Exploring the Changes at the Children's Museum of Houston
Photos by Jef With One F
I had the opportunity to explore the Children's Museum of Houston for the first time in several months, and found that they'd done some significant rearranging.
The first thing that you'll notice is that several of the more fun motion-based exhibits have been moved out into the main How Does it Work? Hall. Previously a lot of them had been housed in the hall outside the Matter Factory, and most of them were very high on my daughter's favorite reasons to visit the museum list.
These include the uber fun spinning table that allows you roll plastic and wooden discs in perpetual motion if you have a daft hand (It's extremely hypnotic, actually). Several of the devices for rolling golf balls down inclined planes are featured in the slightly more crowded hall, and now all the catapult-based interactions are in one place.
It's chaotic and fun, but there honestly doesn't seem to have been a lot of thought put into the arrangement of everything. Maybe it's just because I'd gotten used to the old layout or something, but the whole thing seemed very haphazard.
The replacement exhibits that precipitated the move of the old ones out of the back open hall are also something of a mixed bag. Most of them involve using air currents to create whirlwinds, fly flags around an enclosed chamber, and levitate plastic balls.
The concept is fun, don't get me wrong, and some of the effects are actually quite impressive. That said, for new additions there sure is a lot of unfinished looking wood and a very homemade feel about everything. It all seems more like the work of a gifted science fair participant that museum-quality exhibits.
The Dr. Seuss exhibit is gone now, and in its place is an exploration of Vietnamese village life that is quite similar to the Cum Yah Gullah experience that the Dr. Seuss exhibit displaced. Many of the same facets that were incorporated in the Cum Yah Gullah exhibit remains, including looks at cooking, agriculture, and mythology.
It's a very well done set up, and fascinating when you realize that all you know about a place is what '80s war movies told you. I'm never really sure what kids get out of this sort of thing, though. Certainly my daughter had no time to listen to me read captions and explain the fairy tales of Vietnam, not when she could be wearing weird bunny masks and playing with rubber carp in a house boat. Maybe when she's older she'll have a greater appreciation for the learning aspect of these well done cultural recreations the Children's Museum is so good at, but in the meantime they do serve pretty well as an off-beat playground.
On a final note, I am continuously amazed by Houston museums and the way they always seem to have one more secret that you didn't know was there. In this case, we happened to stumble across the Cyberchase area, which as you can clearly see features a Tardis console. I have literally been coming to the CMH regularly for almost three years and the only reason I ever found this area was because I got bored and walked through a door I was pretty sure I wasn't supposed to open in the basement.
That's the beauty of the Houston museum scene; it's active, alive, and constantly evolving. They're always hiding something up their sleeves for you to discover, and the Children's Museum is no different. Some of those things are a little broken and gimpy, but some of them are just amazing. I'm certainly glad they keep trying so hard.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events