissing cockroaches, or a friendly tarantula?
Interactive displays related how insects experience the world and what they do for us, ecosystem-wise. Sadly, the museum’s beehive is vacant — but that let it discuss Colony Collapse Disorder.
The Staten Island Children’s Museum curators and designers managed a difficult balance. There is a lot to see for kids who are attention-challenged, but also plenty of depth for those who are obsessive-compulsive. Almost every exhibit had something to do, and mercifully many of them were mechanical — opening drawers, looking behind or inside things. Screens were deployed, but in a limited, judicious fashion.
Play and Other Houses
Other highlights included a section on houses — how people build them, the materials they use, what makes a house stand up. Full of faux and real tools — all generally kid-safe. It was suitable for a budding architect or contractor.
Back on the ground floor, I was surprised by a well-designed little theater. A group of enterprising kids could put on a full-fledged production, with costumes, backdrops, and sound effects. Perfect for the future Drama Club nerd.
Should You Take Your Kids to the Staten Island Children’s Museum?
I was impressed by the Staten Island Children’s Museum. It featured more breadth and depth than I expected, and I found the roleplaying aspect of it both fun and engaging.
For the five-year-old I was with, the highlight of the museum was the antique fire truck. I think she would’ve played fire fighter the whole time we were there. It reminded me of the FDNY Fire Zone. Every children’s museums needs a fire truck!
And for her nine-year-old brother…I’m not 100% sure, actually. We had a surprisingly competitive game of checkers outdoors on an eco-friendly board and pieces made of slices of wood. (Hey, I’m out of practice, and I’m not so heartless I’d trounce a nine-year-old anyway.) I think he liked the construction zone: trying out tools, building things, then knocking them down again.
It takes some doing to get there from other parts of the city, but the Staten Island location is exotic and the ferry ride offers an adventure in itself. I imagine novelty alone might justify the trek — even if it were only mediocre, the Staten Island Children’s Museum might beat going back to the Brooklyn or Manhattan Children’s Museums or the overcrowded AMNH for the umpteenth time. Happily, this place does a great job, and I heartily recommend adding it to any list of weekend activities.
|Address||1000 Richmond Terrace, Building M, Staten Island|
|Cost||General Admission: $8|