The Magic House: A little less than spellbinding

After our outing at the Crown Center and before our trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden our grand tour of kid-friendly attractions across the lower Midwest included a stop at the Saint Louis Children’s Museum, also called The Magic House.

We had driven from Kansas City that morning and after five hours in the car, the boys were eager to get out and move. This enormous children’s museum fit the bill nicely, offering lots of room and numerous exhibits. Highlights of the museum include:

A giant beanstalk that spans three stories and allows much climbing.

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A fairy tale area where our little princeling dressed up and rode in a splendid coach.

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A recreation of the Oval Office where President Tommy got to make some phone calls (he also did a great job with all of the trivia in this exhibit, correctly identifying Martin Van Buren as the first president to be born in the United States).

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An interactive piece of performance art where children can dance and see the silhouette of their bodies displayed in a variety of shimmering colors and patterns.

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We also enjoyed the construction zone, the bubble-making area, and the Lewis and Clark Adventure where children older than five can take a ten-minute walk along the path followed by those famous explorers (portions of the trail are in a tunnel, so it’s not for the claustrophobic). And not to be overlooked is a three-story slide that the kids felt was worth repeated climbs up the stairs (again, not such a great option for those of us who don’t like confined spaces).

And we didn’t even make it to all of the exhibits, missing out on the Children’s Village, Air Power, Waterworks, Can You Solve the Mystery, and Super Service Center. In fact, after an entire afternoon in the museum, I couldn’t even tell you where these exhibits are located. It’s just that big.

Which may be why I left The Magic House feeling like I had hit sensory overload. I wouldn’t call the place unreasonably crowded, but something about the exhibits seemed to invite wild behavior, grabbing, and shoving in a way that I haven’t seen before. I don’t know if it’s the sheer size or if it’s that there is very little parental direction for most of the activities. The Star Spangled Center had the most instruction and it was easily the calmest and most fun part of the museum for me – although I’m guessing that many children, to say nothing of their parents, might find this the least engaging exhibit (I do recognize that not everyone gets jazzed at looking at Harry Truman’s sign or successfully completing quizzes about the judicial branch).

We may have just drawn the short straw the day that we were there. We encountered lots of older and bigger children who didn’t know how to share. And we got stuck in many of the rooms with a father and mother who had alcohol noticeably reeking from their pores and a tendency to lean in a little close to others around them. But I get the sense that perhaps the Magic House is best visited at times when there aren’t very many other people there. I’ve been to other children’s museums (in Madison, Austin, and Philadelphia) at peak hours and never felt quite as pressured or stressed out as I did at the Magic House.

Of course, the kids really liked it, so perhaps I should leave the judgment up to them. They would definitely go back.

A few tips…

The museum is located in Kirkwood, due west of downtown Saint Louis. It’s easy enough to get to, although until December 2009, Interstate 64 is closed between downtown and Kirkwood, so if that’s how you’ve been given directions, you’ll want to seek alternate routes.

The museum has a café with a cute menu, although we didn’t eat there. A few blocks away near the Kirkwood train station there is both a sno-cone shack and a frozen custard stand, should you feel like your nerves need a frozen treat when you are done. They can both be found close to the Kirkwood Farmer’s Market, which is open every day.

Bring water bottles with you. The museum is big and water fountains are few and far between. We were there on a hot day and some parts of the museum get quite warm.

St Louis Family Travel Tips

Reader Responses

10 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. The Giant bean stalk looks like a fun place to be. :)

  2. We are headed there this weekend! What a timely post!
    .-= Vegas710´s last blog ..Searching for That Thing =-.

  3. You know, we’ve visited dozens of children’s museums with our kids and I’m finding that I’m less and less into the big, flashy ones with lots of multi-media exhibits. The little kids don’t really know how to use them and just slam buttons, and the bigger kids would rather DO things than watch a video or play a computerized quiz. Some of my favorite museums have been the slightly weathered ones in smaller cities that are more like big, open-ended play rooms. I find that the kids are more apt to use their imaginations and just play…and I don’t end up overwhelmed and overstimulated by the end.

    We recently went to the Field Museum in Chicago and once again, my absolute favorite parts were the older exhibits. They’re…quieter somehow. I like it.
    .-= Meagan Francis´s last blog ..I admit it: I’m a selfish mom. =-.

  4. I just came across this post, and although it’s been a couple of years since we visited, our family had the same experience–lots to do–maybe too much–and we found the maze of hallways crowded and confusing.

    It may be one of those museums that’s better done in small chunks by people who can go there often.

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