While we were in Kansas City, I tasked the friend I was visiting with finding something fun for us to do with all seven of our children. Without missing a beat, she said that a visit to Crown Center was absolutely in order. This is where Hallmark Cards has their headquarters and it offers a variety of different things to do and see including a theater, a mall, and (in the winter) a skating rink. So she and Matt and I loaded the kids into two vehicles and made our way into the heart of downtown KC.
Our first stop when we got there was a free exhibit called The Art of the Brick, which features work by Nathan Sawaya. His medium? LEGOs® – millions of them, made into shapes you only ever dreamed of. Some of the sculptures were funny (I love how this giant hand has big pink fingernails), some a little strange, some just plain cool. All of us were fascinated by them, and even the adults got a good chance to explore as the kids were busy making their own creations at the stations set up in one corner of the exhibit.
After we had all explored and built to our hearts’ content, we made our way up to the Hallmark Visitors Center, which is both fun and kitschy (and also free). Among the items on display are presidential greeting cards, a bow-making machine, and years and years worth of Hallmark Christmas ornaments. For those of you who are nostalgically inclined, you can also see any number of old television ads (“When you care enough to send the very best”) and have your heartstrings jerked over and over, even as you marvel at the bad hairdos.
Right next door to the visitors center was the highlight of the day, Kaleidoscope the huge, free, craft center that Hallmark has created for children of all ages. Here, in a huge room that is a crazy quilt of color and movement, kids can color, paint, glue, cut, and glitter in a frenzy of craftiness. They can drip and dab and smear. They can make puzzles and flags or things to wear like sunglasses, crowns, and necklaces. In one corner, a huge drying machine blows hot air on wet work, rendering it instantaneously wearable. Another is lit by black light bulbs and full of glow-in-the-dark markers and goopy wax to drizzle. The children immediately immersed themselves and with very little assistance, filled the bags that they were given at the door with any number of treasures.
After everyone had bedecked themselves with their creations and posed for a photo, we made our way down to Fritz’s in the mall for lunch. A more detailed review is forthcoming, but I’ll tantalize you by saying that the food arrived to our table via train.
One of the best things about this day, other than its low cost is that we were out and about with children ranging in age from 1 to 11 and they all enjoyed themselves for a solid four hours. Here is photographic evidence – a picture of six of the seven happily engaged in building (the baby was sitting quite contentedly in her stroller).
If that doesn’t qualify as kid-friendly magic, I don’t know what does. And all of it free!
A few tips…
The Art of the Brick runs through September 7, 2009. But if you can’t make it to Kansas City by then, Sawaya’s website lists upcoming shows around the United States.
There are several different types of sessions offered at Kaleidoscope including family sessions, individual art sessions, and sessions for preschoolers. Although it is possible to walk in without a reservation, you may want to call ahead to make sure you’ll be able to visit during the time you want. And although Kaleidoscope recommends on its website that children be at least five for the independent art sessions, we had two four-year-olds in our group who enjoyed themselves with a lot of adult supervision.
Kaleidoscope can be quite crowded, as it was on the day we were there, and may be chaotic or overstimulating if your child is sensitive. If that’s a concern, you might want to plan your visit for a slower time of year; we were there in the middle of summer vacation.
All of these activities are housed within a large mall. It is possible to get to the Hallmark Visitor Center and Kaleidoscope from the outside, but the art exhibit is tucked away in a corner of the mall’s food court – feet away from a large candy store. We had very little trouble keeping our group focused on the free fun, but it could certainly be easy for a visit to quickly get more expensive, especially if you are tempted to enter the large Crayola Store
Parking in the Crown Center garage is free, but make sure you get a validation at one of the Hallmark sites. If you get a validation at one of the mall merchants, you’ll need to show a receipt for more than 30 dollars to park for free.