Let’s Go: Children’s museum lets imagination fly

March 2, 2013 

I met a princess who shared with me that her dad made a treehouse to protect them from the dragons. Then, I stepped on the lily pads and made bullfrogs croak.

Once a visitor walks through the gate to the Main Street Children’s Museum in Rock Hill, anything is possible.

Early childhood educator Susan Carriker leads a team of educators. I call them “Imagination Facilitators.”

For an hour or two, they make it possible for children and adults to step into their imagination.

There were a handful of children running between interactive spaces, where many soft and furry stuffed creatures are tucked here and there.

I watched two princesses whiz by on their way to the tree house/castle with a growling dragon hot on their heels.

I saw a budding physicist experimenting with lighter-than-air scarves over air vents.

And there was a miniature engineer taking advantage of the open areas in the table to reach the trains and the town built from blocks.

The imaginary currency of this magical place is beanbags. The bags become whatever the children want: money, pancakes, pirate’s gold, presents, toys, flying saucers and imaginary creatures.

Vernon Grant, the famed advertising illustrator, is the inspiration for the museum. When the museum was first conceived, children were asked to pick their favorite Grant illustrations. Five were transformed into this 3-D playscape.

In the back, children can enter what was once a bank safe but now holds costume treasures. After choosing a magical costume that will transport them to be whomever and wherever they want to go, they race to sail the ocean blue on a ship where they can raise and lower the sail, turn the wheel or hold the rudder.

Or, created from Grant’s illustration of the Peter Pumpkin Eater’s story, turn the inside of the pumpkin house into a make-believe home, castle or forest cave.

Or, visit the kitchen and make something on the stove. Is this a diner or a campsite suddenly being taken over by the animal puppets from the nearby forest?

Then escape to the tree house by the stairs or tree steps. Inside this cozy room overlooking the lobby and Rock Hill’s Main Street, a cabinet – with magical doors that can only be opened with the properly shaped key – holds play treasures or imagination-evoking scenes.

There is no wasted space. Tucked under the tree house are bells and percussion noisemakers for music moments. Along a wall in the Village are cubbies for children to place their completed crafts, coats and shoes. And this place is spotlessly clean. Carriker said they scrub down and disinfect two play areas a day, and wash the dishes, stuffed toys, beanbags and costumes every day.

The museum is not just unsupervised fun. Each of the five areas provides “developmental moments.”

Carriker said “the children kind of grow with the museum. When they are younger, part of their play is to watch the older ones. And each year they come back, they become more active as their skill and maturity level develops.”

Plus, during the week more structured play times are offered, like Wee Wednesdays for ages 3 and younger, which includes music, movement and seasonal crafts. I was told parents have as much fun as the kids on I Spy Fridays, a self-guided scavenger hunt.

On Second Saturdays, designed for ages 3-6, there are stories, crafts, music and movement packed into a short amount of time. And for holidays, like Valentine’s Day, children created a pink paper mouse with yarn tail, and colored a valentine’s poem with red, orange, yellow, green purple and blue hearts.

The museum also is a great place for parties and group events, with play groups, preschools and day care with at least 15 children encouraged. There’s a special room for birthday parties and crafting.

I admit, I imagined myself playing with the trains and setting sail on a moonlit sea to ports unknown. I reluctantly walked through the gate, putting make believe behind me. I look forward to coming back and feeling like a 5-year-old once again.

Main Street Children’s Museum

Location: 133 E. Main St., Rock Hill

Phone: 803-327-6400

Online: chmuseums.org/childrens

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Adults and children older than age 1: $5; free for younger than 12 months

Tip: Buy a museum membership. Not only can you visit this museum as much as you want, but a membership gets you into the other three Cultural and Heritage locations.

Directions: I-77 south toward Rock Hill, take exit 79. Turn right on Dave Lyle Boulevard. Go 4 to 5 miles, and turn left on East Main Street. The museum is on the left. Alternative route from Lake Wylie: Head south on S.C. 274. Continue right to 901 (Heckle Boulevard). Turn left on Route 5, West Main Street. In about 3 miles, it becomes East Main Street.

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